International football teams across Europe may pull out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia if Sepp Blatter is re-elected as the president of Fifa, the head of Uefa has warned, after allegations of “rampant” corruption going back decades failed to persuade the sport’s most powerful man to resign.
As a series of major sponsors distanced themselves from football’s governing body, saying they had “profound” concerns about the gravity of the allegations it faced, Michel Platini said Uefa’s 54 member countries had not ruled out a boycott of future Fifa tournaments.
“Uefa associations will meet in Berlin next week. We will be open to all options,” he said, adding that “there may be proposals” for members to withdraw from Fifa competitions until Mr Blatter stands down. All of the UK’s international football teams are Uefa members.
Mr Blatter refused to step down despite the arrests of nine senior Fifa officials, who have been charged with accepting bribes and kickbacks totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. The allegations have plunged football’s governing body into the biggest crisis in its history.
In a defiant speech at Fifa’s Zurich headquarters, Mr Blatter said the charges had cast “a long shadow over football” and hinted that “more bad news will follow” – but insisted he was the right man to change the organisation from “top to bottom”.
He continued: “I know many people hold me ultimately responsible for the action and reputation for the global football community, whether it is a decision for the hosting of a World Cup or a corruption scandal.
“I cannot monitor everyone all of the time – if people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it…It must fall to me to bear responsibility for the reputation and well-being of our organisation and to find a way forward to fix things.”
Fifa is now fighting corruption allegations on two fronts. As well as the charges faced by nine of its former or current officials and five sports marketing executives, “irregularities” in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar are being investigated by Swiss police, amid suspicions of “criminal mismanagement” and money laundering.
Mr Platini revealed that he had confronted his “friend” Mr Blatter to urge him to step down in the wake of the devastating allegations by US investigators that decades of “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption had taken place at Fifa on his watch.
“I asked him for a face-to-face meeting, and I said, ‘Look Sepp, we started at Fifa in 1998, and for the future of Fifa, I am here to ask you to leave, to resign’,” he said. “I speak like a friend with him. He said it was too late.”
Mr Blatter, who has been in charge of Fifa since 1998 and will begin a fifth term as president if he defeats Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan at an election, decided not to resign after holding a series of emergency meetings with representatives of the six regional football confederations.
David Cameron said there was “a very, very strong case” for a change at the top of Fifa, while Football Association vice-chairman David Gill said he would refuse to accept his place on the body’s powerful executive committee if Mr Blatter did not leave.
“He has to move on,” he said. “If I was in that situation, I would. I can’t see how that cannot be the right decision. For president Blatter not to resign based on what happened yesterday is indicative of the problem.”
One of the few supporters of Mr Blatter is Vladimir Putin. The Russian President accused the US of meddling in Fifa’s affairs in an attempt to take the 2018 World Cup away from his country, describing the prosecution as “yet another blatant attempt [by the US] to extend its jurisdiction to other states”.
Many believe that Mr Blatter decided to remain as president because he is likely to win the election – but last night bookmakers dramatically cut the odds of Prince al-Hussein succeeding him when Fifa’s 209 members cast their votes.
Further pressure was applied by Fifa’s corporate sponsors, which include Visa, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Adidas and Budweiser brewer AB InBev. Visa said its “disappointment and concern” was “profound” and warned Fifa to start making changes immediately. “Should Fifa fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship,” it added.
Coca-Cola said the “lengthy controversy” had “tarnished the mission and ideals of the Fifa World Cup”, while McDonald’s said it found the corruption allegations “extremely concerning”. AB InBev and car manufacturer Hyundai/Kia both said they would “closely monitor” the situation.
One of the most damaging allegations contained in the 161-page indictment against the 14 Fifa officials and sports marketing executives is the claim that the South African government paid a $10 million bribe to secure the rights to host the 2010 World Cup. But the country’s Department of Sport and Recreation said that it could find no record of such a sum being paid to anyone.
“Our financial records and books for the 2010/11 financial years and those before and after the period of the World Cup have been audited by the Auditor General of South Africa and no such amount has been found on our books,” it said in a statement, adding that it would be reviewing the claims made in the indictment.
However, the US court document claims that although the bribe was agreed in advance of the vote, when the $10m was transferred it did not come from South Africa, but was instead routed directly from Fifa to an account in New York. The funds would otherwise have gone to the country to finance its preparations for the tournament, it says.Reuse content