Blatter tells detractors he has nothing to hide

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Sepp Blatter has threatened to call on the support of all 204 member associations at an extraordinary congress to back him as president of world football's governing body as investigations into Fifa's finances continue to threaten his position.

Blatter, fighting for his political life against accusations of financial irregularity, was dismissive of the threat posed to him by a six-man audit committee, headed by the Scot David Will. Blatter's opponents think its revelations will end his career in the game.

At a news conference in Zurich yesterday, Blatter both claimed the credit for the committee being set up and dismissed its impact. However, Blatter's insistence that he suggested the establishment of an audit committee in a letter to executive committee members on 29 January sits rather uncomfortably alongside the vehemence of his objections to the audit committee's formation during three hours of discussions on Thursday.

With the audit panel estab-lished, Blatter then set about playing down its potential impact by claiming that it would not have the scope either to inquire into allegations that his supporters paid cash for votes to help to secure his election in 1998, or to look into financial matters "at a presidential level".

Pressure grew on Blatter as the collapse last year of Fifa's marketing partner, ISL-ISMM, with debts of up to £200m sparked calls for an investigation into Fifa's finances. That collapse put paid to the club world championship, which Fifa announced yesterday would be revived in 2005. Subsequently, suggestions of election bribes and general corruption have been made. The audit committee should report back by 30 April, but Blatter thinks he can defend his position best by appealing directly to the 204 members of Fifa to discuss the finances at an extraordinary congress.

Blatter said: "Already 54 national associations have asked me to convene an extraordinary congress of Fifa to discuss, before the elective congress in Seoul, all matters relating to finance."

In effect, that is a threat to dissenting members of the executive committee, Fifa's ruling body, to back down. The executive yesterday refused to accept accounts ratified by the finance committees.

After four hours of talks with the executive committee on finances yesterday, Blatter said: "Allegations have been made in 1998 which have been the subject of inquiries and in court, and these have been settled and I am not going to give a platform to those who doubt the correctness of my election in 1998. If somebody has to make remarks or disapprove of the president it is the congress and not the audit committee."

The six-man audit committee is chaired by Will, Fifa's Scottish senior vice-president; the other members are Chung Mong-joon (Korea), Slim Aloulou (Tunisia), Basil Scarsella (Australia), Chuck Blazer (US) and Ricardo Terra Teixeira (Brazil). The first three are among those who pressed for the investigation, Blazer and Teixeira back Blatter, and Scarsella has also been seen as a Blatter man.

Whatever the outcome of the current scrap, Blatter faces re-election on 29 May and the African confederation leader, Issa Hayatou, is expected to announce next weekend that he will stand against Blatter.