Crisis? What crisis? Blatter tries to rise above corruption claims
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Tuesday 31 May 2011
In an extraordinary piece of theatre that broke up amid farcical scenes, Sepp Blatter last night denied that Fifa was in crisis despite another of day of escalating scandal swirling around senior figures in football's governing body.
During an at times fractious press conference at Fifa's Zurich headquarters, Blatter said: "Crisis? What is a crisis? Football is not in a crisis. We are not in a crisis, we are only in some difficulties and these will be solved within our family."
The conference, that followed a meeting of Fifa's Executive Committee, ended with an angry Blatter exiting the room as a German journalist shouted questions after the 75-year-old Swiss.
Blatter refused to comment on a leaked email from his general secretary, Jerome Valcke, that Qatar had "bought" the 2022 World Cup and claimed that there was no evidence that the Qatar bid was "touched" by corruption claims and so Fifa would do "nothing".
Blatter, who is set to be handed a fourth term as president in tomorrow's uncontested election, also ruled out any prospect of a re-vote on the destination of the 2022 finals. He said: "There is no issue with the World Cup 2022."
Blatter became more irritated as the 30-minute conference progressed. At one point when asked why he had allowed Fifa's reputation to be "damaged on his watch", he pointedly looked at his wristwatch. Later he snapped: "Please respect me. We are not in a bazaar here we are in Fifa House."
He did admit: "I regret what has happened over the last few days and weeks. It has done great damage to the image of Fifa." But then insisted: "Fifa is strong enough that we can deal with our problems inside Fifa. We can solve our problems.
"The congress will decide if I am a valid or non-valid candidate and a valid or non-valid president."
Those problems are mounting rapidly whatever Blatter may claim. Throughout yesterday claim and counter-claim swept around the lobbies of Zurich's high-end hotels. It leaves Fifa in a state of turmoil ahead of the opening of their two-day annual congress tonight.
Jack Warner had promised that a "tsunami" would hit football following his and Mohamed Bin Hammam's suspension over bribery allegations and he began by hitting out at Blatter and Valcke. The most damaging was Warner's publication of a rambling email sent to him by Valcke in which the Frenchman, a key ally of Blatter, wrote that Qatar had "bought" the 2022 World Cup finals and that Bin Hammam thought he could "buy" Fifa.
He wrote: " For MBH [Bin Hammam], I never understood why he was running. If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express much he does not like anymore JSB [Blatter]. Or he thought you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC [World Cup]."
That prompted a furious reaction from Qatar, who were shock winners of the finals after a controversial vote in Zurich last December. They threatened legal action and denied any wrongdoing.
Valcke, also denied any wrongdoing through another of the day's statements. It said: "I'd like to clarify that I may use in an email – a 'lighter' way of expression by nature – a much less formal tone than in any form of correspondence [sic]. What I wanted to say is [Qatar] used their financial strength to lobby for support. They were a candidate with a very important budget and have used it to heavily promote their bid around the world in a very efficient manner. I have at no time made any reference to any purchase of votes or similar ethical behaviour."
In the meantime, Bin Hammam announced he is to appeal against his suspension and wants the Appeals Committee to reach a decision before today's congress begins. He said that he expected the investigation into his actions to be "influenced and manipulated."
[Keep Par] Bin Hammam and Warner continue to both strenuously deny all the allegations made against them and each is considering taking legal action. More details of the case against them, which is based around events in a Port-of-Spain hotel earlier this month, emerged yesterday. The Press Association obtained a photograph taken by a member of the Bahamas FA of four bundles of $100 bills and the large brown envelope it is claimed they were handed to him in by officials of the Caribbean Football Union under instruction from Warner and Bin Hammam. Fred Lunn, a vice-president of the Bahamas FA, said in an affidavit delivered to the Fifa Ethics Committee during Sunday's hearing: "stacks of US 100 fell out [when he opened it] and on to the table. I was stunned to see this cash."
Last night Coca-Cola became the second of Fifa's major sponsors to voice concerns over the events of the past few days. The company said in a statement: "The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport."
Blatter in his own words
* "Football is not in a crisis, only some difficulties... If governments try to intervene then something is wrong. I think Fifa is strong enough that we can deal with our problems inside Fifa... If you see the final match of the Champions League you must applaud... We are not in a crisis. We are only in some difficulties and these will be solved inside our family."
* "The executive committee of Fifa was very pleased to receive the report of the FA regarding the allegations made by Lord Triesman at the House of Commons... We were happy that we can confirm there are no elements in this report which would even prompt any proceedings."* "If somebody wants to change something in the election or in the congress of Wednesday, these are the members of Fifa... This cannot be done by the executive committee, it cannot be done by any authorities outside of Fifa – it's only the congress itself that can do it. Congress will decide if I am a valid or non-valid candidate."
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