Sepp Blatter, the president of football's world governing body, Fifa, faces a fight for his political life after allegations of corruption affecting his election to the post in 1998 were published yesterday.
According to reports, alleged bribes of up to $100,000 (£70,000) were paid to persuade Fifa delegates to support Blatter four years ago. Blatter defeated his only rival for the position, Lennart Johansson, by 111 votes to 80, although it is alleged that enough delegates changed their minds immediately before the ballot to swing the result Blatter's way. The reports allege that 18 African delegates accepted money to change their votes from Johansson to Blatter on the night before the election "after Arab backers knocked on hotel doors in the dead of night".
Johansson, the president of Uefa, the European association, yesterday called for an urgent investigation into the claims. "We have to thoroughly investigate the statements made today and printed in Britain with names and sworn statements for the first time, that the vote for the presidency in 1998 was rigged," he said.
Blatter has already been pressured into holding an extraordinary meeting of Fifa's executive committee next week. It will discuss the governing body's finances following the collapse of its marketing partner, ISL, last year with debts of around £850m. An investigation into allegations of corruption surrounding his election – even though Blatter is not accused of malpractice himself – can only destabilise his position further.
Johansson said: "I would like this investigation [into the 1998 election] to be part of an internal investigation, already set up, which was called to examine Fifa's finances following the collapse of ISL last year.
"I must make it clear that although I was beaten in the presidential vote four years ago, I am not bitter about losing the election. It is not the point, although if the allegations are correct it is nice to know I might have won in a fair fight.
"The point now is we have to investigate the claims to release Fifa from any sense of dishonesty. We must tell the world the truth about Fifa and show that Fifa is an honest organisation. It makes sense to include it in the investigation into financial matters."
Blatter was elected as successor to João Havelange in June 1998, but Farah Addo, the president of the Somalian Football Association, alleged yesterday that he was offered money to switch his vote.
Addo, also the vice-president of the African Football Confederation, said: "We at CAF had decided to commit all 51 of our votes to Lennart Johansson from Uefa. Then I received a phone call from Somalia's ambassador to one of the Gulf states.
"He said: 'I have a friend who you know who wants to offer you $100,000 to switch your vote. Half in cash and the rest in sports equipment.' They would send the cash to me or I could go to the Gulf to collect it.
"The night before the election, in Le Meridien Hotel in Paris, people were lining up to receive money. Some told me they got $5,000 before the vote and the same the next day, after Blatter won."
Addo reportedly rejected the offer, although his Somalian vice-president, Mohiadin Hassan Ali, has signed a statement admitting he accepted money to vote for Blatter.
Johansson said yesterday: "I am not accusing anyone of anything and I do not even care to know the names of the people who allegedly took money to change their vote.
"Perhaps they were all poor people and that money would have done much to change their lives. But eventually the truth will hunt you down and will catch up with you. If these allegations are true, I think that the president himself, Mr Blatter, will have to make a judgment on his future. It is a matter for him to decide what to do."
Blatter is standing for re-election as president at the Fifa congress in Seoul in May, and is, so far, the only candidate. But that could change after the extraordinary meeting of Fifa's executive committee in Zurich next Thursday.Reuse content