Sepp Blatter set to ride out racism storm amid calls for him to resign

 

Sepp Blatter's hold on his position as FIFA president appears to be secure despite calls for him to resign in the wake of his controversial comments about racism between players.

The remarks in television interviews that racist abuse on the field should be settled by a handshake led to a Twitter war of words between Blatter and England defender Rio Ferdinand today.

Meanwhile, influential people in British sport including sports minister Hugh Robertson and players' chief Gordon Taylor called for Blatter to step down.

The furore has been heightened by the fact there are two high-profile current cases in England involving alleged racism on the pitch.

Chelsea's John Terry is being investigated by the Football Association and the police after allegations he racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, Rio's brother, and the FA yesterday charged Liverpool's Luis Suarez with racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

Outside of Britain however, the controversy has barely caused a ripple - it merited a single paragraph in French sports daily L'Equipe, and was treated similarly in Spain, Italy, Germany and the United States.

According to a number of people with experience of FIFA politics, is Blatter now inured to having a rough ride in Britain after the FA opposed his election in June, and following the furore over the ban on poppies on England and Wales shirts last week.

One FIFA member said: "This is of course a big issue in England where there are high-profile racism cases going on, but the rest of Europe has not shown any interest and Blatter can just brush it off."

Blatter will have been ill-advised however to have become embroiled with an angry reply to Ferdinand on Twitter.

The Manchester United defender criticised FIFA's attempts to clarify Blatter's comments with a statement on their website underneath a large picture of Blatter with South African minister Tokyo Sexwale, who was imprisoned on Robben Island during the apartheid era.

Ferdinand wrote: "Fifa clear up the blatter comments with a pic of him posing with a black man..I need the hand covering eyes symbol!!"

Blatter was stung into a response today and replied directly to Ferdinand saying: "The 'black man' as you call him has a name: Tokyo Sexwale. He has done tremendous work against racism and apartheid in Africa.

"We have done several joint activities to raise awareness on the struggle against racism in South Africa. FIFA has a long-standing and proud record in the area of anti-discrimination which will continue."

Ferdinand responded himself to Blatter this afternoon saying: "To say what you said about racism in football spoke volumes of your ignorance to the subject.

"If we want 2 stamp out racism in society a football pitch is a good place to start - loved by billions of people around the world."

Robertson said Blatter should step down for the good of football.

The minister added: "Sepp Blatter's comments are completely unacceptable. This is the latest episode that calls into question whether this man should be the head of world football.

"For the sake of the game, he should go."

Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Taylor said the racism remarks were "the straw which broke the camel's back" and that Blatter should step aside for UEFA president Michel Platini.

Taylor said: "Coming on top of his comments which were offensive about female footballers, his homophobic comments about homosexuals not going to Qatar, the World Cup bidding process, he won't have technology over goal-line decisions and the corruption which is so plainly evident at FIFA. It is time for him to go."

The international players' union FIFPro described Blatter's comments as "rather clumsy" and said there should be closer co-operation with FIFA in the fight against racism.

A statement said: "FIFPro knows that, in the heat of the battle, players sometimes indulge in indiscriminate language. There is however a bottom line which should not be crossed. There are things that you cannot just solve by shaking hands after the end of the match, as Mr Blatter suggests.

"In the past FIFPro successfully worked together with FIFA in the fight against racism, but since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA has hardly made itself heard on this fight, which is rather sad."

Britain's FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce said he had been surprised by Blatter's remarks but stressed both FIFA and UEFA had done much to combat racism in football.

Boyce told Press Association Sport: "I was very surprised to hear the president's remarks but have been pleased that both he and FIFA have come out to try and clarify the situation.

"Personally I believe there should be zero tolerance regarding racism, sectarianism and discrimination in any shape or form and I do know that many people at both FIFA and UEFA are working to eradicate this cancer from the game."

PA

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