'Sorry' keeps Blatter safe as quit calls fall on deaf ears

Fifa president apologises for 'unfortunate words' but critics in England maintain he should go

Sepp Blatter, the embattled Fifa president, yesterday issued a full public apology for suggesting incidents of racist abuse on the football pitch could be settled with a handshake, but his move failed to stem the rising tide of condemnation from the game’s managers, players and power-brokers. The 75 year-old, though, remains adamant he will not resign his post. 

Typically defiant, after 48 hours in which he has faced a growing clamour for his departure from the Prime Minister David Cameron, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand and countless others, Blatter allowed Tokyo Sexwale – a South African government minister and member of Fifa's executive committee who featured in a photograph disseminated by the game's governing body in the aftermath of Blatter's comments – to read out an apology during a press conference in Johannesburg before reiterating his stance in an interview with the BBC.

"My personal position and Fifa's stance against racism and any form of discrimination is very clear," he said. "It is part of my core values to respect all nations and all cultures. I see football as a game to unite people. I am sorry. I regret that my statements earlier this week have resulted in this unfortunate situation and have taken this dimension. I am committed to the fight against racism. I want to make clear that I will not stop until we have stamped racism out of football.

"It hurts and I am still hurting because I could not envisage such a reaction. When you have done something which was absolutely not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations. [I was] pushed into a corner with very unfortunate words and this I deeply, deeply regret. I can ensure my fight against racism and discrimination will go on. It will never stop."

Insisting his original comments had not been "clear" – "I was talking about all foul language, though that is a detail now" – Blatter completed a full volte-face by suggesting, less than 24 hours after Liverpool's Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was charged by the FA with racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, that any player found guilty of such an offence should be thrown out of the game altogether.

"Zero tolerance, out of the game, finished," said the Fifa president, before insisting that he could not so much as contemplate resigning: "I cannot resign. Why should I? When you are faced with a problem you have to face the problem. To leave would be totally unfair and not compatible with my fighting spirit, my character, my energy. It was a serious incident, and one I deeply, deeply regret, but we have to go on and I have to go on."

Blatter is likely to be allowed to do so thanks to the apparent apathy of Fifa's sponsors – only one of whom, Emirates, has so much as intimated that they are monitoring the affair with the possibility of reviewing their deal – and its member states. Though the storm continues to rage in Britain, with almost every Premier League manager invited to offer their thoughts yesterday, elsewhere in the world the affair has been largely ignored.

Indeed, the Portuguese legend Eusebio seemed to back Blatter's initial suggestion by intimating that Braga's black winger Alan had been "stupid" to make public the allegation he had been racially abused by Benfica's Javi Garcia during a recent league game. "It cannot be proved," said the former Benfica striker. "The things I heard to try and annoy me happened almost every game, but I did not take any notice."

David Beckham, on the other hand, dismissed the notion racist abuse should be ignored or tolerated by its victims, with the former England captain branding Blatter's initial comments "appalling". He added: "It cannot be swept under the carpet, it cannot be sorted out with a handshake. That is not how racism should be treated."

Blatter has also been subjected to fierce criticism from both the FA and Fifpro, the international players' union. "Mr Blatter has made it clear he will not resign but his apology today was necessary," said David Bernstein, the FA's chairman. "His initial comments were wrong and irresponsible. A handshake at the end of the game does not draw a line under racial abuse."

A statement released by Fifpro read: "We were surprised to learn of the statements made by Mr Blatter. [These] statements are rather clumsy. Racism remains a huge problem in football, on the pitch and in the stadiums. Fifpro is well aware of this, and so is Mr Blatter. In the past, we have worked successfully with Fifa in the fight against racism, but since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Fifa has hardly made itself heard, which is rather sad."

Blatter can, at least, count on the support of his friend Sexwale. "It takes a big man to say he is sorry," said the former anti-Apartheid activist.

"I think for him to bend his knee like this shows the way. I hope it will help us send the message of anti-racism worldwide."

'Wrong and misplaced' - Blatter reaction

Neil Lennon

"For the head of Fifa to come out and totally miss the point is pretty upsetting for a lot of people."

Arsène Wenger

"You are not always politically correct on the pitch. The question [is]: do you punish it or not? And if you want to get it out you have to punish it."

David Beckham

"[Racism] can't be swept under the carpet, it can't be sorted out with a handshake. That's not the way of the world and that's not how racism should be treated."

Neil Warnock

"Racism does happen on the field of play and the shaking of a hand just doesn't put it right. But who is going to sack him? I don't see that anybody is going to sack him."

David Moyes

"I don't think those comments have helped. They were completely wrong and misplaced, especially when we have one or two things going on in this country."

Steve Bruce

"It's disappointing. Sepp Blatter, as always, seems to put his foot in it for some reason."

Andre Villas-Boas

"It's good that person is able to come out and retract the words. There are things that should have been avoided in the first place. But at least there is humility."

Fine for abuse of England players

The Bulgarian Football Union was yesterday fined the pathetic sum of €40,000 (£34,200) by Uefa for racist abuse by their supporters during a Euro 2012 qualifier against England in September. Uefa said home fans had directed racist chants at England players during in Sofia. Although the fine is more than double that imposed on the Croatian FA for racist chants by their fans in a game against England in 2008 it is hardly hard-hitting.

Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridgeface-off in the final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas