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Blatter set for re-election after FIFA storm

June 01, 2011

Blatter, the 75-year-old Swiss who has run football's world governing body since 1998, has rejected talk of a crisis in the game. -AFP Photo
FIFA president Sepp Blatter is set to be re-elected as head of world football. -AFP Photo

ZURICH: FIFA president Sepp Blatter is set to be re-elected as head of world football here Wednesday after struggling through the worst crisis of his career following weeks of damaging corruption allegations.

Despite mounting calls for reform from key sponsors and demands for the vote to be postponed, Blatter is expected to earn another four-year term at around 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) as delegates gather for the 61st FIFA congress.

Blatter, 75, has fought a vicious election battle against former ally Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) who withdrew from the race on Sunday amid a vote-buying scandal.

Bin Hammam and influential FIFA vice-president Jack Warner were later suspended by the organisation's ethics committee pending an investigation into claims they offered cash bribes in a bid to topple Blatter.

The revelations followed testimony in the British parliament last month that senior FIFA officials had sought cash and favours during the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Warner and bin Hammam had both vowed to fight their suspensions, with Warner, the head of the Caribbean, North and Central American federation (CONCACAF) threatening to unleash a “tsunami” of damning evidence against Blatter.

But the prospect of full-scale civil war within FIFA receded Tuesday as Warner, who 24 hours earlier had declared “Blatter must be stopped”, performed a stunning volte-face and urged CONCACAF officials to support the Swiss veteran.

Similarly, bin Hammam ordered Asian delegates not to stage a boycott of the congress as they had done during a meeting in Los Angeles in 1999.

“I have told the Asian delegates not to boycott the congress,” bin Hammam told AFP, making it likely that Blatter will be returned to power by acclamation rather than a formal ballot of FIFA's membership.

Blatter, who had denied FIFA was in crisis during a stormy press conference on Monday, told delegates at the congress's opening ceremony on Tuesday FIFA was threatened by a “danger” stalking the organisation.

“I thought that we were living in a world of fair play, respect and discipline,” Blatter said. “I must unfortunately say this is not the case.”

"Because our pyramid, our famous FIFA pyramid, is unsure of its base and there is a danger."

Yet despite the likelihood of Blatter's re-election for a fourth consecutive term, the FIFA leadership may find it impossible to resist widespread demands for sweeping reform of the organisation.

In a significant development on Tuesday, four of FIFA's biggest commercial partners - Coca-Cola, Adidas, Emirates airline and Visa -- all expressed concern about the negative impact of the scandals on football.

FIFA's sponsorship deals have helped to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the organisation since Blatter took over in 1998, making FIFA the richest sports body on the planet with cash reserves of more than $1 billion.

“The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport,” Coca-Cola spokesman Petro Kacur told AFP.

“We have every expectation that FIFA will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.”

Meanwhile Zhang Jilong, the Chinese official appointed as interim head of the AFC following bin Hammam's suspension, said no mercy would be shown to officials found guilty of corruption.

“Scandals such as bin Hammam's bribery allegations harm the sport's beauty. Anyone who does not show transparency should pay for it,” Zhang told Chinese website, according to the China Daily.