Saturday 22 October 2016

'I've been shown zero respect', claims Sepp Blatter as Swiss deny he will soon be questioned

Re-elected FIFA President Sepp Blatter
Re-elected FIFA President Sepp Blatter
FIFA president Sepp Blatter after his election as President greeted by UEFA President Michel Platini, right, at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland

Swiss authorities have denied they will soon be questioning the newly re-elected FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

The Swiss-born FIFA chief complained yesterday he had been shown "zero respect" in recent days, revealing how he had rejected advice from one of his main critics, the head of the European governing body, to quit at last week's FIFA congress.

Blatter (79) won a vote on Friday to serve a fifth term as FIFA president even though the US Department of Justice has charged nine soccer officials with corruption and Swiss authorities are conducting their own criminal investigation.

He has played down the impact of the scandal on one of the world's most powerful sports bodies, which takes in billions of dollars in revenue from TV marketing rights and sponsorships.

Blatter is not accused of any wrongdoing personally and has implied that the United States timed news of the charges to try to scupper his re-election.

Asked how he had coped with the criticism in the past few days, he told the Swiss newspaper Sonntagsblick: "Let me put it this way: I've been shown zero respect."

Blatter's future could yet depend on the reaction of FIFA's major sponsors and stakeholders such as Coca- Cola and McDonald's, who have been dismayed by the arrests and US prosecutors announcing indictments of officials and companies.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter after his election as President greeted by UEFA President Michel Platini, right, at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland

Britain's Sunday Times newspaper yesterday reported Swiss prosecutors would question Blatter, who has led FIFA for nearly 20 years, as part of a criminal investigation into votes to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

However, a spokesman for Switzerland's attorney general dismissed the possibility of immediately calling in Blatter as "nonsense".

"The president of FIFA will not be questioned at this point in time," the spokesman told Reuters. However, he added: "If need be, he will be questioned in the future."

Russia and Qatar deny wrongdoing in their bids.

The Sunday Times reported Blatter would be the last of 10 FIFA officials to be questioned. Michel Platini, the president of the European governing body UEFA, and Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister, would also be interviewed, it said.

In the Swiss newspaper interview, Blatter described a meeting he had on Thursday with Platini, when the former French international star encouraged him to quit with a fanfare.

"He said in all seriousness: 'Sepp, hold the congress and at the end say you're stepping down. You'll have a gigantic party thrown for you, and you can keep your office here at FIFA'," Blatter said, adding that he had refused Platini's invitation to have the conversation over a glass of whiskey.

Blatter comfortably won the FIFA vote with strong support from developing nations, which have received generous funding from FIFA to develop the sport under Blatter's leadership.

Britain - which has been one of Blatter's fiercest critics, especially since England lost a bid to host the 2018 World Cup - stepped up the pressure yesterday.

"Michel Platini has talked of European nations boycotting future World Cups if Blatter refuses to stand down. No options should be ruled out," John Whittingdale, who is Britain's Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport said.

Member associations of UEFA will meet before the European Champions League final in Berlin on Saturday to discuss its next step.

Before Blatter's re-election, Platini said they would be "open to all options".

But asked about a boycott, he said on Thursday: "I honestly don't wish that." In any case, achieving consensus at UEFA may be hard; French media reported that the president of the country's federation, Noel Le Grat, voted for Blatter.

Seven senior soccer officials were arrested in a dawn raid before the FIFA congress in Zurich, and US authorities have said altogether nine officials and five sports media and promotions executives have been charged in cases involving more than $150m (€136m) in bribes over a period of 24 years.

The indictment mentioned two payments cleared by Standard Chartered. "We are looking into those payments and will not be commenting further at this time," a spokesman for the London-based bank said.


Other banks named on the indictment, including Britain's Barclays, are making internal checks on their involvement and cooperating with the authorities, banking sources told Reuters. Barclays declined to comment.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Greg Dyke, the chairman of England's Football Association, have urged Blatter to quit. Prince William, who lobbied for Britain to host the 2018 tournament along with star player David Beckham, has also spoken of the need for FIFA to reform.

The government of Germany, the reigning world champions, also called for change. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that soccer brought people around the world together.

"That should be the real legacy of FIFA. I have serious doubts whether FIFA is up to this great task without a clear new start," he said.

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