FIFA Prepares to Vote on Whether to Keep Sepp Blatter as Chief

Soccer’s world governing body was to hold a presidential election on Friday, with members expected to hand a fifth term to Sepp Blatter, the president who has been at the helm during one of the worst crises in the organization’s long history.

FIFA was buffeted by scandal this week after revelations of a sweeping inquiry in the United States into corruption that has ensnared several of Mr. Blatter’s current and former lieutenants. But despite anger in the world of soccer, where many hold Mr. Blatter, 79, responsible for the problems engulfing the organization, he is expected to defeat his challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

Opening the organization’s annual meeting of its congress in Zurich, Mr. Blatter, a tenacious leader adept at weathering turmoil, appeared stoic and resolved.
“I would like that discipline, respect and fair play reign supreme,” he said. “Let us show to the world that we are able to run our institution.”

Mr. Blatter added, “I think the important point today is to move ahead and the important point is transparency.”

The FIFA president also questioned the timing of the raids conducted by Swiss law enforcement officials, at the request of the United States, at the five-star hotel in Zurich where FIFA executives are staying.

“It is not good for all this to occur two days before the election,” he said. “I’m not going to use the word coincidence but I do have a small question mark.”

On Thursday, in his first public comments since the arrests, Mr. Blatter sought to deflect responsibility for FIFA’s problems and simultaneously suggested he was willing and able to solve them. “We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time,” Mr. Blatter said. “If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it.”

Mr. Blatter’s chances of re-election could be helped by the electoral system FIFA uses, in which each of the 209 soccer federations around the world has an equal vote.

Although Europe’s top soccer official has asked Mr. Blatter to step aside, he has the support of many countries in the developing world, where he has worked to expand soccer’s reach and helped foster huge investments in infrastructure. In Russia and Brazil, senior officials suggested the United States’ investigators had pursued the case to expand American influence over soccer.

Illustrating the extent of the polarization, the chairman of England’s Football Association, Greg Dyke, told Sky Sports News this week that UEFA, which oversees the sport in Europe, should consider a coordinated boycott of the World Cup in Russia in 2018 if Mr. Blatter were re-elected. He said the level of corruption at FIFA under Mr. Blatter’s stewardship was “just frightening.”

Mr. Blatter was not directly implicated in the indictment from the United States Justice Department or a separate investigation announced by the Swiss authorities into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. While confidence in his leadership has been shaken, there does not seem to have been a fundamental shift against him.

Nevertheless, the scandal appeared to have swung some votes in favor of his only challenger, Prince Ali, who has support in both Europe and the United States. Michel Platini, the president of UEFA, enthusiastically backed Prince Ali, noting that his wealth would seem to make him more resistant to corruption.

Mr. Platini predicted on Thursday that Prince Ali would receive “45 or 46” of the 53 European votes. Sunil Gulati, the head of the United States Soccer Federation and a member of FIFA’s governing executive committee, said on Thursday that the Americans supported Prince Ali.

However, the African, South American and Asian confederations are largely seen as supporting Mr. Blatter. To secure victory, he needs two-thirds of the votes on the first ballot and a simple majority on any ensuing ballots.

Mr. Blatter may be taking some comfort from his outspoken supporters, including President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who on Thursday criticized the United States for its part in the raids. He accused the Department of Justice of intervening outside its jurisdiction by pursuing the case against senior soccer officials, who, he noted, are not American citizens. Mr. Putin also said that he supported Mr. Blatter’s approach to running global soccer and added that the American investigation appeared to be a blatant attempt to prevent Mr. Blatter’s re-election.

Source: New York Times