As the repercussions of the FIFA scandal reverberated around the world Thursday, Sepp Blatter, the beleaguered head of the international soccer governing body, said that while “many people hold me ultimately responsible’’ for the alleged widespread corruption, he will not step down.
He plans to run for reelection for a fifth term as planned on Friday despite mounting pressure to resign and strong urging from corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola, VISA, Adidas, and McDonald’s to restore public faith in the organization.
VISA released a statement saying it would “reassess our sponsorship” if FIFA fails to rebuild an ethical business culture.
Blatter claimed it was only “a tiny minority” of the people affiliated with FIFA who were to blame. He vowed to lead a charge to clean up the mess.
“We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time,” Blatter said in Zurich, Switzerland, in his first public comments since news of the scandal broke early Wednesday. “If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it. But it must also fall on me to be responsible for the reputation of our entire organization, and to find a way to fix things.
“I will not allow the actions of a few to destroy the hard work and integrity of the vast majority of those who work so hard for football.”
Blatter, 79, was not directly implicated in a sweeping investigation that uncovered $150 million worth of bribes over two decades and led to the arrest of seven top FIFA officials in Zurich among 14 people indicted by U.S. prosecutors.
Six of those indicted and three already convicted in the probe had done business out of the South Florida offices of CONCACAF, the regional federation for North and Central American and Caribbean soccer, and Traffic USA, a multi-national sports marketing firm that was a power broker in soccer broadcasting and sponsorship deals.
Swiss prosecutors, meanwhile, are investigating how FIFA awarded the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.
“Actions of individuals bring shame and humiliation on football and demand action and change from us all. We cannot allow the reputation of football and FIFA to be dragged through the mud any longer.
“It has to stop here and now.”
Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, Europe’s soccer governing body, said he asked Blatter “as a friend” to resign.
“I have had enough, enough is enough, too much is too much,” Platini said at a news conference. “I say these things with tears in my eyes. I don’t like it this way. But there are just too many scandals.”
Platini said nearly all UEFA members plan to support Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, Blatter’s only opponent, in Friday’s vote. Platini said if Blatter retains his office for an 18th year, UEFA may hold an emergency meeting during the Champions League final in Berlin to consider what action to take. He did not rule out boycotts of FIFA competitions.
“We will raise all possibilities,” he said, adding that he “does not wish” for a World Cup boycott.
UEFA leaders met late Wednesday night and considered boycotting the election. They ultimately decided to attend the FIFA meetings and vote Friday.
In the wake of the indictments and arrests, the Miami Beach-based CONCACAF announced Thursday that it had dismissed president Jeffrey Webb and vice president Eduardo Li, and named senior vice president Alfredo Hawit as president.
The executive committee appointed Victor Montagliani, the president of the Canadian Soccer Association, Justino Compean, the president of the Mexican Soccer Federation, and Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer Federation to a special committee that will be charged with evaluating all of the business operations of the Confederation in the wake of the indictments.
The executive committee also placed general secretary Enrique Sanz, who is battling leukemia, on a leave of absence to begin immediately. Deputy general secretary Ted Howard has been appointed as general secretary.
“While we are profoundly disappointed by the allegations made by authorities that again, CONCACAF has been the victim of fraud, we remain committed to CONCACAF’s goal to develop, promote and manage the game of soccer,” Hawit said. “We have now taken the appropriate steps to maintain our operations and continue to deliver on our commitments to all of our constituents, including our fans, members, as well as commercial and broadcast partners. We also continue to cooperate with the ongoing investigation by governmental authorities, which have not placed any restrictions on our ongoing activities.”
Among other responses to the scandal: Brazil’s justice minister, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, asked federal police to see if the U.S. probe could help identify crimes that may have been committed by Brazilian soccer officials and business executives.
In Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian confederation ordered the removal of the name of Jose Maria Marin from its headquarters. Marin, an 83-year-old former confederation president, was one of those charged.
A judge in Buenos Aires ordered the arrest of three Argentine businessmen in connection with the FIFA scandal. Judge Marcelo Martinez de Giorgi issued arrest orders for Alejandro Burzaco, the president of Argentine sports marketing firm Torneos y Competencias, as well as Mariano and Hugo Jinkis, the owners of Argentina-based sports media business Full Play.
Blatter conceded that “the next few months will not be easy for FIFA,” and added: “I’m sure more bad news will follow. It is necessary to begin to restore trust in our organization. Let this be the turning point.”