European leaders call on Blatter to stand down as Fifa president
Events in Sao Paulo appear to set stage for Uefa president Michel Platini to enter the race
Locals while away the hours on Rio’s Ipanema Beach before the start of the greatest sports show on earth tomorrow. Photograph: Getty Images
It may still look like being more of a one-horse race than the tournament that gets under way here tomorrow, but Sepp Blatter’s bid for re-election got a little more interesting yesterday in Sao Paulo, where representatives of a couple of Europe’s most prominent associations made clear on the first day of Fifa’s Congress that they believe it is time for the veteran Swiss to go.
The Europeans, who included England’s FA chairman Greg Dyke and its Uefa Executive Committee (ExCo) member David Gill, and Dutch federation chief Michael van Praag (also a member of Uefa’s ExCo), all roundly criticised the Fifa president.
While Lennart Johansson, the former Uefa president who was beaten by Blatter in an election for Fifa’s top job back in 1998, said having promised three years ago that he would not run again, his old rival should now accept that “16 years are enough”.
The row follows on from Blatter’s comments on Monday when, without naming anyone, he suggested the current coverage in the British media of the vote to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup contained much “discrimination and racism”.
He said those behind it wanted to destroy Fifa.
The African federation, some of whose most prominent members have been implicated in the reporting of the Qatar vote, raised the stakes somewhat by passing a motion in which they described some of the allegations as “deliberately hateful, defamatory and degrading”.
Gill was slightly more reserved, describing Blatter’s determination to run for yet another term of office as “disappointing”. Dyke insisted Blatter’s comments had been “totally unacceptble”. He reported afterwards that he had told Blatter, at a meeting from which the media was excluded: “The allegations being made are nothing to do with the racism, they are allegations about corruption.”
Most damning, it seems, was van Praag, who told journalists afterwards that he had presented Blatter with a stark assessment of his performance in office.
Von Praag said he had told Blatter in the meeting: “If you look at Fifa’s reputation over the last seven or eight years, it is being linked to all kinds of corruption and all kinds of old-boys’-networks things.
“Fifa has an executive president, and you are not making things easy for yourself, and I do not think you are the man for the job any longer,” he continued.
Von Praag said he told Blatter: “I like you very much . . . this is nothing personal. But you are now saying that Qatar was the wrong choice [for the 2022 World Cup], but you are not blaming yourself, you are blaming your executive committee.
“Yesterday you said something about racism against Qatar, and people are not taking you seriously any more. This is not good for Fifa and it is not good for the game.
“Yes, you are leading the reforms at the moment, but all these problems occurred in the period before the reforms, and you were still president and you are responsible, and I believe you should not run any more.”
Blatter also addressed the meeting, and Uefa officials said that he had received only a “polite round of applause”.
Just how seriously Blatter will take the criticism remains to be seen. He has been embroiled in a succession of battles down the years with Uefa, and even his original election defeat of Johansson was marked by allegations against him of financial impropriety. He has survived scandals that have accounted for quite a few others since and has seen off several opponents who felt they could topple him.
On the face of it, the comments in Sao Paulo appear to set the stage for Uefa president Michel Platini to enter the race for next year’s election, but the former midfielder will not want to lose. Having perhaps bought Blatter’s original line that he would not run again, Platini has already delayed an announcement on whether he will go himself on a couple of occasions. He now says he will announce his decision in August.
Between now and then the Frenchman and his advisers will be carefully weighing up the numbers. Uefa’s members may have more than 50 votes, but between them the African Federation, CAF, contains just as many associations.
It looks like CAF’s delegates will be at least as unified in their support of the incumbent as Uefa’s are in opposition, and Platini will likely require the backing of just over 100 to win.
That leaves a lot of work to do, and while Platini has some friends, 16 years holding the pen that signs Fifa’s cheques has earned Blatter one or two as well. More problematic for the Uefa chief is that he must create the perception he is going to win if he is to have any chance – as many of those who would like Blatter to go would be careful not to get caught offside by opposing him only to see him re-elected.
Asked yesterday whether his criticism of Blatter might have damaged the English FA’s relationship with Fifa, Dykes replied that it “wasn’t much of a relationship there anyway” and the “chances of England ever winning another tournament [were] pretty low”.
Not everyone will feel they have quite so little to lose when it comes time to stand up and be counted.