ZURICH / MOSCOW / JOHANNESBURG: UEFA president Michel Platini confronted FIFA leader Sepp Blatter at an emergency meeting of football chiefs on Thursday and said he called on him to stand down because of corruption scandals engulfing world football.
Blatter refused and Platini made a public appeal at a press conference for member nations from around the world to vote against Blatter for the FIFA presidency in an election Friday.
“I asked him to resign: enough is enough, Sepp. He listened to me but he told me it is too late,” Platini told a press conference.
“I say these things with tears in my eyes. I don’t like it this way. But there are just too many scandals,” he added.
Other confederation leaders did not back his call, Platini added.
Platini said he was “disgusted” and “sickened” by events which led to the arrest of seven FIFA officials at a Zurich hotel on Wednesday.
Blatter is strong favourite to win a fifth term at a FIFA congress on Friday. But Platini said he believed the Swiss official can be beaten.
“Before the events of this week maybe not,” Platini said. “But not now with what has happened. I think that Blatter can be beaten.”
The UEFA president said a “large majority” of European nations would back challenger Prince Ali bin al Hussein.
He called on members from other confederations to also join a revolt against FIFA and support the prince.
The winner needs a two thirds majority of FIFA’s 209 members for victory in the first round on Friday. If a second round is needed, a straight majority is enough.
David Gill of England has said he will not take up his seat as a FIFA vice president from Saturday if Blatter wins.
And Platini said that European nations would meet in Berlin on June 6, on the sidelines of the Champions League final, to review “all their relations with FIFA” if Blatter wins.
“We will raise all possibilities,” Platini said, while refusing to say whether this would include a possible withdrawal from FIFA competitions.
Platini said he hoped Gill could change his mind before FIFA’s next executive committee on Saturday in Zurich.
Putin condemns US over FIFA probe
Russia switched the focus of its tensions with America from Ukraine to the football pitch Thursday with President Vladimir Putin lashing out over the US probe into FIFA.
The Kremlin strongman condemned the arrest of seven top FIFA officials, accusing Washington of trying to oust football boss Sepp Blatter after he resisted pressure to stop Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup.
“We know about the pressure that has been put on (Blatter) with the aim of banning the holding of the 2018 World Cup in Russia,” Putin said in comments released Thursday.
“His general position is that sport and politics should be kept apart.”
The arrests Wednesday in Zurich two days ahead of a FIFA presidential vote was “clearly an attempt to block the reelection of Blatter,” Putin said, alleging the US was trying to “spread its jurisdiction to other countries”.
Putin has made opposing what he portrays as US meddling in the world a key plank of his foreign policy and uses claims he is checking American expansionism to bolster his popularity at home and deflect all criticism.
Relations between Moscow and the West have slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War and some hawkish US senators have called for the 2018 World Cup to be withdrawn from Russia over allegations Moscow is fuelling the separatist conflict in Ukraine.
FIFA is facing the biggest crisis in its century of existence after Swiss police detained the football officials on allegations they took more than $150 million in bribes. The United States wants the seven extradited to face trial there.
A separate Swiss investigation is also looking into alleged wrongdoing in the allocation of the 2018 event to Russia and the 2022 championship to Qatar.
The Kremlin has lavished vast sums on hosting international sporting events — most notably the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — that are used to burnish Putin’s image.
While FIFA and Russian officials have dismissed the possibility that the World Cup in Russia is in doubt, analysts said Putin was at the least concerned the event might be overshadowed by controversy.
“The president is clearly worried about the World Cup in 2018,” Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expert Group, told AFP.
“He not only has doubts about whether it will take place or not but he is also nervous that the atmosphere around it will be ruined.”
Russia’s state media has quickly turned the investigations into FIFA into part of a broader conspiracy against Russia.
Government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta said the arrest of the top officials made it “clear that the United States want to get full control over FIFA, which as an international and purely sporting organisation has been acting independently as it should.”
Many Russians appear to buy the Kremlin line that Washington is out to get Russia, with an online poll from leading sports daily Sovietsky Sport showing 36 percent of respondents thought the FIFA arrests were aimed against the 2018 World Cup.
Kalachev said Putin’s claims that the FIFA investigation is part of a US plot demonstrate his wider belief that he is defending Russia against foreign foes, from Ukraine to the backrooms of FIFA headquarters.
“He genuinely feels that he is in a besieged fortress,” Kalachev said.
“This is not just a tool to bind together the majority, but also his real belief that Russia is encircled by enemies.”
South Africa denies bribes paid to host World Cup
South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula on Thursday denied allegations that huge bribes were paid to win the right to host the 2010 World Cup, saying that public money had not been given to “criminals”.
FIFA has been engulfed in a bribery scandal that includes accusations from the US attorney general that FIFA officials took cash in return for awarding the tournament to South Africa.
The US indictment alleged that bundles of cash in a briefcase were handed over at a Paris hotel as a bribe by a “high-ranking South African bid committee official”.
It also alleged the South Africa government agreed that $10 million that was due to be paid to South Africa to run the World Cup was instead transferred from FIFA’s funds to pay bribes to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner.
“We as a government and people managing the resources of the South African people — we did not share part of your resources with criminals, I am saying it now and forever,” Mbalula said.
“The South African government and its people will not stand in any way of pursuing justice, criminality (and) fighting corruption in sport.”
Mbalula criticised how the US had made its allegations without consulting South Africa.
“We are not and we have never acted in Hollywood and we are not used to these things,” he told reporters in Johannesburg.
“Let us protect our sovereignty and national interest and fight corruption — but equally we must not allow to be abused… people seem to cast aspersions on our integrity.
“There is nothing from our side that could implicate our government, as has been vastly speculated… we must not become a reckless casualty.”
The South Africa Football Association dismissed the allegations on Wednesday, and cited the role of Nelson Mandela in winning the historic bid.
“We are disappointed at the baseless and untested allegations and request proof from anyone who has contrary evidence,” national football association spokesman Dominic Chimhavi said.
“Our bid campaign was run by, among others, late president Nelson Mandela, former president Thabo Mbeki and several government ministers, who are men of integrity.”
The 2010 World Cup bidding was confined to Africa, and South Africa defeated Morocco 14-10 in a vote to decide which country would be the first from the continent to stage the tournament.
“When we concluded the FIFA World Cup here in South Africa we got a clean audit report,” Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency, told reporters in Cape Town earlier Thursday.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has come under severe pressure from sponsors over the scandal, but Radebe recalled that Blatter had boosted South African pride after the largely successful tournament.
“He gave us, I think, eight or nine out of 10,” Radebe said.