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Uefa boss calls for Blatter to step down

media Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann/Files

A day before Fifa elects its new leader, Uefa president Michel Platini called on Sepp Blatter to stand down as head of world football's governing body because of the corruption scandals engulfing the organisation. Blatter refused and Platini responded with a public appeal for member nations to vote against Blatter for the Fifa presidency in an election Friday.

Blatter came under increased pressure since the arrest on 27 May of seven high Fifa  officials in Switzerland on charges of massive corruption.

The investigation is being conducted in a concerted operation by the Swiss and US Attorneys General and the FBI and started three years ago.

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Blatter is still backed by a large number of football associations.

Fifa consists of six regional confederations with a total of 209 members. Each member has one vote.

The Confederation of African Football CAF (54 members) said in a declaration that it will back him and so did the Asian Football Confederation AFC (46 members).

But the first splits were seen as Frank Lowry, the Australian head of the AFC said that he will not vote for Blatter.

The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Cocacaf), which has 41 members, Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (Conmebol), which has 10 members and Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), which has 11 members, have not publicly stated their preference.

But if it is up to the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa, 53 members), Blatter will leave.

“[Candidate] Prince Ali [Bin Al-Hussein] could win, in which case we have achieved what we came here to do and that is to say goodbye to Mister Blatter,” said Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English Football Association.

Uefa has taken the lead in the drive to replace Blatter.

“These events show, once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in Fifa’s culture, " said Uefa spokesperson Gianni Infantino. "There is the need for the whole of Fifa to be rebooted and for a real reform to be carried out.”

But Uefa, too, is not united.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the probe into Fifa as a conspiracy to get rid of Blatter and says he will back him.

“Blatter's brilliance is that he understands that a lot of the world is ruled by autocrats," says James Dorsey, a scholar with the Rajaratnam school of International Studies in Singapore. “Autocrats do business differently. Now he’s obviously concerned that the Russian bid could be called into question.”

Dorsey thinks that the US department of justice may win its battle for greater transparency and accountability within Fifa.

“It is not something that Putin favors,” he says.

The question now arises whether Russia and Qatar will be stripped of the right to organise the Soccer World Championships in 2018 and 2022 respectively.

“There is in my mind no doubt that Qatar in the legal sense is guilty,” says Dorsey. "But the question is, what do you do with that? The real root problem is that financial and political corruption is embedded and deeply rooted in the world soccer governance. And it is really about resolving that.

“What Qatar did is no different from what anybody else in Fifa does. That’s the way it is done. The reason that England did not get very far with its World Cup bid in for 2018 was that it played it straight. It was honest. And that doesn’t get you anywhere in Fifa.”

Other observers think that the Fifa structure has become too big to be able to change.

“The basic underlying structural problem is that Fifa has a monopoly,” says Andrew Zimbalist, author of the book Circus Maximus.

Zimbalist points out that the two biggest global sporting events, the Olympic Games and the World Football Championships, were born out of idealism and a sense of global friendship and brotherhood.

But things got out of hand.

“Fifa is the only organisation that hosts the World Cup and soccer is the most popular sport in the world," he points out. "So whoever runs Fifa is going to be enormously powerful. It is difficult to have any meaningful government oversight over the activities of Fifa and so the organisation will lend itself to abusing and taking advantage of its position.”

But Zimbalist thinks that change is possible.

“There will be individuals who are better motivated and more prone to being responsive to the public and their fans than Sepp Blatter has been or his predecessor Joao Havelange was," he says.

 

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