FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Thursday that the corruption scandal engulfing the governing body of the world's most popular sport has brought shame and humiliation to soccer, in a defiant speech where he resisted calls from officials to resign.
Speaking at the opening of a Federacion Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Congress in Zurich, Switzerland, Blatter said he expects to be re-elected Friday to a fifth term as FIFA president, Reuters reports. It was his first public appearance since the scandal broke.
“I cannot monitor everyone all the time. If people want to do wrong they will also try to hide it,” Blatter told the 209 FIFA member federations.
The Justice Department unsealed a 47-count indictment Wednesday accusing nine current and former FIFA officials, four sports marketing executives and another man who works in broadcasting of racketeering and money laundering involving more than $150 million over the past 24 years. Seven FIFA officials have been arrested as a result.
Blatter said Thursday that FIFA has lost trust and must earn it back, starting with Friday’s presidential elections.
Earlier Thursday, Blatter chaired an emergency meeting with continental soccer bodies while hiding from public view.
"There was a meeting today with the president with the representatives from the confederations to discuss the current situation," FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said in a statement. The topics of the meeting were not disclosed.
The meeting came after Blatter skipped a scheduled kickoff address he was supposed to make during FIFA's medical conference at a Zurich hotel.
Although the scandal is international in nature, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said the case was brought in the U.S. because the suspects planned their alleged crimes in the U.S., used the American banking system and intended to capitalize on the "growing U.S. market for soccer."
Blatter is seeking a fifth, four-year term as FIFA's president. He has held the post since 1998. However, Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English Football Association, says he should step down immediately.
“Blatter has put out a statement saying now is the time to start rebuilding trust in FIFA – there is no way of re-building trust in FIFA while Sepp Blatter is still there,” Dyke told The Guardian.
On Thursday, Dyke called for the presidential election to be held as planned, telling Sky Sports that "Prince Ali can still win," a reference to Blatter's lone opponent, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan. Prince Ali is believed to have the support of England, as well as many of Europe's other soccer federations.
Michel Platini, the president of Europe's regional confederation, UEFA, said some European countries might pull out of FIFA and the World Cup if Blatter wins a fifth term as president.
Speaking at a news conference in Zurich, Platini said through a translator that the European football body will be "open to all options," but insisted that he opposes a boycott of FIFA — even if Blatter beats Prince Ali in the election.
Platini said he expects that a majority of European countries — at least 45 — will vote for the Jordanian royal in the 209-nation election after UEFA backed down from a threat to boycott the FIFA Congress.
Platini said he told Blatter directly in a meeting on Thursday morning to stand down before the ballot — but the FIFA chief refused.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Prime Minister David Cameron also joined the calls for Blatter to step down. Hammond said Thursday, “there is something deeply wrong at the heart of FIFA and international football needs reform,” while Cameron’s office said the prime minister is "foursquare behind" Prince Ali to replace Blatter.
Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona told Radio La Red in Buenos Aires that he has repeatedly said the organization was corrupt but no one took him seriously.
“I was treated like a crazy person,” he said. “Now the FBI told the truth.”
Key FIFA sponsors, including Adidas, Visa and Coca-Cola, have called for reform in soccer’s governing body in the aftermath of the arrests, The Guardian reports.
“Our disappointment and concern with FIFA in light of today’s developments is profound,” Visa said in a statement on its Tumblr blog. “As a sponsor, we expect FIFA to take swift action and immediate steps to address these issues within its organization. This starts with rebuilding a culture with strong ethical practices in order to restore the reputation of the games for fans everywhere.”
“This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations,” Coca-Cola added.
Even Nike has apparently been pulled into the investigation.
The Justice Department’s indictment alleges that in 1996, a global sports company agreed to pay $160 million over 10 years to become the Brazilian National Team’s exclusive footwear, apparel, accessories and equipment supplier. The indictment did not identify the company, but Nike has held the contract to supply Brazil over that period of time.
The company said in a statement it is cooperating with authorities.
“Nike believes in ethical and fair play in both business and sport and strongly opposes any form of manipulation or bribery. We have been cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with the authorities.”
Blatter did find support, though, in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
The AFC said in a statement that it "reiterates its decision taken at the AFC Congress in Sao Paulo to support FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter."
A statement from CAF on Thursday followed the AFC's one, also pledging its support for Blatter and saying the election should take place as scheduled.
CONCACAF also said Thursday that its 35 FIFA voters are "unanimous that the election should go forward as planned."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.