Sports

FIFA president Blatter likely to be re-elected despite corruption scandal

Sepp Blatter's opponent is Jordan's Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein

 

The incumbent president of international soccer's governing body was poised to be elected to a fifth term Friday despite a corruption scandal that exploded earlier this week after the arrests of seven high-ranking officials.

Sepp Blatter, 79, appeared to have the support of most of FIFA's 209 member soccer federations after asking them Thursday to entrust him with guiding the organization's recovery from the most serious crisis in its 111-year history.

Blatter has risen to the most powerful position in the world's most popular sport by courting the support of developing nations, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Most of the 111 federations that make up those regions were expected to give their votes to Blatter.

However, more established soccer nations, including most of the European federations and the United States, have announced their intention to back Blatter's opponent, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

Michel Platini, a former star player and head of the European regional confederation, UEFA, has warned that a boycott of the 2018 World Cup by European nations could be considered if Blatter is re-elected.

"I feel pain in my stomach," Platini told the Associated Press Thursday. "As someone who has worked with FIFA for many years, I am absolutely sickened."

Platini believes that at least 45 of Europe's 53 member associations will back the Jordanian challenger. Either man must get a two-thirds majority, or 139 votes, to win the FIFA presidency on the first ballot. A simple majority of at least 105 votes is all that is necessary on subsequent ballots.

Just forcing the ballot to a second round could represent a victory of sorts for Blatter's critics, denying the incumbent president an emphatic mandate in his next term.

But while pressure seems to be mounting on Blatter globally, he has proven to be a survivor of scandals.

Blatter's presidency seemed set to end after four years when, in the build-up to the 2002 vote, he was accused of financial mismanagement by members of FIFA's ruling executive committee and a criminal complaint was filed with Swiss prosecutors. Blatter still beat Issa Hayatou -- now a FIFA vice president and head of the African confederation -- to retain the presidency and the criminal complaint came to nothing.

FIFA is clearly in the sights of law enforcement agencies again, although Blatter has not been accused of wrongdoing in the criminal investigations.

A U.S. Justice Department probe accused 14 international soccer officials or sports marketing executives of bribery, racketeering, fraud and money-laundering over two decades in connection with marketing rights worth hundreds of millions of dollars awarded for tournaments in North and South America.

Seven officials -- including two FIFA vice presidents and members of the finance committee -- remained in custody in Zurich on Thursday.

In addition, Swiss officials are investigating the FIFA votes that resulted in the World Cup tournaments being awarded to Russia in 2018 and to Qatar in 2022. Both decisions were overshadowed by allegations of wrongdoing and have cast a constant shadow on Blatter's fourth term.

Results of the election are expected to be announced later Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.