FIFA chief feisty, defiant after voteZURICH - Having come through another FIFA election largely unscathed, Sepp Blatter was in a typically defiant mood Saturday when addressing the challenges that lie ahead.
The 79-year-old FIFA president dismissed suggestions that a United States government investigation of corruption in football could lead him to the door. Several senior FIFA officials have been arrested already, but Blatter shrugged off the notion he could be next.
“Arrested for what? Next question,’’ Blatter said, meeting international media for the first time since American and Swiss federal cases rocked FIFA’s home city Wednesday.
“I forgive but I don’t forget,’’ Blatter said at FIFA headquarters, referring to a European-led attempt to oust him after 17 years in office.
A busy first day of his new four-year presidential term saw the leader of the world’s most popular sport scold critics and accept acclaim from allies.
Blatter criticized U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and received a congratulatory telegram from Vladimir Putin, president of 2018 World Cup host Russia.
Gone was the tension which put a tremor in his voice after Swiss police raided FIFA’s favorite luxury hotel in Zurich early Wednesday.
Blatter insisted he had nothing to fear from the U.S. federal case which that alleges a $150 million bribe scheme linked to broadcast rights for tournaments in North and South America. Two FIFA vice presidents were among seven men arrested.
“I do not see how FIFA could be directly affected by this,’’ Blatter said.
He was equally adamant when responding to questions about whether the probe might directly affect him.
It is uncertain if Splatter was the “high-ranking FIFA official’’ mentioned in the Department of Justice indictment who wired $10 million to the corrupt officials. The apparent bribes were paid from a FIFA account in exchange for voting for South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host.
“Definitely that is not me,’’ said Blatter. “I have no $10 million.’’
It was clear that, after winning a closer vote than he would have liked Friday, Blatter wanted to come out fighting - first criticizing Lynch in an interview with a Swiss broadcaster.
Lynch said Wednesday that FIFA and marketing officials - 14 indicted and four who plead guilty - had “corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.’’
“I was shocked by what she said,’’ Blatter told French broadcaster RTS. “As a president, I would never make a statement about another organization without knowing.’’
Blatter suggested the U.S. Department of Justice went too far on FIFA’s turf.
“Listen, with all the respect to the judicial system of the U.S. with a new minister of justice,’’ said Blatte, “the Americans, if they have a financial crime that regards American citizens then they must arrest these people there and not in Zurich when we have a congress.’’
Those comments set the tone for a punchy lunchtime news conference.
“I have especially no concerns about my person,’’ he said about the investigation, which U.S. federal agencies claim is just starting.
The seven football officials detained are resisting extradition and face 20 years in prison. Any questioning and plea bargaining could take American authorities deeper into the heart of FIFA.
Those detained include FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb, a Cayman Islands banker with homes in Georgia. Webb was a member of FIFA’s audit panel more than a decade ago, when FIFA was experiencing a severe financial crisis.
Still, FIFA member federations ignored the global furor Friday to vote 133-73 for Blatter against challenger Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.
Prince William, president of the English Football Association, was the latest high-profile figure to call for reform of FIFA.
“There seems to be a huge disconnect between the sense of fair play that guides those playing and supporting the game, and the allegations of corruption that have long lingered around the management of the sport internationally,’’ the prince said before Saturday’s FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium.
“The events in Zurich this week represent FIFA’s Salt Lake City moment, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) went through a similar period of serious allegations. FIFA, like the IOC, must now show that it can represent the interests of fair play and put the sport first. Those backing FIFA, such as sponsors and the regional confederations, must do their bit to press these reforms.’’