FIFA vote to be held Feb 26; Blatter defies calls to go now
ZURICH — Sepp Blatter had a good day at the office on Monday, even if a prankster tried to spoil it by showering the FIFA president with fake dollar bills at a news conference.
Nothing could spoil Blatter’s day after he outwitted some of his FIFA opponents to earn precious extra time as their president and enjoy more such days in 2016.
Mastering FIFA politics yet again, amid calls to step down immediately, Blatter is set to stay atop world soccer for seven more months after FIFA agreed Monday on a Feb. 26 election to replace him.
Blatter was in such a good and defiant mood that he quickly shrugged off a chaotic start to his first major public appearance since a stunning resignation statement last month.
A British comedian who gatecrashed the news conference at FIFA’s headquarters threw the fake bills in the air after making a spoof statement about supporting North Korea to host the 2026 World Cup.
The image of Blatter cowering under a spray of money was powerful amid ongoing American and Swiss federal investigations of FIFA corruption, yet he regained his poise.
“I just called my late mother,” he quipped on returning to the room minutes later, “and she said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just a lack of education.'”
Still, it made for an uneasy start with international networks and FIFA’s own YouTube channel broadcasting the news conference live.
“Where is my security?” Blatter had shouted.
The interruption provided an awkward reminder of a far more serious incident for FIFA in May, when the arrest of soccer and sports marketing officials plunged the game’s ruling body into its deepest crisis.
Jolted by the dual criminal investigations into bribery and money laundering, Blatter announced four days after being elected for a fifth term that he would leave FIFA.
“It was not only the pressure of any authorities … it was also the pressure of political interference and also the pressure of you, media,” said Blatter, who is a target of the U.S. investigation. “I had to do something very special and I did it. In footballing terms, I kicked the ball out of the field to stop something.”
FIFA’s executive committee decided the election date and Blatter ended weeks of uncertainty by insisting he would not perform one of his renowned about-turns by in fact being a candidate.
“On the 26th of February FIFA will have a new president,” Blatter said. “I cannot be the new president because I am the old president.”
The 79-year-old Blatter, who first joined FIFA 40 years ago, has held onto the most powerful job in world soccer since 1998.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, who lost to Blatter in May, had told The Associated Press earlier Monday: “President Blatter’s resignation cannot be dragged out any longer. He must leave now.”
But while Blatter said he felt “regret” about the crises, he insisted he would not be “abandoning” the presidency until a successor is elected by the 209 member associations.
The Feb. 26 date was a political victory for Blatter over European governing body UEFA and its supporters in other continents, who wanted a December ballot and thought they had a compromise agreement on Sunday for Jan. 15.
Instead, Blatter and senior vice president Issa Hayatou held sway with a late tactic. They cited not clashing with the second-tier African Nations Championship — a tournament for little-known home-based players — hosted in Rwanda from Jan. 16-Feb. 7.
Late-February has personal significance to Blatter. It will mark exactly 40 years since Blatter’s first major duty for FIFA — a development conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that is featured in scenes from the much-derided $27 million movie flop ‘United Passions.’
Earlier Monday, UEFA President Michel Platini had seemed ready to launch his election campaign as front-runner when his officials confirmed he has support to run from four of the six FIFA continents.
Instead, there is an Oct. 26 deadline for would-be candidates to gain five nominations from FIFA’s 209 member associations.
Prince Ali did not commit to a second campaign Monday, and only former Brazil great Zico and Liberia football federation president Musa Bility have expressed their intention to stand.
“He loves the fact that UEFA is associated with football on a daily basis and the thousands of matches we organize,” Platini’s spokesman, Pedro Pinto, said outside FIFA headquarters. “FIFA is a more political organization and he is a man of football. He’s not a man of politics.”
In a statement Platini welcomed the creation of a FIFA reforms task force — a second one after a 2012-13 version — which will reconsider introducing term limits, integrity checks for senior officials and pay details.
Blatter declined repeatedly on Monday to reveal his salary, and insisted this and any other proposals must also apply to all 209 FIFA members who should vote on them in February.
But Blatter did respond to calls from World Cup sponsor Coca-Cola and former FIFA advisers Transparency International to appoint an independent person to oversee possible changes to shape the damaged organization’s future.
Still, the “eminent leader” requested by Coca-Cola will be chosen by Blatter, Platini and other confederation presidents to lead a panel made up of 10 appointees from within those continental bodies.
There seemed little to attract a respected figure from outside the sport to oversee the next election and reforms of FIFA.
Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general from Ghana, has been mentioned for the role.
“The rumors linking Mr. Annan to the FIFA job are just that: rumors,” Annan’s foundation office told the AP, stressing that he is currently “fully committed” to other roles.
Bility, the Liberian federation head, said he was “very disappointed” with the Feb. 26 election date.
“It does not reflect the urgency of the situation,” he told the AP by telephone, adding he expected to get on the ballot. “I am very encouraged. I don’t see any new faces.”
On Monday, Blatter remained the face of FIFA, insisting he wants to rebuild its reputation.
Speaking in his fifth language of the news conference, the veteran Swiss said in German that he wanted to “say goodbye when you have realized something good.”
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