SAO PAULO - Fifa president Sepp Blatter on Wednesday all but confirmed he would run for elections despite criticism the game and organisation have been tarnished by accusations of corruption during his long reign.
World soccer’s governing body is reeling after allegations in Britain’s Sunday Times that a former top Fifa representative made payments to officials as part of a campaign to win support for Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Yet Blatter, who has led Fifa for 16 years, made no direct reference to the scandal throughout Wednesday’s annual Congress, and instead pressed his case to extend his tenure.
“My mission is not finished,” he told officials from Fifa’s 209 member associations at the close of Congress, held in Sao Paulo on the eve of the opening game of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup.
“Congress, you will decide who will take this great institution forward, but I can tell you I am ready to accompany you in the future,” he added.
Blatter, who ignored calls made this week by European countries not to run again in next year’s Fifa election, enjoys the support of enough delegates to have his way even if he will not be unopposed.
Former Fifa Deputy Secretary General Jerome Champagne, who announced his candidacy for the top job last year, later said in a statement he was looking forward to an open debate about the issues facing the game ahead of the vote.
“No one should fear this open discussion in front of the people of football, which would honour those organising and conducting it,” it read.
“As a consequence, I am very much looking forward to the debate in front of us, a debate even more necessary after the events having unfolded in the past weeks.”
Earlier at the Congress, the lawyer investigating allegations of corruption surrounding Fifa said he would leave no stone unturned in a bid to dispel concerns that the probe would not take into account key evidence that recently came to light.
Michael Garcia handed in a report this week on the findings from nearly two years of work, but told Fifa delegates it did not signal the end of his investigation.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported recently that some of the “millions of documents” it had seen linked payments by former Fifa executive committee member Mohamed Bin Hammam to officials to win backing for Qatar’s World Cup bid.
Bin Hammam has not commented on his involvement since he was banned for life from soccer in 2012, while Qataris working on the project say he was not a part of their official bid.
Garcia said he and his team already had access to the “vast majority” of those documents, and hoped to see the rest soon.
“We have gone to what appears to us to be the original source of that data and we are confident we will have full access to whatever else may be in that data set and we will review that data for anything else relevant prior to issuing any final report,” he told Fifa.
Allegations over Qatar’s bid overshadowed the buildup to the World Cup, yet they were barely mentioned at Fifa’s Congress.
Member associations and confederations were promised “extraordinary success premiums” after a profitable financial year, and Blatter even threw in a surprise in the form of a proposal to introduce radical new rules to the game.
While only an informal suggestion at this stage, he proposed allowing managers to appeal against refereeing decisions up to twice each game, using video footage to settle the issue.
The mood at this year’s Congress has been unusually subdued, with statements from regional groupings underlining deep divisions in an organisation that controls the world's most popular sport and billions of dollars in advertising revenues and television rights.
Senior soccer officials from Europe, concerned that Fifa’s image was being irrevocably damaged by scandals that have dogged it for years, told Blatter bluntly that he should not run again.
As European soccer lined up against Blatter, he won overwhelming support during meetings with delegates from Africa, Asia, Oceania and beyond, suggesting that he would comfortably win an election should he decide to take part.
Nothing but a win will do for a country that many people consider the spiritual home of soccer, and victory on the pitch might generate more excitement off it after a surprisingly subdued buildup to the tournament.
FIFA REJECT TERM MANDATES AND AGE LIMITS
Fifa’s 209 member associations rejected proposals to introduce term mandates and age limits for its elected executives at the world football governing body’s annual Congress on Wednesday.
Members were asked to approve or reject the ideas in principle and, although majorities voted against both proposals, Fifa did not give an exact vote count.
Associations voted by holding aloft green or red cards because the electronic voting system in Sao Paulo’s conference centre was not working.
European football’s governing body Uefa was the only one of the six regional confederations to support the proposals but several delegates called the ideas unfair and restrictive.
“We are completely against these changes,” Yves Jean Bart, president of the Haitian FA, said to loud applause. “We are working in a democratic system and that is the system that needs to prevail.”
The 78-year old Swiss has been Fifa boss since 1998.