FIFA Scandal: Sepp Blatter Wins Re-election After Opponent Concedes Defeat

Sepp Blatter

Despite the crisis facing the world soccer association, with U.S. and Swiss authorities pursuing criminal investigations against the group, Blatter was elected to a fifth term as president.

Just two days after police raids, arrests and allegations of widespread corruption at world soccer association FIFA, Sepp Blatter has succeeded in his bid for a re-election to his fifth four-year term as FIFA president.

Blatter received 133 of 209 possible votes at the FIFA general congress in Zurich Friday, compared to just 73 for his competitor, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan. That was short of the 140 Blatter needed — a two-thirds majority of the delegates — to win re-election outright. But Prince Ali conceded defeat rather than force a second ballot — handing victory to Blatter, 79, who will now serve as FIFA president through 2019.  

The FIFA congress presented an image of calm continuity amid the scandals that have engulfed FIFA this week. Even a bomb threat could not disrupt the proceedings, which went ahead without incident. 

On Wednesday, several of FIFA's top officials were arrested at a five-star hotel in Zurich on charges — initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice — of receiving bribes, money-laundering and racketeering. Swiss legal experts on Friday told Reuters the officials would be quickly extradited to the United States, likely within a matter of months. 

The dawn arrests came just hours before Swiss prosecutors announced they had begun a separate criminal investigation into the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which FIFA organized, and which, controversially, were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Both Russia and Qatar have denied any wrongdoing. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the U.S. of "meddling" in FIFA's affairs in what he called "obviously an attempt to prevent Mr Blatter’s re-election to the post of FIFA president, which is a grave violation of the principles that international organizations function on."

Qatar, in a statement, said the country has “fully complied with every investigation that has been initiated concerning the 2018/2022 bidding process and will continue to do so.” It added: “We conducted our bid with integrity.”

Blatter has not been charged in either investigation, and he has repeatedly rejected calls for him to resign as head of FIFA, a position he has held for the past 17 years.

Instead, speaking to the congress before the vote, Blatter said while the arrests and corruption allegations have “unleashed a storm” at FIFA, delegates should show “unity and team spirit.” He called for a “campaign against corruption” but, at the same time, appeared to brush off accusations he should have known what was going on under his watch. Blatter said it was “impossible” to watch over the “300 million” active participants in the FIFA organization, a number that appears to include all the members and players in FIFA's 209 national soccer associations worldwide.

Speaking to delegates, Prince Ali did not mention Blatter by name but, in an obvious dig at the four-term FIFA boss, he said running FIFA could not be about "empowering wrongdoing and then promising to root it out." He called on FIFA members to "listen to your conscience and listen to your hearts" and vote for him, for "a new dawn for FIFA." He said FIFA was at a crossroads. "This time, everything is at stake, for the game and for the world."  

FIFA members in Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia opposed Blatter's re-election, and several prominent soccer figures, including English association chairman Greg Dyke and European association president Michel Platini, called on him to resign. Even Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, joined the “Blatter Out” campaign. “You cannot have accusations of corruption at this level and on this scale in this organization and pretend that the person currently leading it is the right person to take it forward,” Cameron said. “Frankly, what we’ve seen is the ugly side of the beautiful game and he should go. And the sooner that happens, the better.”

But Blatter has substantial support in Asia, South America and, especially, Africa, which carried the day. African nations make up FIFA's biggest voting block and Blatter is hugely popular in the region, in part for his role in bringing the World Cup to South Africa in 2010. That bid, like so many under Blatter's rule, has been tainted by accusations of bribes, corruption and vote-buying.

Dyke, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today program, called for a coordinated European boycott of the 2018 World Cup but said England would not pull out its team without the support of other European nations. 

“There is no point in one or two countries saying ‘We’re not going to take part’ because they will carry on with the tournament without them and that is pretty unfair on the fans,” Dyke said.

It remains to be seen whether the anti-Blatter group will gain momentum in the wake of his re-election. Blatter himself was initially due to face the press directly following the vote but a press conference has been postponed until Saturday.