FIFA’s veteran president Sepp Blatter faced angry demands to resign after US indictments and arrests of top lieutenants engulfed the football supremo in crisis heading into an annual congress on Thursday.
As Blatter prepared to open the congress in Switzerland, top sponsors who pour millions into world football — including Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald’s and Visa — pressed the global body to clean itself up.
Visa said that unless FIFA rebuilds a corporate culture with “strong ethical practices” at its heart, “we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship”.
FIFA was adamant that despite the arrests early Wednesday of the seven officials in a luxury Zurich hotel, its congress and leadership vote would go ahead as planned this week.
But leading figures in the global game, as well as newspapers around the world, said such a stand was untenable after US prosecutors said their investigation had unearthed the “World Cup of fraud”.
US authorities said nine football officials were among 14 people facing up to 20 years in jail if found guilty in the long-running corruption case involving more than $150 million in bribes.
The US investigation said South African officials paid $10 million in bribes to host the 2010 tournament, while Swiss investigators raided FIFA’s Zurich headquarters as part of an investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
“Sepp Blatter has to go as FIFA president,” said Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association, which lost out to Russia for the 2018 tournament amid allegations of bribery in the bidding process.
“There is no way of rebuilding trust in FIFA while Sepp Blatter is still there… He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way,” Dyke said. European federations demanded the suspension of the FIFA congress starting Thursday and for Friday’s presidential vote, in which Blatter was expected to ease to a fifth term, to be put back by six months.
“These events show, once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in FIFA’s culture,” the European governing body UEFA said, warning its members might boycott a congress that risks becoming a “farce”.
Former Brazil star turned senator Romario, a vociferous critic of corruption in the game, said he hoped the investigations would stymie Blatter’s hopes of re-election, and called for a “worthy” leader.
“I hope this will change something as there is the hope, at least for me, that Blatter may also be detained,” he said.
The FIFA president was not among those named in the US indictment.
US officials would not be drawn on the possibility of future charges against other senior FIFA figures, and pointedly refused to answer questions about Blatter himself.
“It’s a significant step but I want to be very clear, this is the beginning of our effort not the end,” said Kelly Currie, acting US attorney for the eastern district of New York.
Blatter, 79, said it was a “difficult time” for the world body, and said he would not tolerate misconduct after the investigation named top officials including former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner.
“Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game,” Blatter said in a statement.