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Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Sepp Blatter re-elected FIFA president

Associated Press

ZURICH -- Stung by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, Sepp Blatter held onto his spot as the leader of world soccer Wednesday, winning a one-man election derided as a "coronation."

The 75-year-old Swiss who has headed the sport virtually unchallenged for 13 years struck a rare note of humility in a speech short on specifics that promised to reform an ethics committee and provide more transparency in decision-making.

Blatter
Blatter

"We have been hit and I personally have been slapped," Blatter told delegates to the sport's congress. "I don't want that ever again."

Blatter won a fourth four-year term as head of FIFA, soccer's governing body, by receiving 186 out of 203 votes in an election during the congress in which his was the only name on the ballot. His sole challenger, Qatari executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam, withdrew from the race last weekend amid bribery allegations.

The election capped a period of several months in which FIFA has been buffeted by a swirl of corruption allegations, bid scandals, internal infighting and match-fixing cases that have scarred the credibility of the organization and the world's most popular sport.

The votes in December to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar sparked accusations in the British Parliament of bribes and other ethical misconduct among FIFA officials. FIFA said this week there was no evidence to back up those claims.

Then, last weekend bin Hammam and FIFA vice president Jack Warner -- two of the highest-ranking and most powerful men in the global game -- were suspended pending a full inquiry into allegations of vote-buying in the Qatari's bid to unseat Blatter. Cash bribes of $40,000 were allegedly paid to individual Caribbean football leaders to vote for bin Hammam.

Warner and bin Hammam denied wrongdoing and claimed the allegations -- submitted to FIFA by American executive committee member Chuck Blazer -- were part of a plot by Blatter to wreck the Qatari's election bid.

England's FA chairman David Bernstein called for a postponement of the election for several months to allow for the corruption scandals to be cleared up, saying that "a coronation without an opponent provides a flawed mandate." However, 172 of the 208 delegations rejected England's call.

After his re-election, Blatter immediately sought to prove that his promise of reform was no trick to turn the vote his way but genuine signs of change.

"Reforms will be made and not just touchups but radical decisions," Blatter said in his speech.

Blatter, who fulfilled his bold vision of taking the World Cup to Africa with last year's staging of the sport's marquee event in South Africa, now faces perhaps an even tougher challenge: restoring FIFA's battered credibility.

After denying there even was a crisis until late Monday -- "What is a crisis?" -- he was contrite on Wednesday, admitting he even personally had to talk to two top sponsors to assuage their concerns over sleaze and corruption.

"We will put FIFA's ship back on the right course in clear transparent waters," he said in French. "We will need some time. We cannot do it from one day to the next. It's a new challenge for me and I accept it."

In a major policy shift, Blatter said he would work to make sure that the awarding of future World Cup hosts would be decided in a vote of all 208 federations instead of FIFA's 24 executive committee members, several of whom have been involved in bribery scandals.

The congress also endorsed his plans to revamp the ethics committee and bring in more transparency. In addition, Blatter said he planned to appoint a woman to the executive committee, but again without voting power.

FIFA will meet again later this year to formally adopt the measures, by which time Blatter's intention for fundamental change should become clearer.

Bernstein, the English FA leader, said his failed attempt to postpone the election still succeeded in putting pressure on Blatter to announce reforms.

"We believe the calls we have made for greater transparency and better governance have been worthwhile," he said in a statement.

Overall, Blatter came across Wednesday with several initiatives that sounded sincere but still must be clarified.

Blatter has insisted that reform should come from within the FIFA family, sidestepping calls for independent, outside oversight that many critics had insisted on and he himself had promised.

IOC President Jacques Rogge told Blatter on the eve of the election that only drastic measures to improve democracy and transparency had saved the Olympic movement when it faced a similar corruption scandal in the run-up to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Allegations regarding the 2022 World Cup, in which tiny oil-rich Qatar defeated the United States in the final round, continue to dog FIFA.

On Monday, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke was forced to acknowledge he had written in an email that Qatar "bought" the 2022 World Cup. He claimed he was only referring to Qatar's formidable financial clout, and that he never accused the Gulf country of buying votes.

On Wednesday, German federation President Theo Zwanziger said Qatar's victory should be reviewed in light of "speculations and corruption allegations." Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter's re-election underlined once again his sway over the FIFA "family." FIFA doles out millions of dollars in development and other aid to its 208 member associations, funds that help engender loyalty among the ranks.

National soccer federations also know Blatter is a proven moneymaker.

FIFA made a $631 million profit in the four years leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, registering $202 million of that in last year alone. The four-year financial cycle showed income of $4.19 billion from broadcast and commercial deals, with 87 percent tied directly to the World Cup.

"We have made mistakes, but we will draw our conclusions," Blatter said.