ZURICH >> Sepp Blatter will seek another term as FIFA president later Friday after asking soccer leaders to entrust him with guiding the governing body’s recovery from a corruption crisis — again.
“We have been hit and I personally have been slapped,” Blatter said at his 2011 re-election, which was overshadowed by a bribery scandal within FIFA. “I don’t want that ever again.”
Four years on, FIFA’s reputation has been bruised by the deepest scandal in its 111-year history, and Blatter’s leadership is coming under question.
The 209 FIFA member nations will decide Friday whether to stick with the 79-year-old Blatter or end his 17-year rule by backing Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.
The vote comes two days after Swiss police arrested seven soccer officials, including two FIFA vice presidents, as part of corruption investigations in the United States and Switzerland. It has been a dramatic build up to the election, which European delegates wanted to delay.
“It is necessary to begin to restore trust in our organization,” Blatter told the opening session of the FIFA congress Thursday, a day after the police raids in Zurich dominated headlines around the world. “Let this be the turning point. More needs to be done to make sure everyone in football behaves responsibly and ethically.”
UEFA President Michel Platini believes that requires the departure of Blatter, warning that a boycott of the World Cup by European nations could be considered if there wasn’t a change of president.
“I feel pain in my stomach,” Platini said. “As someone who has worked with FIFA for many years, I am absolutely sickened.”
Having opted against challenging Blatter himself, Platini is among the leading supporters of Prince Ali and believes at least 45 European votes will go to the Jordanian royal.
But a Blatter victory seems more likely — given the broad extent of his power base — barring a fresh development in the twin-pronged investigations by Swiss and American authorities.
A two-thirds majority would be enough to win the secret vote, or a simple majority in a second round of voting.
Just forcing the ballot to a second round could represent a victory of sorts for Blatter’s critics, denying the incumbent president an emphatic mandate in his next term.
But while pressure seems to be mounting on Blatter globally, he has proven to be a survivor of scandals.
Blatter’s presidency seemed set to end after four years when, in the build-up to the 2002 vote, he was accused of financial mismanagement by members of FIFA’s ruling executive committee and a criminal complaint was filed with Swiss prosecutors. Blatter still beat Issa Hayatou — now a FIFA vice president — to retain the presidency and the criminal complaint came to nothing.
FIFA is clearly in the sights of law enforcement agencies again, although Blatter has not been accused of wrongdoing in the criminal investigations.
A U.S. Justice Department probe accused 14 international soccer officials or sports marketing executives of bribery, racketeering, fraud and money-laundering over two decades in connection with marketing rights worth hundreds of millions of dollars awarded for tournaments in North and South America.
Seven officials — including two FIFA vice presidents and members of the finance committee — remained in custody in Zurich on Thursday.
In addition, Swiss officials are investigating the FIFA votes that resulted in the World Cup tournaments being awarded to Russia in 2018 and to Qatar in 2022. Both decisions were overshadowed by allegations of wrongdoing and have cast a constant shadow on Blatter’s fourth term.
Item 17 on the 19-point FIFA Congress agenda will determine whether Blatter runs FIFA for another four, likely volatile years.