Blatter says he will forgive but won’t forget UEFA rebellion
ZURICH (AP) — Emboldened by his fresh mandate to lead world soccer, Sepp Blatter made it clear there may be consequences for European leaders who tried to oust him from FIFA.
“I forgive everyone but I don’t forget,” Blatter told Swiss television channel RTS. “We cannot live without UEFA and UEFA cannot live without us.”
UEFA President Michel Platini, who helped Blatter first gain the presidency in 1998, led opposition against his former ally and has suggested European nations could consider boycotting FIFA — including the World Cup.
Blatter believes the Europeans are just bad losers after Platini’s candidate, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, was beaten in Friday’s election.
“It is hatred not only by one person at UEFA but by the organization of UEFA that has not accepted that I have been president since 1998,” Blatter said in the television interview.
UEFA’s strategy for how to deal with Blatter may become clearer next week when the European body holds meetings in Berlin ahead of the Champions League final.
“There should be some kind of reaction,” said Dutch federation president Michael van Praag, who had been running for FIFA presidency before withdrawing last week to back Prince Ali.
But opposition to Blatter is not unanimous in Europe.
Russia, host of the 2018 World Cup, is fiercely loyal to Blatter. The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram congratulating Blatter on his re-election and expressing confidence in his “experience, professionalism and high authority.”
France’s football federation also voted for Blatter, despite Frenchman Platini demanding the 79-year-old Swiss withdrew from the election.
As Blatter starts his fifth term, Europe’s governing body is in a quandary about how to exert influence in a political landscape where it is a minority voice despite being the sport’s financial and sporting heartland.
The consequences of UEFA walking out of FIFA would be so far-reaching it seems highly implausible.
UEFA nations would not just be missing from the World Cup, but the European club game could be completely cut off from the rest of the world.
“England won’t withdraw from anything on its own, let’s be absolutely certain on it,” Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said. “That would be ridiculous.”
Europe’s best hope is that Blatter has been wounded by his failure to secure a commanding mandate and might be further undermined if ongoing criminal cases against FIFA officials uncover wrongdoing close to the presidency.
Blatter did not win the two-thirds majority required in the first round of voting on Friday, but Prince Ali conceded defeat before a second round where a simple majority would have sufficed.
Platini said change is still crucial if FIFA “is to regain its credibility.”
The latest battering to FIFA’s credibility came when Swiss and U.S. criminal probes into corruption were disclosed two days before the presidential vote, with several leading officials arrested in Zurich.
The corruption scandal prompted Platini on Thursday to appeal directly to Blatter to stand down. That request was unequivocally rejected and Platini has to work with Blatter for four more years.
The reaction from Blatter to Europe’s show of dissent could be to try to weaken its influence on FIFA’s ruling executive committee where eight of the 25 voting members are from the continent.
There is also a European place on FIFA’s executive committee vacant. Former Manchester United chief executive David Gill assumed the vice presidency guaranteed for Britain on Friday but carried out a threat to quit immediately after Blatter was re-elected.
“This action is not something I take lightly but the terribly damaging events of the last three days have convinced me it is not appropriate to be a member of the FIFA executive committee under the current leadership,” Gill said Saturday.
“My professional reputation is critical to me and I simply do not see how there will be change for the good of world football while Mr. Blatter remains in post.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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