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Home » Sport » Football

Blatter faces calls to resign

Embattled Fifa president Sepp Blatter is facing renewed calls to step down, as key sponsors demanded the football governing body clean up its act following the arrests of nine current and former officials on charges of corruption.

US prosecutors issued an indictment on Wednesday accusing the senior officials, along with five sports media and promotions executives, of bribes involving more than $150m over 24 years.

The accusations sent shockwaves through the football world with many questioning whether Fifa could continue in its current form.

Blatter is seeking a fifth, four-year term this week in the election for president of the organisation.

But Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English Football Association, said that the 79-year-old should leave his job immediately.

“Blatter has put out a statement saying now is the time to start rebuilding the trust in Fifa – there is no way of re-building trust in Fifa while Sepp Blatter is still there,” Dyke said.

“Sepp Blatter has to go. He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way.

“I think the time has come where the damage this has done to Fifa is so great that it can’t be re-built while Blatter is there so Uefa has got to try to force him out.”

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond joined those calling for change, saying on Thursday morning: “There is something deeply wrong at the heart of Fifa and international football needs to reform.”

His call was echoed by former footballer Diego Maradona, who said in an interview with radio station Radio La Red in Buenos Aires that his own complaints about Fifa corruption had been ignored for years.

“I was treated like a crazy person,” he said. “Now the FBI has told the truth. There is no soccer. There is no transparency. Enough lying to people and dinner parties to re-elect Blatter.”

Meanwhile football sponsors, including Adidas, Visa and Coca-Cola, have joined calls for Fifa to reform its practices.

“This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the Fifa World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations,” Coca Cola said.

Visa issued a statement expressing its “disappointment and concern with Fifa”, adding that it “will reassess our sponsorship” if the governing body does not make immediate changes.

South Korean firm Hyundai Motor, the sole Asian Fifa partner for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia, said it was “extremely concerned”. Brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, whose Budweiser brand is a sponsor of the 2018 World Cup, said: “We expect all of our partners to maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency.”

McDonald’s said it was monitoring the situation.

The US justice department’s indictment against the Fifa officials claims that in 1996, a global sports company, which was not identified in court documents, agreed to pay $160m over 10 years to become the Brazil team’s exclusive footwear, apparel, accessories and equipment supplier. That was an apparent reference to Nike Inc, which sponsored the Brazil national team.

Nike has now said it is cooperating with authorities. In a statement, Nike said: “Like fans everywhere, we care passionately about the game and are concerned by the very serious allegations.

“Nike believes in ethical and fair play in both business and sport and strongly opposes any form of manipulation or bribery. We have been cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with the authorities.”

The indictment said the company agreed to financial terms not in the initial contract, which included paying an additional $40m to an affiliate of the team’s marketing agent with a Swiss bank account and referring to the amount as “marketing fees”.

World Cup sponsors are in an awkward position, experts said, because they are under pressure from consumers to distance themselves from any corruption, but such sponsorships are lucrative in the long term.

Rob Prazmark, president of 21 Sports & Entertainment Marketing Group, a global sports and event sales agency, said companies were unlikely to pull their sponsorships altogether: “These sponsors put a lot of money into associating with the World Cup. They’ll give them a little bit of time to get their house in order.”

Australia football chiefs, who failed in their bid to secure the 2022 World Cup, said they were reviewing the charges.

“The Australian delegation will review the developments involving Swiss and US law enforcement authorities over the conduct of Fifa officials,” the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) said in a statement on Thursday.

However one Australian politician went further saying the country had been “treated like a mug” over the host selection process.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said: “There must be a re-opening of that bid. It’s not too late. At the very least Australia deserves a refund.

“Really, Australia has been treated like a mug in the way that it spent tens of millions of dollars in a failed bid, where it never had a chance because it seems the fix was in early on with Fifa.”

Blatter was, however, bolstered by a statement from the Asian Football Confederation, which said it would still back his bid for another term as president in an election due to take place on Friday.

In a statement on its website, the AFC expressed its “disappointment and sadness” at Wednesday’s events but also said it “reiterates its decision taken at the AFC Congress in Sao Paulo in 2014 … to support Fifa president Joseph S Blatter”.

The European federation, Uefa, had called for Friday’s elections in Zurich to be postponed, but the AFC said it was “opposing any delay”.

One of the arrested former Fifa officials, one-time vice-president Jack Warner, was spending the night in a cell in Trinidad, after surrendering to face a warrant issued at the request of US authorities, who filed corruption charges against him and 13 others.

Warner appeared in court in Port-of Spain, where a judge read eight counts against him and then set bail at 2.5m Trinidadian dollars (US$395,000). He was also told he must surrender his passport and report to police twice a week.

Warner did not enter a plea and was scheduled to appear in court again on 12 July.

Police said there was a delay in processing Warner’s bail and he would spend one night in jail. Before turning himself in, Warner denied any wrongdoing.

Another former official named in the US corruption investigation, Nicolas Leoz, is being treated in hospital in Paraguay for flu, according to his lawyer.

Fernando Barriocanal, lawyer for the former president of the South American Football Confederation, said his client was surprised by the indictment but was prepared to defend himself.

Paraguay’s foreign ministry says it had received an extradition request from the US for Leoz, but the order must be reviewed by the supreme court, a process that could take several weeks.

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