ZURICH (AP) — England escalated the crisis at FIFA on Tuesday by calling for a postponement of the presidential election amid a burgeoning bribery scandal that led to the withdrawal of incumbent Sepp Blatter’s only challenger for the top job in soccer.
The English Football Association said the election lacks the credibility FIFA needs to counter the flood of ethics scandals rocking the sport’s global body.
The FA called for more time to allow “any alternative reforming candidate” to come forward to challenge Blatter, who has been president for 13 years and is seeking a final fourth-year term.
On the eve of Wednesday’s scheduled election, Blatter also had to deal with leading sponsors criticising FIFA’s inability to deal with pervasive corruption claims, and with his second-in-command under fire for saying Qatar had “bought” the 2022 World Cup.
England’s intervention took European soccer body UEFA by surprise, with its president Michel Platini saying the FA did not bring it up at a meeting on Monday.
“They did not ask” for support to postpone the election, Platini said. UEFA is expected to largely back Blatter in Wednesday’s election.
Any postponement of Wednesday’s election would need the backing of three-quarters of the 208 federations attending the Congress, which was scheduled to be opened by Blatter late Tuesday.
The English FA had already said it was abstaining before the allegations emerged that led to presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam and fellow FIFA executive committee member Jack Warner being suspended.
The two were suspended by an ethics committee pending a full probe into allegations that Caribbean soccer leaders were paid $40,000 each to back bin Hammam’s presidential bid. Bin Hammam, the head of Asia’s regional body, withdrew his presidential candidacy before the ethics hearing.
Transparency International, a German-based anti-corruption watchdog, also called for the election to be postponed.
“Free and fair elections cannot take place when there is a suspicion that voters may have been swayed,” spokeswoman Sylvia Schenk said in a statement. “FIFA should be setting a better example to its billions of supporters and especially to young fans that look to the sport for inspiration and role models.”
The interventions are unlikely to have an impact on Blatter, who is convinced the scandal remains manageable.
Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, became the latest FIFA sponsor to express concern about the scandal, joining fellow World Cup sponsors Coca-Cola and Adidas.
“Emirates, like all football fans around the world, is disappointed with the issues that are currently surrounding the administration of this sport,” Boutros Boutros, Emirates’ senior vice president for corporate communications, said in a statement.
“We hope that these issues will be resolved as soon as possible and the outcome will be in the interest of the game and sport in general.”
Coca-Cola said that “the current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport,” adding “we have every expectation that FIFA will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.”
“Crisis? What is a crisis? Football is not in a crisis,” Blatter said at a news conference late Monday.
“We are not in a crisis, we are only in some difficulties and these difficulties will be solved — and they will be solved inside this family.”
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke admitted he wrote an email to Warner saying bin Hammam might have been thinking in his now-abandoned campaign that “you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC.”
Blatter turned down an opportunity to defend Valcke. When asked for a reaction, the president said: “I don’t answer this question,” before adding, “we will come back inside the FIFA on that.”
Qatar’s World Cup organisers “categorically” denied Valcke’s claim. Qatar 2022 said it was “urgently seeking clarification from FIFA about the statement from their general secretary. In the meantime, we are taking legal advice to consider our options.”
Valcke tried to clarify his remarks on Monday, saying he used the word “bought” in reference to Qatar’s “financial strength” which allows large sums to be spent on legitimate lobbying, and did not mean to suggest any bribery.
“I have at no time made, or was intending to make, any reference to any purchase of votes,” Valcke said in a statement.
Bin Hammam said he would appeal his suspension, saying “the way these proceedings have been conducted is absolutely not compliant with any principles of justice” and that they “had been defined from the very beginning.”
The 62-year-old Qatari, who is also suspended from his role as president of the Asian Football Confederation, published his submission to the ethics committee on his personal website.
In it, he acknowledges that he provided $360,000 for “travel and accommodations” of the 25 Caribbean Football Union members attending a May 10-11 extraordinary meeting in Warner’s native Trinidad.
Chuck Blazer, the American general secretary of CONCACAF and a longtime FIFA executive panel member, sparked the crisis by submitting a file of evidence.
In a statement issued early Tuesday, the AFC backed bin Hammam and confirmed that its most senior vice president, China’s Zhang Jilong, will be acting president of the confederation.