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Europe Mulls Boycott as FIFA Corruption Scandal Divides Football

  • Henry Ridgwell

The world of football continues to be rocked by allegations of corruption at FIFA, the sport's world governing body. There are new questions over whether bribes were paid to secure votes for hosting the World Cup. It comes days after the re-election of controversial FIFA President Sepp Blatter. European nations will hold an emergency meeting this week to discuss what action to take over the crisis.

Arriving in Havana Monday for an exhibition match between the New York Cosmos and the Cuban national team, one of the greatest players the sport has ever seen added his voice to the scandal engulfing world football. Pele – who won three World Cups with Brazil – gave his backing to FIFA’s re-elected President Sepp Blatter.

“I was in favor of Sepp Blatter's re-election,” Pele told reporters. “I was a director for FIFA, and I am part of FIFA, and it's better to have someone with experience,” he said.

The United States indicted several FIFA officials on corruption charges last week. Swiss officials are investigating the process that awarded the 2018 FIFA World Cup to Russia and the 2022 event to Qatar.

South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup – the first finals held on African soil. The head of South African football admitted Sunday that FIFA had made a $10-million payment in 2008 to the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. However, he insisted it was not a bribe, but rather meant to support grass roots soccer among African diasporas.

African support for Sepp Blatter remained strong, said sports analyst Philip Barker.

“He took the World Cup to Africa. So he will always be revered in that part of the world for bringing the world game to them and giving them a fair chance to really take center stage,” he said.

Former football administrator for Zambia, Simaata Simaata, said African football has benefited from FIFA investment under Sepp Blatter.

“People are saying to themselves that ‘if Sepp Blatter goes, these projects might just close down and we are back to square one. So let’s keep him for as long as we can,” said Simaata.

But it’s not only FIFA members that wield power. The corporate sponsors were watching events closely, said Barker.

“Football is seen as a force for good. If FIFA, and by dint football ("by dint" means therefore), then becomes a negative thing, then sponsors are going to want to disassociate themselves with it.” he said.

Speaking Saturday, the FIFA president appeared to suggest his critics were motivated by envy.

“There are signs that don't lie’” Sepp Blatter said. “The Americans were candidates for the 2022 World Cup and they lost. The English were candidates for the 2018 World Cup, and they lost,” he said.

UEFA – the Union of European Football Associations – will hold an emergency meeting Friday in Berlin to discuss the FIFA crisis. Some members – including England - have suggested a boycott of FIFA. Others have proposed a rival tournament to include teams from Europe and South America.

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