Newly re-elected FIFA President Sepp Blatter has tried to distance himself from FIFA’s corruption scandal involving $150 million in bribes.
Blatter said Saturday in Zurich that he was not the “high-ranking FIFA official” mentioned in the U.S. indictment alledged to have wired $10 million to CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) officials for a vote to select South Africa as the host country of 2010 World Cup.
He also said FIFA will not make any changes to the sites for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to be played in Russia and Qatar.
In an interview with the RTS Swiss television channel, Blatter implied Saturday it was not just a coincidence that Swiss police arrested seven high-ranking current and former soccer officials, including FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb, two days before the FIFA Congress and presidential election.
“Why didn't they (the police) do this in March when we had the same meeting. At that time, we had less journalists," Blatter asked in the television interview. “The Americans, if they have a financial crime that regards American citizens, must arrest these people there and not in Zurich in the moment we have a congress.”
A combination of file pictures made on May 27, 2015 shows Fifa officials (LtoR, from upper row) Rafael Esquivel, Nicolas Leoz, Jeffrey Webb, Jack Warner, Eduardo Li, Eugenio Figueredo and Jose Maria Marin
The seven have been detained, pending an extradition request from the United States where they are wanted on corruption charges.
US, Swiss probes
The arrests were connected to a bribery scandal being investigated by U.S., Swiss and other law enforcement agencies that has plunged FIFA into the worst crisis in its 111-year history.
Blatter also made it clear in the television interview there may be consequences for European leaders who tried to oust him from his position.
Regarding an effort by Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) President Michel Platini to oust him, Blatter told RTS, “I forgive everyone but I don't forget. We cannot live without UEFA and UEFA cannot live without us.”
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.
Blatter was re-elected to another four year term, days after football's governing body was shaken by widespread corruption allegations.
Blatter was seven votes short of the required 140 majority in the first round of voting, but his opponent, Prince Ali, withdrew before a second round could take place.
After the vote Friday at the 65th FIFA annual congress in Zurich, Switzerland, Blatter thanked his challenger and praised him for his integrity and commitment to reform FIFA. Blatter promised to elevate FIFA from its current critical state of affairs.
Addressing the congress earlier, Blatter said he will "shoulder responsibility for the current storm" of corruption allegations. "FIFA needs to recover its good name starting tomorrow," he said.
Watch Blatter Comment
The U.S. Soccer [football] Association expressed disappointment in the result of the election, but congratulated Blatter.
“We will continue to push for meaningful change within FIFA,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "It is our hope he [Blatter] will make reform his number one property to ensure the integrity of the sport across the world.”
Gulati added that the goal for the governance of FIFA is to "be responsible, accountable, transparent and focused solely on the best interests of the game.”
Blatter said this week's events have "unleashed a storm," but he said he is "appealing for unity and the team spirit" so FIFA can move forward.
Unlike one day earlier when he said that he could not control everyone’s actions, Blatter said that he was “willing to accept that the FIFA president is accountable for everything.”
Blatter also said Friday "I don't think we would have these problems today" if Russia and Qatar were not awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively. The U.S. was one of the losing bidders for the 2022 tournament.
A U.S. indictment issued this week charges 14 people with offenses that include racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. A separate Swiss investigation is looking into allegations of mismanagement and money laundering connected to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Qatar on Friday insisted its World Cup bid was conducted with "integrity."
The U.S. investigation stretches back to 1991 with allegations that include sports media executives paying or agreeing to pay $150 million in bribes in exchange for marketing rights to tournaments, as well as corruption related to the 2011 FIFA presidential election and the sponsorship of Brazil's soccer federation by a U.S. sportswear company.
Some material for this report came from AFP, Reuters and AP.