ZURICH, June 1 – FIFA president Sepp Blatter was poised to be re-elected as head of world football Wednesday after riding out the worst crisis of his career following weeks of explosive corruption allegations.
Despite late calls from English and Scottish football officials, backed by Britain\’s Prince William, for a postponement to the ballot, Blatter is expected to earn another four-year term as delegates gather in Zurich for the 61st FIFA congress.
Blatter, 75, has fought a vicious election battle against former ally Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) who withdrew from the race on Sunday amid a vote-buying scandal.
Bin Hammam and influential FIFA vice-president Jack Warner were later suspended by the organisation\’s ethics committee pending an investigation into claims they offered cash bribes in a bid to topple Blatter.
The revelations followed testimony in the British parliament last month that senior FIFA officials had sought cash and favours during the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Warner and bin Hammam had both vowed to fight their suspensions, with Warner, the head of the Caribbean, North and Central American federation (CONCACAF) threatening to unleash a "tsunami" of damning evidence against Blatter.
But the prospect of full-scale civil war within FIFA receded Tuesday as Warner, who 24 hours earlier had declared "Blatter must be stopped", performed a volte-face and urged CONCACAF officials to support the Swiss veteran.
Similarly, bin Hammam ordered Asian delegates not to stage a boycott of the congress as they had done during a meeting in Los Angeles in 1999.
"I have told the Asian delegates not to boycott the congress," bin Hammam told AFP, making it likely that Blatter will be returned to power by acclamation rather than a formal ballot of FIFA\’s membership.
Blatter, who had denied FIFA was in crisis during a stormy press conference on Monday, told delegates at the congress\’s opening ceremony on Tuesday FIFA was threatened by a "danger" stalking the organisation.
"I thought that we were living in a world of fair play, respect and discipline," Blatter said. "I must unfortunately say this is not the case."
"Because our pyramid, our famous FIFA pyramid, is unsure of its base and there is a danger."
Yet despite the likelihood of Blatter\’s re-election for a fourth consecutive term, the FIFA leadership may find it hard to resist widespread demands for sweeping reform of the organisation.
In a significant development on Tuesday, four of FIFA\’s biggest commercial partners — Coca-Cola, Adidas, Emirates airline and Visa — all expressed concern about the negative impact of the scandals on football.
FIFA\’s sponsorship deals have helped to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the organisation since Blatter took over in 1998, making FIFA the richest sports body on the planet with cash reserves of more than $1 billion.
"The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport," Coca-Cola spokesman Petro Kacur told AFP.
"We have every expectation that FIFA will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner."
Adidas meanwhile said the "repeated accusations (of corruption) are good for neither the image of football nor FIFA itself".
A spokesman for Emirates, Boutros Boutros said the airline was "disappointed" by the issues surrounding FIFA.
CONCACAF\’s executive committee meanwhile dismissed a move by Lisle Austin, acting president during Warden\’s suspension, to sack general secretary Chuck Blazer.
Austin did not have the authority to make such a move, said a statement posted on the CONCACAF website.
It was Blazer\’s allegations of possible misdeeds by bin Hammam and Warner that helped ignite the scandal.