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Crisis? Blatter rejects FIFA graft claims

ZURICH, Switzerland, May 31- FIFA President Sepp Blatter has shrugged off the corruption allegations engulfing football's governing body, denying the sport is in crisis and ruling out a new vote for the 2022 World Cup.

After days of widespread claims and counter-claims of corruption that saw two top officials suspended pending a bribery investigation, Blatter broke his silence in a stormy solo press conference at FIFA headquarters on Monday.

"Crisis, what is a crisis?" a clearly irritated Blatter said. "We are not in a crisis. We are only in some difficulties and these will be solved."

Blatter also rejected suggestions that the vote for the 2022 World Cup — controversially awarded to the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar — should be held again amid mounting allegations of bribery involving the bid.

"There is no issue for the World Cup in 2022," the 75-year-old Swiss said. "I believe that the decision taken for the World Cup in 2022 was done exactly in the same pattern and in the same way as the 2018 tournament."

Blatter was speaking two days before he is due to be re-elected unopposed by FIFA’s congress following the stunning withdrawal of Qatari election rival Mohamed bin Hammam on Sunday.

Bin Hammam pulled out of the bitterly acrimonious election race just hours before FIFA’s ethics committee suspended him and Jack Warner, the influential head of the Caribbean, North and Central American federation (CONCACAF).

Asian Football Confederation chief bin Hammam — who has vowed to appeal his suspension — and FIFA vice president Warner were accused of attempting to bribe voters in the election with cash payments of up to $40,000.
Blatter said the absence of bin Hammam from the election was no reason to postpone Wednesday’s vote, where he will be seeking a final and fourth term following 13 years in power.

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"If somebody wants to change something in the election on Wednesday, this is for the members of FIFA. It cannot be done by anybody else," said Blatter, who engaged in several testy exchanges with journalists during the press conference.

Blatter’s appearance followed another day of frenzied mud-slinging, where both Warner and bin Hammam railed against the leadership of the 75-year-old Swiss official.
"At the end of the day, Blatter has to be stopped," Warner said earlier, after accusing the FIFA chief of giving one regional confederation $1 million with no questions asked at a meeting earlier this month.

Warner also released an email from FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke in which the official said he believed Qatar had "bought" the hosting rights to the 2022 tournament, prompting a furious denial from Qatar’s 2022 bid team.

"Qatar 2022 categorically deny any wrongdoing in connection with their winning bid," the bid committee said in a statement.

Valcke, who admitted sending the email, later said his comments had been misconstrued. "What I wanted to say is that the winning bid used their financial strength to lobby for support," he said in a statement.

He also rejected a suggestion by bin Hammam that he had had undue influence on the proceedings against him.

"It is fully incorrect — and quite disappointing — to say that I have an influence on the FIFA Ethics Committee and its proceedings," he said.

Bin Hammam meanwhile accused the corruption investigation facing him of being politically motivated as he confirmed plans to appeal.

"The way these proceedings have been conducted is absolutely not compliant with any principles of justice," bin Hammam said.

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"I am punished before I am found guilty."

The recent revelations have stemmed from the race to host the 2018 and 2022 editions of the World Cup — the globe’s biggest sports extravaganza — which were won by Russia and Qatar in December.

Two FIFA officials were suspended after a newspaper sting found they offered to sell their votes, while England’s former 2018 bid chief said he witnessed "improper and unethical" behaviour by four FIFA voters, including Warner.

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