LONDON/ZURICH, (Reuters)-Britain said Europe should consider boycotting future World Cups if Sepp Blatter doesn’t quit as head of football’s governing body over a corruption scandal, while Swiss authorities denied they would soon question the newly re-elected FIFA president.The Swiss-born FIFA chief complained on Sunday he had been shown “zero respect” in recent days, revealing how he had rejected advice from one of his main critics, the head of the European governing body, to quit at last week’s FIFA congress.
John Whittingdale, the British government minister with overall responsibility for sport, renewed calls for Blatter to step aside yesterday, saying all options should be considered when it came to pressuring him to resign, including boycotting the World Cup – something that could split the sport and be calamitous for the tournament.
Blatter, 79, won a vote on Friday to serve a fifth term as FIFA president even though the U.S. Department of Justice has charged nine football officials with corruption and Swiss authorities are conducting their own criminal investigation.
He has played down the impact of the scandal on one of the world’s most powerful sports bodies, which takes in billions of dollars in revenue from TV marketing rights and sponsorships.
Blatter is not accused of any wrongdoing personally and has implied that the United States timed news of the charges to try to scupper his re-election.
Asked how he had coped with the criticism in the past few days, he told the Swiss newspaper Sonntagsblick: “Let me put it this way: I’ve been shown zero respect.”
Blatter’s future could yet depend on the reaction of FIFA’s major sponsors and stakeholders such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, who have been dismayed by the arrests and U.S. prosecutors announcing indictments of officials and companies.
Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper reported Swiss prosecutors would question Blatter, who has led FIFA for nearly 20 years, as part of a criminal investigation into votes to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.
A spokesman for Switzerland’s attorney general dismissed the possibility of immediately calling in Blatter as “nonsense”.
“The president of FIFA will not be questioned at this point in time,” the spokesman told Reuters. However, he added: “If need be, he will be questioned in the future.”
Russia and Qatar deny wrongdoing in their bids.
“A GIGANTIC PARTY”
The Sunday Times reported Blatter would be the last of 10 FIFA officials to be questioned. Michel Platini, the president of the European governing body UEFA, and Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister, would also be interviewed, it said.
In the Swiss newspaper interview, Blatter described a meeting he had on Thursday with Platini, when the former French international star encouraged him to quit with a fanfare.
“He said in all seriousness: ‘Sepp, hold the congress and at the end say you’re stepping down. You’ll have a gigantic party thrown for you, and you can keep your office here at FIFA’,” Blatter said, adding that he had refused Platini’s invitation to have the conversation over a glass of whiskey.
Blatter comfortably won the FIFA vote with strong support from developing nations, which have received generous funding from FIFA to develop the sport under Blatter’s leadership.
Britain – which has been one of Blatter’s fiercest critics, especially since England lost a bid to host the 2018 World Cup – stepped up the pressure yesterday.
“Michel Platini has talked of European nations boycotting future World Cups if Blatter refuses to stand down. No options should be ruled out,” Whittingdale, who is Britain’s Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, wrote in the Sunday Times.
Member associations of UEFA will meet before the European Champions League final in Berlin on Saturday to discuss its next step. Before Blatter’s re-election, Platini said they would be “open to all options”.
But asked about a boycott, he said on Thursday: “I honestly don’t wish that.” In any case, achieving consensus at UEFA may be hard; French media reported that the president of the country’s federation, Noel Le Grat, voted for Blatter.
Seven senior football officials were arrested in a dawn raid before the FIFA congress in Zurich, and U.S. authorities have said altogether nine officials and five sports media and promotions executives have been charged in cases involving more than $150 million in bribes over a period of 24 years.
The indictment mentioned two payments cleared by Standard Chartered (STAN.L). “We are looking into those payments and will not be commenting further at this time,” a spokesman for the London-based bank said.
Other banks named on the indictment, including Britain’s Barclays, are making internal checks on their involvement and cooperating with the authorities, banking sources told Reuters.
Barclays declined comment.
A CLEAR NEW START
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Greg Dyke, the chairman of England’s Football Association, have urged Blatter to quit. Prince William, who lobbied for Britain to host the 2018 tournament along with star player David Beckham, has also spoken of the need for FIFA to reform.
The government of Germany, the reigning world champions, also called for change. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that football brought people around the world together. “That should be the real legacy of FIFA. I have serious doubts, whether FIFA is up to this great task without a clear new start,” he said.
Many football experts regard a European-led boycott as unrealistic proposition believing that if it went ahead it would be a disaster for a sport that has avoided the kind of splits which have weakened others. Boxing for instance is now governed by four world bodies.
Dyke said it would be “ridiculous” for England to boycott the next World Cup in 2018 in protest because it would not have an impact. “It’s got to be done by enough nations to have an impact, if it’s done,” Dyke told BBC TV’s Andrew Marr show, saying any kind of action needed to be with others.
Later he told BBC Radio that any boycott needed the support of “10 large countries” to have an impact, adding that the Dutch and Germans were also demanding change.
By Andrew Osborn and Alice Baghdjian