UPDATED with more details: FIFA president Sepp Blatter won his fifth election today, despite widespread calls for his resignation from outside the organization and a U.S.-Swiss anti-corruption investigation that has rocked the world soccer body. The 17-year leader of the group easily defeated reformist challenger Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein. Many — including the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron and UEFA president Michel Platini — had hoped a new leader would begin the process of reforming FIFA.
Prince Ali withdrew after the first round of voting during the FIFA congress in Zurich. The first round of balloting saw Blatter receive 133 votes to 73, with 140 needed to win. After those results were announced, Ali conceded, thanking those “brave enough” to vote for him.
Speaking to the 209-member body after he was declared the winner, Blatter did not directly address the scandal that erupted Wednesday, when six top FIFA officials were arrested at a Swiss hotel. “I have said it before, I take the responsibility to take back FIFA — we do it and I am convinced we can do it,” he said in his acceptance speech. “I promise you at the end of my term I will give this FIFA to my successor in a very strong position, a robust FIFA.”
He concluded: “I like you. I like my job. And I like to be with you. I’m not perfect. Nobody’s perfect. But we will do a good job together, I’m sure. So I thank you so much, I thank you for the trust and confidence — trust and confidence; together we go. Let’s go FIFA! Let’s go FIFA!”
Blatter later said in closing the annual meeting that he applauded those members who voted for the challenger but that “I am president of all of you now,” at least in public saying he wouldn’t hold those votes against members.
What had already been a disputed election — Blatter backtracked on an earlier vow not to seek a fifth term — became a full-blown crisis when the arrests were made by Swiss authorities, acting in cooperation with the U.S. Justice Department, on several serious corruption charges going back to the early 1990s. The charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and involve suspicion of accepting bribes and kickbacks. A further Swiss investigation, announced Thursday, into the decisions to award Russia and Qatar the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively, only served to heighten the sense of disarray surrounding Blatter and FIFA.
All eyes will surely now turn to how the main World Cup sponsors and broadcasters — who between them spend hundreds of millions of dollars to be associated with football’s four yearly grand tournament — react to the news of Blatter’s re-election. Several major sponsors had already threatened to take action in response to the crisis, with Visa, McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Co., Adidas, Budweiser and Hyundai all releasing critical statements. Visa had emerged as the strongest critical voice, threatening to “reassess its sponsorship” unless FIFA was prepared to take “swift and immediate steps” to address the allegations.
Should sponsors start pulling their coin, and if European football chief Platini follows through with his veiled threat to boycott the 2018 World Cup, the beautiful game would be plunged into its most serious-ever conflagration. The ramification of a UEFA boycott would almost certainly see European and international broadcasters claiming breach of contract against FIFA should the likes of current world champions Germany not be present at the next finals.
The possibility also remains that the U.S.-Swiss investigation widen and deepen, potentially leading to a re-vote over the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.