England’s Football Association and government urged FIFA president Sepp Blatter to resign on Thursday (May 28), as British investigative journalists were praised for helping to expose a major corruption scandal.
“Sepp Blatter has to go as FIFA president,” Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA, football’s governing body in England, told the Press Association news agency. “There is no way of rebuilding trust in FIFA while Sepp Blatter is still there. He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way.”
British sports minister John Whittingdale supported the FA’s position in an urgent debate in parliament, telling lawmakers: “A change in the leadership of FIFA is very badly needed”.
Whittingdale urged sponsors to review their ties with FIFA and said Britain’s Serious Fraud Office was examining the allegations made by US and Swiss authorities in a scandal that has engulfed the sport. “(The SFO) will have heard the calls today. I understand, certainly, that they are looking at it,” he said.
Asked about a possible re-run of England’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup, which was won by Russia, he said: “I think it is too soon to say that there should be a re-run of the competition but we should wait and see what the outcome of the investigation is.”
Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman meanwhile said Britain would be supporting Blatter’s only rival for the presidency of FIFA. “We’re squarely behind the FA … (which) supports the candidacy of Prince Ali (bin al Hussein),” he told reporters.
World football’s governing body has been plunged into crisis as it prepares to vote for a new president while accusations are levelled of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption by US authorities.
Seven officials were arrested in a dawn raid on a luxury Zurich hotel on Wednesday and accused of taking more than US$150 million in bribes, with a total of 14 officials and marketing executives accused of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.
British newspaper The Sunday Times and the BBC’s Panorama television programme have played a leading role in investigative stories about alleged corruption at FIFA in recent years.
Whittingdale on Thursday paid tribute to The Sunday Times, “without whose investigations many of these allegations may never have come to light”. “Freedom of the press has played a vital part in exposing the wrongdoing of FIFA,” he said.
Investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, who published corruption allegations against Blatter in 2002, said in a tweet: “I gave the FBI the crucial documents that triggered yesterday’s arrests. There will be more to come. Blatter is a target,” he said.
FA vice-chairman and Manchester United director David Gill warned he would not serve in the British FIFA vice-presidency seat as elected if Blatter wins a fifth term as president. Gill said it would be “futile” to serve under Blatter if the Swiss did not realise this week’s “seismic” events were a resignation issue.
“If he can’t see the enormity of what has happened and resign then I recognise that to be on that body would be futile,” he said.
Meanwhile Peter Shilton, England’s most-capped footballer with 125 international appearances, said of FIFA: “They need a clean sweep and fresh faces at the top and it needs to happen now.
“The man’s had his time … It would be crazy and puzzling, very puzzling to fans if he isn’t voted off,” he told ITV television. The former goalkeeper called for “pressure from all, everywhere, to try and get rid of the man”.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said a politician in the same position as Blatter “would be struggling to cling on” to their job. It looks very much like it’s going to be the commercial sponsors who use their power to insist that this happens,” he told Sky News television.