ZURICH: Sepp Blatter will stay in control of world football for seven more months after resisting calls to step down immediately ahead of a presidential election, which FIFA decided on Monday will be on Feb 26.
A defiant first public appearance by Blatter since his resignation statement last month began in pandemonium as he was showered in fake money by a comedian who gatecrashed the media conference at FIFA’s headquarters.
“Where is my security?” Blatter shouted.
The interruption provided an awkward reminder of a far more serious incident for FIFA in May, when the arrest of football and sports marketing officials plunged the game’s ruling body into its deepest crisis.
Jolted by dual American and Swiss criminal investigations into football corruption, Blatter suddenly announced four days after being elected for a fifth term that he would leave FIFA.
“It was not only the pressure of any authorities … it was also the pressure of political interference and also the pressure of you, media,” said Blatter, who is a target of the US investigation. “I had to do something very special and I did it. In footballing terms, I kicked the ball out of the field to stop something.”
FIFA’s executive committee decided at a meeting on Monday on the February election date and Blatter ended weeks of uncertainty by insisting he would not perform one of his renowned about-turns by in fact being a candidate.
“On the 26th of February FIFA will have a new president,” Blatter said. “I cannot be the new president because I am the old president.”
The 79-year-old Blatter, who first joined FIFA 40 years ago, has held onto the most powerful job in world soccer since 1998.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, who lost to Blatter in May, had said earlier on Monday: “President Blatter’s resignation cannot be dragged out any longer. He must leave now.”
But while Blatter said he felt “regret” about the crises, he insisted he would not be “abandoning” the presidency until a successor is elected by the 209 members.
“I am still the elected president by 133 national associations and I will use my mandate as president … to make sure that when at the end of February I come at the end of my career I can say the FIFA we have started again – with the reforms,” Blatter said, highlighting the need to “rebuild the reputation of FIFA.”
The Feb 26 date was seen as a political victory for Blatter over UEFA and other confederations, who thought they had agreement on Sunday for Jan 15.
Instead, Blatter and senior vice president Issa Hayatou cited the importance of the second-tier African Nations Championship — a tournament for little-known home-based players — hosted in Rwanda from Jan 16-Feb 7.
Presidential candidates must gain five nominations from FIFA’s 209 member associations by an Oct 26 deadline.
Only former Brazil great Zico and Liberia football federation president Musa Bility have so far expressed their intention to stand. Other potential candidates are Prince Ali and UEFA President Michel Platini, who is still mulling over his decision.
In a statement Platini limited himself to saying: “Now we have a concrete date, which means we can look forward to new leadership which will surely bring with it new ideas and new solutions.”
Platini welcomed the creation of a reforms task force, which will consider introducing term limits, integrity checks for executive committee members and pay details. Blatter declined repeatedly on Monday to reveal his salary.
But Blatter did respond to calls from World Cup sponsor Coca-Cola and former FIFA advisers Transparency International to appoint an independent person to oversee the reforms required to shape the organization’s future.
The reforms panel will feature two representatives from the Asian, African, European, and North and Central American confederations, and one each from South America and Oceania.
Reformers want FIFA to appoint a respected figure from outside the sport to oversee the next election and reforms of FIFA. Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general from Ghana, has been mentioned for the role.
“The rumours linking Mr. Annan to the FIFA job are just that: rumours,” Annan’s office said, stressing that he is currently “fully committed” to other roles.