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Leadership under scrutiny, critics call for FIFA president Sepp Blatter to resign

May 28, 2015 at 6:20 PM EDT
FIFA President Blatter makes speech during opening ceremony of 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich
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GWEN IFILL: The corruption scandal surrounding soccer and its governing body, FIFA, triggered a second day of fallout. FIFA’s president, long under scrutiny himself, resisted calls for his resignation.

But there were signs that support for his leadership is eroding, and the game itself has been thrown under a cloud.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Musical fanfare heralded the arrival of FIFA president Sepp Blatter on stage today at the world soccer organization’s annual Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. But with FIFA reeling amid a massive corruption scandal, Blatter struck a grim tone.

SEPP BLATTER, President, FIFA: These are unprecedented and difficult times for FIFA. Actions of individuals, if proven, bring shame and humiliation on football and demand action and change from us all.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. has indicted nine top FIFA officials on corruption charges. Swiss police arrested seven of them at a hotel in Zurich yesterday.

The case involves more than $150 million in bribes over decades for marketing and other rights to soccer tournaments. Today, with his leadership under severe scrutiny, Blatter deflected blame.

SEPP BLATTER: Many people hold me ultimately responsible for the actions and reputation of the global football community. We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Blatter did say it’s his job to find a way forward. Tomorrow, he will stand for election to a fifth term as FIFA president, but many have called for a delay in that poll. Blatter’s only challenger, Jordanian Prince Ali bin al-Hussein.

The head of UEFA, Europe’s main soccer body, said most of his countries plan to vote against Blatter.

MICHEL PLATINI, President, UEFA (through interpreter): People are tired. I have always said that it’s important for FIFA to be strong, and today FIFA is not strong.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Those comments joined a drumbeat of other calls for new blood at the top of the association.

JOHN WHITTINGDALE, British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport: These revelations have dragged the game’s reputation into the mud. The time has clearly come for change.

WOLFGANG NIERSBACH, President, German Football Association: We need FIFA as an institution with credibility, with integrity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Switzerland has opened its own probe into possible criminal mismanagement in the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and the 2018 World Cup to Russia. Today, Russia said there’s no risk it will lose the tournament, and Blatter found a full-throated defender in President Vladimir Putin. He said the arrests were merely American meddling in others’ business.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): You can assume that some of them may have violated something. I don’t know. But it is clear that the U.S. has nothing to do with that anyway. Those officials are not U.S. citizens, and if some event indeed happened, it happened not in United States. This is yet another blatant attempt to extend its jurisdiction to other states.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meantime, Visa became the first major World Cup sponsor to threaten to leave its deal with FIFA, if the organization doesn’t take swift and immediate steps to address the issues.

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