FIFA President Sepp Blatter offered up a tepid defense of his two-decade reign as head of world soccer’s governing body by deflecting all responsibility for what he called the “actions of a few” while addressing the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption at the organization.
“Many people hold me ultimately responsible,” Blatter said during the opening speech of the 65th FIFA Congress on Thursday. “We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time. If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it.”
Blatter spoke for the first time publicly on Thursday afternoon after cloistering himself in a Zurich hotel on Wednesday after nine current and former FIFA officials were indicted on federal charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and other allegations. Five other corporate executives with ties to the soccer world were also indicted.
FIFA’s independent ethics committee moved swiftly on Wednesday to distance itself from those indicted, issuing a ban on 11 individuals, including several of those arrested in Switzerland and others who pleaded guilty to charges brought in the FBI investigation.
On Thursday, Blatter continued to distance himself from the scandal, as well, although he directly oversaw at least three of the FIFA officials in trouble. Current FIFA Vice Presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, as well as former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, worked closely with Blatter over the years.
“I will not allow the actions of a few to destroy the hard work and integrity of the vast majority who work so hard for football,” Blatter said, remaining adamant that he knew nothing at all of the alleged criminal activity.
Blatter reiterated that FIFA plans to cooperate with the United States and other countries’ investigations “to make sure anyone involved in wrongdoing, from top to bottom, is discovered and punished.” He said there was “no place for corruption” in world soccer.
Blatter also warned his supporters that there would likely be more turmoil to follow. He said there would be “more bad news” coming in the difficult months ahead. Although many suspect Blatter himself to be a target of the investigation, the FBI has yet to name him.
“We have lost … trust,” Blatter said of FIFA, “and we must now earn it back.”
Blatter is currently running for his fifth term as FIFA president. He has just one challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who was widely viewed as an underdog until now. But despite calls from both European soccer’s governing body (UEFA) and Brazil to postpone the election to shore up more support for Blatter’s challenger, the majority of the 209-nation electorate has called for the election to go on as planned. Blatter is still the projected winner.