In his opening speech of the FIFA Congress in Zurich, President Sepp Blatter has vowed to mark a "turning point" at the governing body. He is hoping to be re-elected as president despite a host of scandals.
Talking at the start of the FIFA Congress on Friday, where he is hoping to win a fifth term as president, Blatter urged delegates to "join us in putting FIFA back on the right track where the boats will stop rocking and go calmly into port." He vowed to "find a way forward to fix things."
He stressed that "there can be no place for corruption of any kind" but that "those who are corrupt in football are in a tiny minority, like in society," emphasizing that individuals, not the whole of FIFA were to blame for the latest scandals rocking soccer's global governing body. "Let this be the turning point," he added.
On Wednesday, seven high-ranking FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich in dawn raids by Swiss police acting at US request in the latest corruption scandal to rock the body. Swiss prosecutors also opened criminal proceedings related to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.
The 79-year-old president said that if it hadn't been for Qatar and Russia - two controversial candidates - having been awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively in 2010 "we wouldn't have had these problems, but we can't go back in time," seemingly implying that countries like the US, who lost out to Russia for the 2022 tournament, have been instrumental in the latest raft of graft allegations.
Blatter added that he is willing to cooperate with the authorities and that it would take "take some time" and a concerted effort to rebuild FIFA's reputation.
"Today I am appealing to unity and team spirit so we can move forward together. That may not always be easy, but it is for this reason that we are here together today," he told delegates and reporters.
At one point, Blatter's speech was disrupted by a pro-Palestinian protester, who held up a red card and shouted "Red card to racism." The Palestine football association, PFA, had demanded that its Israeli counterpart be thrown out of FIFA because of Israel's stringent security restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.
However, early on Friday afternoon, the Palestinians withdrew their complaint, taking at least one controversial vote off the day's agenda. Israel was considered a certainty to survive any vote, with a three-quarters majority required to eject a FIFA member.
Set for re-election
Blatter, who has been at the helm of FIFA for 17 years, is set to get re-elected on Friday, despite several calls, including from European football body UEFA, for him to step down.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, the 40-year-old son of King Hussein of Jordan, is the only candidate standing against Blatter and UEFA's preferred candidate. The US Soccer Federation and its Canadian counterpart also support Blatter's rival.
Blatter's support base is mainly in Asian, African and Latin American countries and associations, who have vowed to support him.
ng/jil (AP, AFP)