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Europe's rift with FIFA deepens with Blatter's re-election

30 May 2015, 09:09

Zurich - Relieved and elated at being re-elected, Sepp Blatter seized on his fresh mandate to remind world soccer: "I am the president of everybody."

Across Europe, many hoped the 17-year reign of Blatter would be over by Friday night. Instead, it was extended to 2019 by defeating Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan in a vote for FIFA's presidency.

It leaves Europe's governing body UEFA in a quandary about how to exert influence in a political landscape where it is a minority voice despite being the sport's financial and sporting heartland.

As Blatter delivered his triumphant address, UEFA President Michel Platini was behind him on the Zurich stage but was already plotting along with European colleagues on how to bring down a FIFA powerbase mired in accusations of corruption and cronyism.

The nuclear option would be for UEFA to quit the global governing body, something Platini suggested might be proposed by some European nations.

Even if there was unanimity in Europe for such a boycott — and there is not given that Russia is loyal to Blatter and hosts the 2018 World Cup — the consequences would be so far-reaching it seems highly implausible.

UEFA nations would not just be missing from the World Cup, including holder Germany, but the European club game could be completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Europe hosts the world's richest club competitions but those fortunes could be under threat if UEFA going it alone sparked an exodus of stars who wanted to continue playing for their national teams.

Players from outside Europe would likely have to make a choice: club or country.

"England won't withdraw from anything on its own, let's be absolutely certain on it," Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said Friday. "That would be ridiculous."

Europe's best hope is that Blatter has been wounded by his failure to secure a commanding mandate and might be further undermined if ongoing criminal cases against FIFA officials uncover wrongdoing close to the presidency.

Blatter did not win the two-thirds majority required in the first round of voting on Friday, but Prince Ali conceded defeat before a second round where a simple majority would have sufficed.

"I am proud that UEFA has defended and supported a movement for change at FIFA," Platini said. "Change which, in my opinion, is crucial if this organization is to regain its credibility."

The latest battering to FIFA's credibility came when Swiss and U.S. criminal probes into corruption were disclosed two days before the presidential vote, with several leading officials arrested in Zurich.

The corruption scandal prompted Platini on Thursday to appeal directly to Blatter to stand down. That request was unequivocally rejected and Platini has to work with Blatter for four more years.

The rancor between the former friends is clear and when the biggest club game of all — the Champions League final — is played next Saturday in Berlin the sport's most powerful man will be missing.

Before Barcelona plays Juventus, the intrigue will be off the field on Friday when the sport's leaders try to formulate their anti-Blatter plan of action.

Dutch federation president Michael van Praag, who had been running for FIFA presidency before withdrawing last week to back Prince Ali, said Blatter's re-election showed that "the majority of (FIFA's) congress don't want a change."

"That says a lot about the people who voted this way and that is something that we will discuss together with the European countries around the Champions League final," Van Praag added. "There should be some kind of reaction."

The reaction from Blatter to Europe's show of dissent could be to try to weaken its influence on FIFA's ruling executive committee where eight of the 25 voting members are from the continent.

Europe's 13 places at the 32-team World Cup could also come under threat, with Blatter now newly-empowered to take on Platini.

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- AP


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