By Kris Voakes in Sao Paulo
"Those will be the last four years I aspire to.”
Sepp Blatter was clear in his message when he addressed the Uefa Congress in Paris in 2011. But as his supposedly final term edges towards its end, the Fifa president has caused uproar among his European audience by admitting he is set to go back on his word.
In what was described as a ‘tense’ showdown in Sao Paulo on Tuesday, Uefa Executive Committee (ExCo) member Michael van Praag openly challenged Blatter, demanding that he step down ahead of next summer’s presidential elections as he had originally promised. The Dutch FA chief found many an ally in the room, with several European heads later telling the world’s press that Fifa needs a change of leadership to save its image.
With the world game’s governing body coming under such scrutiny amid evidence of bribery and corruption, as well as its mishandling of successive World Cups and Blatter’s ill-judged attempts this week to deflect criticism of the Qatar 2022 World Cup award with claims of racism, the fall out promises to be as bloody and monumental as Custer’s Last Stand.
For the moment, the Swiss appears still to have an army of some strength fighting his battles for him, with many national chiefs outside of Europe continuing to back Blatter. The promise of increased bonuses from World Cup profits to Africa means the president could yet persuade traditional allies to stick by him.
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But much appears to rest on the result of US attorney Michael Garcia’s investigation into corruption allegations, which he is expected to report in July.
Should the report support evidence of malpractice, or if Garcia is adjudged not to have delved deeply enough into issues brought to the surface by the Sunday Times’ recent expose, then Blatter could well find himself swamped by the opposition to his continued employment at Fifa House.
Former Uefa president Lennart Johansson, who lost out to Blatter in the 1998 ballot, is another who has called for the 78-year-old not to renege on his pledge of three years ago, and general support from Europe for the Fifa chief is noticeable by its absence.
Of the 209 member associations of Fifa, 53 come from within Uefa’s boundaries. Widespread opposition to Blatter in Europe represent a huge blow for the Swiss’ re-election hopes.
”My personal view is he should have stayed with his comment back in 2011,” Uefa ExCo member David Gill told reporters on Tuesday.
"I think he has done some good work over the years. He is looking at the governance structures and what needs to be done going forward.
"However, you can change the structure but unless you have the right people within it, the structure is irrelevant.”
The fear among European football dignitaries is that Fifa is becoming unfit for purpose, with Blatter no longer the symbol of reform but rather the evidence that the footballing world is being held back.
It was Blatter who said in Paris back in 2011 that Fifa would have a “zero tolerance” policy in the fight against corruption.
Three years on, his misguided approach to such thorny subjects is just one of the reasons over a quarter of the electorate are openly calling for his head.
Uefa are heavily armed for Blatter’s Last Stand, with football’s own Battle of Little Bighorn set to be long and arduous.
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