- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

ZURICH (AP) - Issa Hayatou seemed to fall asleep on the job in his first news conference as interim FIFA president on Thursday.

Just three weeks after undergoing a kidney transplant, it was easy to see why the 69-year-old official from Cameroon briefly snoozed during a long-winded slideshow presentation of FIFA’s reform program.

It suggested the end of an era after 17 drama-filled years of theatrical quips, gaffes and debates with international media from the now-suspended Sepp Blatter.

Still, the Confederation of African Football president was sharp and combative minutes later when quizzed on his links to wrongdoing allegations and his fitness for the task of leading FIFA through to the Feb. 26 election.

“I still have small problems of health but this doesn’t keep me from being before you today,” the French-speaking Hayatou said through a translator.

The heavy-set former track athlete has had regular dialysis treatment in recent years, often in Switzerland when on the FIFA executive committee duty he has done since 1990.

Hayatou was asked if his status as a true FIFA insider made him part of the problem of systemic corruption.

“The fact that I’m here for so many years doesn’t mean anything,” he said, voice rising to the challenge. “As it stands now, FIFA is not corrupt. We have individuals who have shown a negative behavior so do not generalize a situation.”

“I have not been implied in any scandal as far as I know. If you have proof that I have been involved I am willing to receive this proof,” Hayatou said.

Europe-based reporters getting a rare chance to quiz the longtime strongman of African soccer took him at his word.

What about a possible $1.5 million bribe from Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid, alleged by a Qatari whistleblower and published by a British parliamentary committee in May 2011?

“I would not be here if I was corrupt, my dear friend,” said Hayatou, who laughed on hearing the question. “Can Parliament prove that I have had a million and a half? I have never received one single dollar or euro from anybody to vote for the organization of the World Cup.”

Hayatou does have one called strike against him.

In 2011, the International Olympic Committee member was sanctioned by its ethics commission which took on a FIFA matter that the soccer body’s then-ethics panel showed no interest in.

Hayatou was reprimanded after British broadcaster the BBC reported he got 100,000 French francs in cash from the World Cup marketing agency ISL in 1995. It later collapsed into bankruptcy, sending FIFA into crisis in 2001 and kicking off a kickbacks scandal that eventually cost Blatter’s predecessor Joao Havelange the honorary presidency.

“The IOC sanction, I have no idea why I have been sanctioned by them,” Hayatou said, showing calm defiance. “Go to the IOC and ask them what it was all about. What was it?”

He repeated his defense that the sum, worth $16,000 then, was for CAF’s 40th anniversary and had been “properly registered.”

In fact, the IOC ethics panel said CAF produced documents dated three and 16 years after the payment, and that accepting it “constitutes a conflict of interests.”

“The IOC blamed me for that but I didn’t take a cent,” Hayatou said Thursday. “I didn’t want to make a big fuss about that. I accepted.”

Next up for Hayatou, the unlikely FIFA front man, should be sharing a stage with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on Jan. 11 to host the Ballon d’Or awards ceremony in Zurich.

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