- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

ZURICH (AP) - FIFA started its election for president Wednesday, with incumbent Sepp Blatter poised to win another term to enact “radical” reforms to tackle the corruption scandals that have engulfed soccer’s governing body.

Blatter vowed to give more power to the 208 national federations at the expense of the 24-man executive committee by allowing them to pick the host of the World Cup in the future.

Instead of election by public acclamation, two voting booths were set up in the congress hall for a secret ballot. It could last an hour as each of the federations lined up for its vote.

Blatter is running unopposed after his opponent withdrew from the race and was suspended after allegations of bribing Caribbean voters. Qatari executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam withdrew from the race last weekend.

Blatter left the congress hall just before the voting started.

There remained little doubt that the Swiss executive would get a fourth four-year term, after the FIFA congress overwhelmingly rejected England’s call for a postponement of the election amid the swirl of ethics allegations.

“The FIFA ship is in troubled waters but this ship must be brought back on the right track,” Blatter said in an opening address. “I am the captain of the ship.”

“It is therefore my duty and responsibility to see to it that we get back on track.”

Blatter, who has been office since 1998, said the worst scandal in the body’s history could be solved within FIFA and with him in charge.

“Reforms will be made and not just touchups but radical decisions,” Blatter said in his speech to the 208 delegations attending the congress.

Blatter promised to impose a system of zero-tolerance to fight corruption.

“Zero tolerance is for everybody,” Blatter said. “It is not only a wish of me. It is a will. I have to do it.”

Blatter was heeding the advice of IOC President Jacques Rogge, who told him on the eve of the election that only drastic measures to improve democracy and transparency had saved the Olympic movement when it faced a similar corruption scandal in the run-up to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

“We have made mistakes, but we will draw our conclusions,” Blatter said, ready to take some of the blame. “I personally am willing to face the public anger in order to serve football,” he said.

Blatter said he would work to make sure the World Cup would in the future be picked in a vote by all federations instead of the two dozen executive committee members, several of whom have been involved in bribery scandals.

England’s FA chairman David Bernstein called for a postponement of the election for several months to allow for the corruption scandals to be cleared up, saying that “a coronation without an opponent provides a flawed mandate.”

However, 172 of the 208 delegations rejected England’s call.

“We have been hit and I personally have been slapped,” Blatter said of the criticism and allegations facing FIFA and himself. “I don’t want that ever again.”

To reform, Blatter promised a more democratic outlook with more power flooding down the institutional pyramid to the national federations themselves. The selection of the World Cup is a vital issue because it is by far FIFA’s most important source of income.

He called for strengthening the institutions in an extraordinary congress.

“We must stop once and for all, all these ugly criticisms, allegations, insinuations of cheating left, right and center,” he said.

Bin Hammam and FIFA vice president Jack Warner were suspended pending the conclusion of a probe into allegations that Caribbean soccer leaders were paid $40,000 each to back Bin Hammam’s presidential bid.

Germany, a founding member of FIFA, called for a review of the December vote that gave Qatar the 2022 World Cup in order to scrutinize corruption allegations.

___

AP Sports writers Rob Harris and Graham Dunbar in Zurich and Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt contributed to this report.

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