- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2011

ZURICH (AP) - With FIFA facing its worst scandal in its 107-year history, a seething Sepp Blatter denied his organization is in crisis Monday as he moved closer to a fourth term as president of soccer’s ruling body and the crisis spread to the vote for the 2022 World Cup.

With his only challenger, Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, suspended along with FIFA Vice President Jack Warner because of bribery allegations, Blatter acknowledged two days before the election that the two had done “great damage” to soccer.

During an impromptu and sometimes raucous news conference at FIFA headquarters, Blatter gave staccato answers and lectured journalists to behave with “respect” and “elegance” when questioning his 13-year rule.

“You are not in a bazaar here, you are in the FIFA house,” Blatter scolded one reporter.

Blatter ended another turbulent day by promising to restore order, and dismissed evidence that FIFA’s second in command had suggested Qatar “bought” the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

The 75-year-old Swiss executive spoke a day after bin Hammam and Warner were sidelined by an ethics committee over allegations that Caribbean soccer leaders were paid $40,000 each to back bin Hammam’s now-abandoned presidential bid.

“Crisis? What is a crisis? Football is not in a crisis,” Blatter said. “We are not in a crisis, we are only in some difficulties and these difficulties will be solved _ and they will be solved inside this family.”

Highlighting the unease within a sport that has long learned to live with scandal, leading sponsor Coca-Cola joined sporting goods giant Adidas in criticizing the state of soccer.

Coca-Cola said in a statement to The Associated Press that the allegations are “distressing and bad for the sport,” adding the company has “every expectation that FIFA will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.”

To make matters worse, Blatter failed to come out in defense of FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who admitted he had written an email to Warner saying bin Hammam might have been thinking that “you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC.”

When asked for a reaction, Blatter said, “I don’t answer this question,” before adding, “we will come back inside the FIFA on that.”

Qatar’s World Cup organizers swiftly and “categorically” denied Valcke’s claim. They said they were “urgently seeking clarification” from FIFA and are “taking legal advice to consider our options.”

Valcke attempted to clarify his remarks Monday, saying that by using the word “bought” he meant that Qatar was using the “financial strength” of an energy-rich nation to lobby for backing, but did not mean to claim any unethical behavior on its part.

“I have at no time made, or was intending to make, any reference to any purchase of votes,” Valcke said in a statement about his email to Warner.

Bin Hammam said he would appeal his provisional suspension, saying the proceedings were “absolutely not compliant with any principles of justice” and had been “defined from the very beginning.”

The 62-year-old Qatari, who is suspended from his role as president of the Asian Football Confederation, acknowledged on his personal website that he provided $360,000 for “travel and accommodations” of the 25 Caribbean Football Union members attending a May 10-11 meeting in Warner’s native Trinidad.

The crisis was sparked by evidence submitted by Chuck Blazer, the American general secretary of the regional soccer group representing North and Central America and the Caribbean and a longtime FIFA executive panel member.

Blazer said there was “much more evidence” to come detailing what happened when bin Hammam and Warner arranged the May 10-11 meeting.

FIFA’s suspension of bin Hammam has met with widespread anger in the Middle East. Yousuf al-Serkal, an Asian Football Confederation vice president and an ally of bin Hammam from neighboring United Arab Emirates, said he didn’t believe the charges and saw them as a bid to remove him from the presidential race.

“Bin Hammam has been mistreated,” al-Serkal said. “Bin Hammam is the right person who should have been elected.”

“All the allegations were just from a report,” he added. “I feel sorry for the person I have known for long time as a decent person.”

Newspapers in Egypt were especially critical of Blatter. The Al-Dustour daily said bin Hammam had “surrendered to the tyranny of Blatter.” Al-Gomhuria called Blatter a “sly fox who cannot be easily hunted” and compared him to that country’s longtime president, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted from office earlier this year.


AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Rob Harris in Zurich and Michael Casey in Dubai contributed to this report.

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