- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ZURICH (AP) - Sepp Blatter acknowledged that corruption scandals have left FIFA “shaking on its foundations” on the eve of a presidential election that should give him another four-year term and a chance to restore order to soccer’s reeling governing body.

It was a stunning turnaround for Blatter, who a day earlier denied that the bribery case that led to the suspension of his only challenger had caused even a hint of crisis within FIFA.

On Tuesday, two more top sponsors broke decorum of business-as-usual to express concern about the stains the scandals have left on the sport and, by extension, their global investment in soccer.

And IOC President Jacques Rogge compared FIFA’s situation to the Olympic corruption crisis a dozen years ago leading to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. He urged soccer to adopt the same fundamental reforms that rescued the Olympic body.

“I am sure that FIFA also can emerge stronger,” Rogge told the 208 delegations at the FIFA Congress that will have little option but to confirm the 75-year-old Swiss for a last term Wednesday.

England launched a lone quest to postpone the election but found little interest beyond Scotland _ nowhere near the groundswell of more than 150 delegations needed to push through a motion.

“One is entitled to a minority view, even a singular view,” said David Bernstein, chairman of the English Football Association.

Prince William, who is president of the FA, endorsed Bernstein’s appeal. St. James’s Palace said the prince “considers the transparency of the international governing body to be integral to the good governance of the game.”

All of which provided further evidence for Blatter that he faces a myriad of problems.

“I thought we were in a world of fair play, respect and discipline, and unfortunately I have to see it no longer is the case,” Blatter said. “There is danger.”

The Congress began with a lavish ceremony for the delegates from around the globe, with a glitzy upbeat show headlined by a scantily dressed Grace Jones in stark counterpoint to the deep problems facing FIFA.

“I thought this was a party,” Jones shouted when she failed to get those gathered on their feet with such numbers as “Pull up to the Bumper” and “Slave to the Rhythm.”

Even though they were still in Zurich, Bin Hammam and FIFA Vice President Jack Warner were notable for their absence at the festivities. They have been suspended from all soccer activities until the conclusion of an investigation into allegations that Caribbean soccer leaders were paid $40,000 each to back Bin Hammam’s presidential bid.

Blatter also had to deal with two more leading sponsors criticizing FIFA’s inability to deal with pervasive corruption claims. Financial services giant Visa and airline Emirates joined fellow World Cup sponsors Coca-Cola and Adidas in voicing disappointment.

“The current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that FIFA take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised,” Visa said in a statement.

The rebukes came from other quarters as well. Blatter and the delegates had to sit and listen to a public scolding by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey.

“Take seriously the many criticisms voiced about corruption and a lack of transparency,” she said. “Take the necessary measures to reform your governance.”

Transparency International, a German-based anti-corruption watchdog, was equally critical.

“Free and fair elections cannot take place when there is a suspicion that voters may have been swayed,” spokeswoman Sylvia Schenk said in a statement. “FIFA should be setting a better example to its billions of supporters and especially to young fans that look to the sport for inspiration and role models.”

Some European Union parliamentarians also called for drastic reform.

The widespread dissatisfaction heightened the pressure on Blatter, who has downplayed the chaos in FIFA’s ranks as late as Monday.

“Crisis? What is a crisis,” Blatter said at a news conference late Monday. “Football is not in a crisis.”

With no challenger left, a final term would give Blatter 17 years at the helm of FIFA. Combined with the 24 years Brazil’s Joao Havelange was in charge, it would leave the fate of soccer over four decades in the hands of just two men.


AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Rob Harris contributed to this report.

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