27 May 2011

Blatter faces Fifa ethics investigation

Fifa President Sepp Blatter is to appear before the ethics committee of football’s governing body on Sunday to answer charges that he knew about alleged cash payments.

Fifa President Sepp Blatter, who is to appear before Fifa's ethics committee (Reuters)

The charge has been made by Mohamed Bin Hammam, Mr Blatter’s rival for the Fifa presidency in next week’s election. Mr Hammam will be at the hearing to answer a charge of bribery.

Fifa Vice-President Jack Warner has also been charged with bribery, which means that the three most powerful men in world football go before the ethics committee at the weekend.

Mr Blatter issued a statement saying: “I cannot comment on the proceedings that have been opened against me today. The facts will speak for themselves.”

However, there are now major doubts over whether Fifa’s presidential election between Sepp Blatter and Bin Hammam, scheduled for next Wednesday, will go ahead.

World football's credibility at stake
The credibility of world football is now at stake, writes Keme Nzerem. Moments before Sepp Blatter awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia last December, he warned his FIFA colleagues to be wary of the prying British media.

He may have had a point, because since the Sunday Times and Panorama published allegations of vote-buying, the revelations have not stopped.

Lord Triesman told Parliament earlier this month how Jack Warner had wanted money for pet projects in return for backing England's failed 2018 World Cup bid.

Then came Septt Blatter's big split with Bin Hamman, mastermind of Qatar's winning 2022 World Cup bid. Hamman decided to run against Blatter for the FIFA presidency - on an anti-corruption ticket.

This week Hammam was accused of trying to buy support, with the help of Jack Warner, and - hey presto! - days before the FIFA election, he is summoned before their ethics committee.

But last night Hamman hit back, saying Blatter knew all about the payments anyway.

UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson today called for next week’s FIFA presidential election to be suspended.

He said: “The Fifa presidential election campaign has descended into a farce.

The Fifa presidential election campaign has descended into a farce. Hugh Robertson, sports minister

“With both of the candidates ahving allegations of corruption aimed at them, the election should be suspended.”

He added: “Sports governing bodies have to be transparent and accountable, and change has to happen for the good of world football. Fifa needs to urgently reform in the way that the IOC did after Salt Lake City.”

Mr Robertson hinted earlier this month that national football associations could consider breaking away from Fifa if the world governing body did not clean up its act.

Wembley countdown

The turmoil at Fifa threatens to overshadow tomorrow’s UEFA Champions League final at Wembley between Manchester United and Barcelona.

The current Barcelona side, hailed by some as the greatest club side ever, includes Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, the top three nominees in Fifa’s latest Balloon d’Or award, which selects the best players in the world.

Manchester United’s present incarnation, by contrast, is thought to be one of manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s less exciting teams. Earlier this year Marseille manager Didier Deschamps suggested it had “a bit less fantasy than we have seen in the past”.

If Manchester United are to prevail tomorrow night, they must find a way of suppressing Barcelona’s ‘tiki-taka’ style.

Nonetheless, in Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United have one of the strongest central defensive partnerships in club football.

Add to that the reliability of goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Saar (who plays his final game for United tomorrow night) and the attacking combination of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, and you have a team that is formidable at both ends of the pitch.

Where United are vulnerable, and where pundits anticipate they can be exploited – as they were in their 2-0 Champions League defeat in Rome against Barcelona two years ago – is in midfield. Barcelona are “pass masters”, and much of their mesmeric possession football stems from Xavi and Iniesta.

If the English team are to prevail tomorrow night, they must find a way of suppressing Barcelona’s “tiki-taka” style.