ZURICH (AP) — Forbidden from using his office to solicit votes for his re-election, FIFA President Sepp Blatter instead took time Friday to use his position to help solve the crisis in Ukraine.
The soccer world’s master politician insisted he is not campaigning for himself, despite appearing to do exactly the opposite at his first news conference since the four-candidate contest was declared last month.
But Blatter did take time to lecture the media about soccer’s potential to calm geopolitical strife, told unnamed lawmakers to back off calling for World Cup boycotts, and evaded requests to apologize for upheaval caused by switching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to the end of that year.
“The World Cup in Russia will be able to stabilize all this situation that is in this region of Europe,” said Blatter, who has been closely allied to the 2018 host’s president, Vladimir Putin.
Blatter also said he was unimpressed by politicians who used FIFA’s marquee event to make their point.
“The message is leave sports alone,” said FIFA’s top man, days after Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko urged allies to boycott the next World Cup.
“Boycotting a World Cup or any sporting event has never brought any solutions to nobody,” added Blatter, who has been an International Olympic Committee member for 16 years.
Blatter noted sharply that the Council of Europe had switched their boycott calls in recent months from the World Cup in Qatar to Russia’s tournament.
“This is a direct interference,” said Blatter, reminding that FIFA — which counts Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko among its executive committee members — has rules against government meddling in soccer affairs.
The 79-year-old Swiss official is the favorite to win a fifth term as FIFA president from a majority of the 209 member federations who seem to have little wish to change his leadership style and the grants, bonuses and committee positions which flow from the headquarters in Zurich. And he was in typically imperious form Friday, with arms folded and rocking back in his chair while insisting he is not looking for votes for the election in May.
“I am not campaigning,” Blatter said to the reporters who were briefed that he would not address election issues at a news conference following a two-day session of the FIFA executive committee.
“I am doing my job as FIFA president and I will do it until the last day of my mandate,” he added. “I am now 40 years in FIFA, and I am 17 years as president of FIFA. This is my manifesto.”
Blatter also suggested that his meeting last weekend with Qatari Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a fellow IOC member, had been misreported as being critical of Qatar’s seemingly slow progress to fulfil pledges on labor law reform.
“I can tell you that the news we have is reassuring. It is positive news,” he said with trademark defiance.
Blatter has not yet identified the FIFA member federations who nominated him for re-election, unlike his three rivals: Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, Luis Figo of Portugal and Michael van Praag of the Netherlands.
Still, Blatter claimed unspecified global support.
“I have been asked by national associations in all the six confederations to be a candidate,” Blatter said. “I am the FIFA president and I am the FIFA president until the 29th of May until the last item on the congress agenda.”
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