KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH —- Sepp Blatter issued a rallying call to the world game ahead of what he expects to be difficult days ahead in the wake of the crisis which has further weakened FIFA over the last days.

The world federation’s president was offering the welcome address at the opening ceremony of its 65th congress in here Zurich. This was a welcome address, however, in which Blatter warned of “more bad news ahead” and a renewed need to rebuild the organisation’s image.

Tomorrow’s business session will reach a climax with the contentious election in which Blatter is overwhelming favourite to beat off a challenge from Prince Ali of Jordan.

Sepp Blatter . . . a statement of FIFA identity

The opening ceremony, in front of delegates from the 209 member associations of FIFA, was also attended by the Swiss Sports Minister Ueli Maurer and Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.

Outside, a protest by anti-Israel supporters of Palestine offered a reminder of another contentious item on the congress agenda: the Palestinian federation wants Israel suspended from world football over the freedom of access issue.

Legal assault

In fact, that had been superseded in the world’s headlines by Wednesday’s legal assault on FIFA in both Switzerland and the United States. Among those detained in Zurich and the subject of extradition applications from the US Justice Department are CONCACAF head Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, outgoing president of the South American confederation.

Blatter conceded: “These are unprecedented, untypical times for FIFA. The events of yesterday have cast a long shadow over football and over this week’s congress.

“The action of individuals brings shame and humiliation on football and demands action and change from us all. We cannot allow the reputation of football and of FIFA to be dragged through the mud any longer. It has to stop here and now.”

Blatter has made similar comments before and has always sought to deflect personal responsibility.

This time he took a different tack, saying: “I know many people hold me ultimately responsible for the action and reputation of the global football community whether it’s a decision on the hosting of a World Cup or corruption.

“We, I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time. If people want to do wrong they will try to hide it but it must fall to me to be responsible for the reputation and wellbeing of our organisation and to find a way forward to fix things.

Zero tolerance

“I will not allow the actions of a few to destroy the hard work and integrity of the vast majority of those who work so hard for football.”

One of Blatter’s favourite allusions has always been that football merely reflects the evils of society in general.

He said: “Those who are corrupt in football are in a tiny majority, like in society, but they must be held responsible for their actions. Football cannot be the exception to the rule.”

He promised: “We will cooperate with all the authorities to make sure anyone involved in wrongdoing, from top to bottom, is discovered and punished. There can be no place for corruption of any kind.”

Looking ahead, he cautioned: “The next few months will not be easy for FIFA. I am sure more bad news will follow but it is necessary to begin to restore trust in our organisation.

Responsibility demand

“More needs to be done to make sure everyone in football behaves responsibly both inside and outside the field the play where there is no referee and no time limit. Football deserves so much more and we must respond.”

Looking ahead, Blatter described tomorrow’s congress session as the starting point for yet another attempt at reform.

He said: “Tomorrow we have the opportunity to begin on what will be a long and difficult road to regaining trust.

“We have lost that trust at least part of it and we must now earn it back. We must earn it back through the decisions we make, through our expectations in each other and the way we behave individually.”

And, with that, he enjoined his audience to put away FIFA’s cares and woes and “enjoy the show.”

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