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Newly Re-Elected, FIFA's Sepp Blatter Denies Ties To Corruption


Sepp Blatter was defiant at a press conference today, insisting he has nothing to fear from the ongoing investigation into charges of vast corruption under his watch as head of soccer's global governing body, FIFA. Mr. Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term on Friday in Zurich. FIFA ended the press conference as he faced shouted questions from the international press. Rob Harris, with the Associated Press, was at today's press conference. Rob, thanks very much for being with us.

ROB HARRIS: Good morning.

SIMON: Sounds like it was kind of a free-for-all in there. What was it like?

HARRIS: Well, it was the first time Blatter had really faced us since the scandal erupted the other day, and it wasn't the stormiest of sessions with Sepp Blatter. In fact, he actually answered pretty much every question head-on, even if he didn't provide full answers.

SIMON: You asked a question, right?

HARRIS: I did, yes.

SIMON: What was it and what was the response?

HARRIS: Well, I asked a question about one of the key issues and that's over this $10 million payment which is alleged by the U.S. authorities to have gone through FIFA channels in some part, which is part of this U.S. case. And I asked him is the fact that he didn't - he says he doesn't know about the payments - is that a sign of his incompetence or intentional negligence, of which he didn't really give a direct answer to. And that was actually an issue raised by a former chief executive of Manchester United, David Gill, who said he could not serve on a FIFA body of which such lack of oversight took place. And David Gill was due to become a FIFA vice president but rejected it.

SIMON: Yeah. I gather Mr. Blatter blamed the press, particularly the American and British press, right?

HARRIS: Well, he did highlight the fact that there were American reporters seemingly in the hotel when the operation took place. And his seem against the British press is one he's carried out for many years. He's been critical of the British media for many years for their really heavy scrutiny of FIFA.

SIMON: Yeah. Now, despite the fact no legal case against Mr. Blatter has been presented, there is such a thing as a value of the brand name. And I wonder, as an experienced reporter in this realm, if his - if his position in FIFA, despite being re-elected, is any less secure than it was a couple of weeks ago.

HARRIS: Well, he's got this fresh mandate from the Congress yesterday, which handed him a fifth four-year term through to 2019, which would seem to make his position secure. The only real thing that we think could potentially prevent him seeing out that term is if the FBI investigation actually landed straight at his door and it - and he starts to come subject to that.

SIMON: Yeah. What if some of the major sponsors begin to say, you know, we're just - we're just not confident in this leadership? I mean, they're - they're responsible for a lot of money, aren't they?

HARRIS: Well, they are the sponsors, and the broadcasters make the World Cup a $5 billion event. And they have spoken out in - over several years against FIFA but not really threatening them. They've not really said they would withdraw if - unless FIFA changed. That was until this week when Visa did say that unless FIFA introduced the reforms it expects it would withdraw. We've not heard anything from Visa since the re-election, but Sepp Blatter did indicate that FIFA would be heading out to see Visa next week to actually discuss what's the future of FIFA with them.

SIMON: Yeah. And do we know - in the 20 seconds we have left - where the investigation, particularly the Swiss one, resides now?

HARRIS: Well - and the Swiss authorities are still investigating the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process and the U.S. are still looking into various payments around soccer in, obviously, around North America. And they've said there could be more charges yet in that case.

SIMON: Rob Harris of the Associated Press, thanks so much.

HARRIS: Excellent. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.