ZURICH – Soccer's world governing body will hold a presidential election Friday, two days after a group of its leading officials were charged with corruption, its headquarters were raided and the governments of two countries announced they were investigating more allegations of bribery.
But when the voting members of FIFA cast their ballots Friday, it most likely will be as if nothing happened this week. Sepp Blatter, the publicly embattled leader seeking a fifth term as FIFA president, shows no signs of political damage. Despite a new round of allegations of widespread bribery by some of his top lieutenants, 11 of whom have been provisionally suspended from soccer, Blatter is expected to handily defeat his only challenger.
On Thursday, in his first public comments since the scandal became public, Blatter, 79, used a speech opening FIFA's annual congress on Thursday to deflect responsibility for FIFA's problems and at the same time suggest he was a man willing and capable of solving them.
"We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time," Blatter said. "If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it. But it must also fall to me to be responsible for the reputation of our entire organization, and to find a way to fix things.
"We cannot allow the reputation of FIFA to be dragged through the mud any longer."
Blatter is widely expected to win on Friday — in a vote only miles from the luxury hotel where Thursday's arrests took place — in part because of FIFA's electoral math. The FIFA president is elected by a one-country, one-vote poll of its 209 member federations, making the many smaller countries who support Blatter an effective counterweight to his unpopularity elsewhere, most notably in Europe.
The United States said it will vote for Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein.
Putin denounces arrests
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Wednesday's arrests "another blatant attempt by the United States to extend its jurisdiction to other states," according to a transcript of an overnight news conference posted on the Kremlin website.
Putin denied any wrongdoing by Russia and accused the United States of trying to wreck his country's hosting of the 2018 World Cup.
Former FIFA VP falls ill
Former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner left a Trinidad jail by ambulance Thursday, a day after he was charged in the U.S. corruption case.
Judicial officer Ibrahim Ali said Warner complained of exhaustion and was not able to face questions from reporters gathered for several hours outside the jail.
But a short while later, he gave a lengthy, defiant speech before a crowd of raucous supporters.
Several FIFA sponsors, including Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa, are calling for soccer's governing body to change the way it operates — Visa vowed to "reassess" its World Cup sponsorship if soccer's world governing body did not change its ways — and on Thursday another major World Cup sponsor, Hyundai Motor, also registered its disapproval.