SAO PAULO - FIFA opens a congress on Tuesday with under-fire President Sepp Blatter in a combative mood after he said racism was partly behind corruption allegations engulfing Qatar's winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Global football chief Blatter blasted critics trying to "destroy" FIFA on Monday. Blatter, 78, who is poised to announce his candidacy for a fifth term as president of football's global governing body, launched a strong defence of his term during addresses to Asian and African officials.
Speaking to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) gathered in Sao Paulo ahead of FIFA's 64th Congress, Blatter lashed out at his critics. "Show unity and confirm this unity, it's the best way to reply to all the destructors in the world," Blatter said.
"They want to destroy, not the game, but they want to destroy the institution, because our institution is too strong," he added. Blatter said that the FIFA was "so strong we are sure they'll not destroy it." In separate comments to Confederation of African Football (CAF) delegates, Blatter said that he believed unnamed critics of Qatar 2022 were motivated by "racism and discrimination."
African officials in turn pointed the finger directly at the British media over the Qatar claims, accusing news outlets of waging a "hateful, defamatory and degrading" campaign against "the entire African continent." The same statement meanwhile praised Blatter, citing his "continuous involvement in the development of football in Africa."
Blatter's rallying cry comes as FIFA faces mounting pressure over its 2010 decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Five of FIFA's six biggest commercial partners Adidas, Sony, Visa, Coca-Cola and Hyundai have demanded an investigation of claims that Qatari official Mohammed bin Hammam paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure the tiny Gulf state's victory in the 2022 race.
Qatar beat the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea to the 2022 tournament, despite a FIFA technical report which warned the searing temperatures during June and July in Qatar posed a health risk. Amid calls for a re-vote, FIFA investigator Michael Garcia was to finish his inquiry into the 2022 vote and the 2018 bid contest, won by Russia, on Monday.
Garcia is to speak at the Congress about his work, but his report will not be handed over to the FIFA adjudicatory chamber until mid-July, when the World Cup final is held Blatter said on Monday that he expected the FIFA Ethics Committee to decide what, if any, action to take over Garcia's report in three to four months time.
"I hope it will be in September or October," he told AFC officials. Blatter is expected to use the FIFA Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday to announce his intention to stand again for a fifth term as FIFA president. On Monday, Blatter told delegates he still had the passion to carry on his position, 16 years after his election to the post at a 1998 vote in Paris.
"I still have the fire inside," Blatter told his audience, hinting once again that a declaration for the presidential race is almost certain.