SAO PAULO (AP) — In a stinging rebuke for Sepp Blatter, European football leaders told the veteran FIFA president on Tuesday that he should leave the scandal-hit governing body next year.
Blatter has sought support in Sao Paulo for a re-election bid in 2015 and faced a hostile UEFA membership, which bucked the trend of overwhelming backing from FIFA's other five continents. They had urged the 78-year-old Swiss this week to run for a fifth presidential term next year despite a slew of scandals and negative headlines under his leadership.
UEFA executive committee member Michael van Praag and English Football Association President Greg Dyke directly challenged Blatter not to stand again during a closed-door meeting of Europe's 54 football nations — described by one delegate as "a grilling."
"People link FIFA to corruption and bribery and all kinds of old boys' networks," Van Praag told reporters later. "FIFA has an executive president and that means you are responsible," the Netherlands federation president said he told Blatter. "People tend not to take you very seriously anymore."
The volatile meeting recalled open conflict between Blatter and European football that flared around his original election in 1998, and again for his re-election in 2002 during a financial scandal after FIFA's then-World Cup marketing agency collapsed into bankruptcy and sparked a kickbacks investigation.
UEFA, with 53 of the 209 FIFA members, has a second chance Wednesday to oppose Blatter. That will come in the public arena of the FIFA Congress floor, when he says he will seek acclaim for his expected re-election run.
Van Praag insisted his was not a personal attack on Blatter and deflected questions on whether he could be proposed by UEFA as a rival candidate. UEFA members reminded Blatter he promised them in March 2011 that his current four-year term would be his last.
"He said that he changed his mind and every human being is allowed to change his mind," van Praag said. Blatter arrived at the UEFA session after telling other confederations he had a burning desire to remain in office.
UEFA board members lined up later to list grievances with Blatter, including his handling of the 2022 World Cup bidding contest and subsequent issues with Qatar as host, plus criticism of European media for reporting allegations of corruption implicating FIFA officials.
In meetings with Asian and African delegates on Monday, Blatter suggested racism was a factor in the British media's reporting of the Qatar controversy. "I said to him, 'I regard the comments you made about the allegations in the British media in which you described them as racist as totally unacceptable,'" Dyke told reporters.
England's delegate on the UEFA board, David Gill, said he thought Blatter should go in 2015. "Personally, yes, I think we need to move on," said the former Manchester United chief executive, comparing FIFA to the International Olympic Committee, which changed its president after the Salt Lake City bidding scandal.
UEFA President Michel Platini, long seen as Blatter's likely successor, is expected to decide in September if he will challenge his former mentor. Platini did not meet with reporters Tuesday, though his secretary general, Gianni Infantino, denounced Blatter's description in Sao Paulo this week of a "storm" around world football.
"There is not a storm in football. There is a storm in FIFA and this storm is not new," Infantino said. "It's something which is coming for years and years and years, and every time it's something else."
UEFA honorary president Lennart Johansson, who lost the 1998 FIFA election in a ballot long dogged by allegations of vote-buying by Blatter supporters, said his old rival should go. "He has done some good things for FIFA," Johansson said, "but he should stick by what he said (in 2011)."
Still, FIFA members outside Europe show little desire to change a system and leadership that have delivered booming revenues. Blatter told the 11 Oceania countries earlier Tuesday in a different Sao Paulo hotel they could expect bonuses from 2014 World Cup revenues higher than four years ago, when each got $550,000.
Oceania leader and FIFA vice president David Chung promised Blatter full support in the presidential ballot scheduled next May 29. "Rest assured, the 11 members in this room are the first in line," Chung said.