Sepp Blatter has come out all guns blazing after German football officials put pressure on the President of world football's governing body (FIFA) to consider his position. In an interview with a Swiss Sunday newspaper, he questioned how Germany had ultimately won the right to stage the 2006 World Cup.
Asked by 'Sonntags-Blick' whether he suspected that Germany had bought the 2006 World Cup, the under-fire 76 year-old Blatter said, "I suspect nothing. I'm simply making an observation."
Sonntags-Blick called the hard-hitting interview "the most open interview that Sepp Blatter has ever given" as the Swiss functionary countered allegations that Russia and Qatar had both bought the FIFA 2018 and 2022 World Cups in last year's twin vote.
Blatter has rocked the football world by stating that the 2006 German "summer fairy tale" was also perhaps not all it appeared at first glance.
"On the subject of World Cups being purchased..there I am reminded of the 2006 World Cup vote, where somebody left the room at the last minute. And so suddenly instead of 10-10, the vote stood at 10-9 in Germany's favour. I'm happy that I did not have to make a decisive casting vote [as FIFA president]," Blatter said. "But, well, suddenly someone stood up and left. Perhaps in that case I was also too well-meaning and too naive."
Germany and South Africa, which later hosted the 2010 World Cup, were the final two countries in direct competition to stage the 2006 competition. German football legend 'Kaiser' Franz Beckenbauer, figurehead, supremo and mastermind behind bringing the 2006 World Cup to Germany, and the organising committee's vice president Fedor Radman both strongly refuted Blatter's claims. Beckenbauer fired straight back, questioning Blatter's version of events. "I cannot understand the statement and suggestions made by Sepp Blatter," Beckenbauer told Bild am Sonntag. "He even got the result wrong. It was 12-11, not 10-9. The deciding factor was that the eight Europeans all voted for us." Radman said Blatter's recollection of the vote was incorrect, pointing to the 12-11 final count; he also said that the abstention by the Oceania representative did not swing the vote in Germany's favour.
Blatter went on the attack after German football officials, most notably the president of the German Football League (DFL), Reinhard Rauball, and the president of the German Football Association (DFB), Wolfgang Niersbach, had strongly criticised Blatter over corruption details that were revealed in a Swiss courtroom on Wednesday. Rauball said in a newspaper interview that Blatter should resign, but the FIFA president told Sonntags-Blick that Rauball had taken matters too far. "It is nothing new that somebody wants rid of me. It just depends on the current mood. Sometimes it is the British media, then maybe the Americans, then another day it's the Germans," Blatter said. "What is true is that Rauball called me on Friday and told me that I should resign. I told him that it's not as easy as he imagines. The fact remains that I have been elected by congress."
The latest details of corruption dating back decades were presented at a trial in Switzerland. Blatter has also admitted knowing about one payment from FIFA's now-defunct marketing company International Sport and Leisure (ISL), to his predecessor as FIFA president, Joao Havelange. Havelange and FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira were both said to have received huge sums from ISL, which has since gone bust. No action was taken by FIFA at the time. Instead, football's governing body paid 2.5m Swiss francs to a court in Switzerland on condition that criminal proceedings were dropped.
Blatter admitted he knew about the payments but said that these were legal at the time. He said: "Back then, such payments could even be deducted from tax as a business expense. Today, that would be punishable under law.''
"You can't judge the past on the basis of today's standards. Otherwise it would end up with moral justice. I can't have known about an offence that wasn't even one."
The current president suggested Havelange's fate would be decided at the next congressional meeting of FIFA's executive committee, but added that in his opinion Havelange "must go."
He also told the paper that an official, who he did not name, tried to bribe him in 1986, but said he gave the money back after consulting his accountant.
"There wasn't an ethics committee [at FIFA] at the time. He gave me the money. I gave it back. End of story," Blatter said, when asked whether he had considered action against the person who allegedly wanted to bribe him.
These latest allegations and back-biting are the latest in a long-line of scandals to rock football's ruling body. Whether Mr Blatter's grip on power will become less tenable is highly doubtful. In the past he has been very adept at riding out the media storm. It will be interesting to witness if this latest episode proves any different.