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Despite Corruption Scandal, Blatter Wins Fifth Term As FIFA Chief

FIFA President Sepp Blatter attends a press conference in Jerusalem on May 19.
Tsafrir Abayov
FIFA President Sepp Blatter attends a press conference in Jerusalem on May 19.

Update at 1:18 p.m. ET. Blatter Wins Fifth Term:

Two days after leading officials were arrested and charged with corruption and bribery, soccer's world governing body decided to stay the course, electing Joseph "Sepp" Blatter as its president.

Switzerland's Blatter has been FIFA's chief since 1998. He couldn't secure a victory during the first round of voting, but his lone challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, withdrew his name from the race once it became clear that Blatter would be elected during the second round.

During a speech before the vote, Blatter vowed to make changes to the organization.

"We need to recover our good name and we'll start tomorrow morning with this goal in mind," he said in French. However, FIFA does not need a "revolution," he said. It needs an "evolution."

Blatter needed a two-thirds majority to win during the first round; 206 valid votes were cast. Blatter received 65 percent of the vote, forcing a second round of voting but also making it clear that he would receive the simple majority he needed to win the second vote.

Hussein withdrew from the race and minutes later Blatter took to the stage to great applause. He got down to business, saying he wanted to expand beach soccer and leave the World Cup as it is.

He made a reference to the corruption scandal when he said: "I take the responsibility to bring back FIFA. ... I promise you at the end of my term, I will give this FIFA to my successor in a very, very, very strong position."

Our Original Post Continues:

Just two days after a group of leading officials were arrested and charged with corruption and bribery, FIFA, soccer's world governing body, is holding a presidential election.

Switzerland's Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, who has been FIFA's chief since 1998, is facing off with Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, but don't expect a big shakeup.

Here's how Deadspin sets up the vote:

"The football associations in a number of countries have announced, with varying degrees of certainty, their support for Prince Ali. Those countries are Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, England, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Scotland, Sweden, United States, Uruguay, and Wales. There may be more that I missed.

"The astute among you will observe that there are only 19 countries on that list. It's a good start, but still a far cry from the 105 votes Prince Ali will need to unseat Blatter. In fact, pretty much everybody that has handicapped the election— even after the vast scale of corruption in FIFA that was revealed when the US Department of Justice went gangbusters — believes that Blatter is still going to win handily."

The vote is cast by secret ballot. Blatter would need to garner at least two-thirds of the vote to win on the first ballot and would need a simple majority to win on ensuing ballots.

Like Deadspin, The New York Times says that trying to figure out votes is complicated, but Blatter is expected to win. The paper reports:

"Michel Platini, the president of European soccer's governing body, called for Mr. Blatter to step down during an emergency meeting of top officials convened early Thursday and then enthusiastically endorsed Prince Ali.

" 'After what happened recently, I think enough is enough, and a number of people think likewise,' Mr. Platini told reporters. 'There is a radical change in the mind-set of a number of heads of associations.'

"Mr. Platini predicted Prince Ali would receive '45 or 46' of the 53 European votes, while campaign advisers for Prince Ali often have played up how much support he will receive outside Europe. Sunil Gulati, the head of U.S. Soccer and a member of FIFA's governing executive committee, said on Thursday that the Americans supported Prince Ali but it remains unclear how many other countries from Concacaf, the regional body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean, will vote against Mr. Blatter."

For his part, Blatter addressed the controversy Thursday. As we reported, he said that arrests "have cast a long shadow over football and over this league's congress."

But he did not respond to Platini's call for his resignation.

Instead, Blatter tried to distance himself from the alleged corruption: "I cannot monitor everyone all of the time," he said. "If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it."

The presidential vote, by the way, is not the only controversial one scheduled for today: FIFA will also vote on whether to suspend Israel from the federation. According to The Guardian, the Palestinian Football Association will push for the vote unless "Israel expels five teams based in illegal Israeli settlements from its football league."

Update at 12:59 p.m. ET. Second Round Will Be Needed:

Blatter was unable to secure a two-thirds majority to win in the first round, so voting will go to the second round.

Here's how the first round went: 206 valid votes were cast. Blatter received 65 percent of the vote or 133 votes.

In the second round, only a simple majority is needed to win.

Update at 11:02 a.m. ET. Change Tomorrow:

During his speech, Blatter said that FIFA did not need a "revolution." Instead, he said, it needed an "evolution."

While he took responsibility for the corruption scandal, he asked for more time to help the organization "weather the storm."

"We need to recover our good name and we'll start tomorrow morning with this goal in mind," he said in French.

Blatter told FIFA members that what they need right now is a"strong leader, an experienced leader, a leader that knows all the ins and outs of a situation ..."

Blatter made the case that FIFA members should vote for him because they know him.

"Quite simply," he said, "I have been with you, and I would like to stay with you. I would like to continue with you."

Blatter also rejected the idea that he had been with the organization for too long.

"What is this notion of time? Time is infinite and we slice it up," he said. "The time I've spent at FIFA is very short."

Update at 10:50 a.m. ET. Emotional Speech:

Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan gave an emotional speech in which he exhorted members to vote by listening to their "hearts."

Hussein said that the eyes of the world are on FIFA and that the governing body is at a crossroads.

"Today it is about taking the first step toward a process of change," Hussein said.

Update at 10:35 a.m. ET. Voting To Start:

Voting for the presidential election is about to begin. FIFA is streaming the event here.

Update at 10 a.m. ET. Palestinians Drop Proposal:

Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub said he had been persuaded to drop his proposal by many, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

FIFA approved a proposal by the Palestinians that would establish a joint committee to try to resolve the issues.

After dramatic speeches from Rajoub and his Israeli counterpart, the two men shook hands.

We're now awaiting a vote for president.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.