The embattled head of soccer's world governing body says the sweeping corruption probes being conducted by U.S. and Swiss authorities are the result of a "big political power game."
In an interview published on October 28 by the Russian state-run news agency TASS, Sepp Blatter also lashed out at Michel Platini, a top official with the European soccer governing agency, UEFA.
Platini has said he would seek to succeed Blatter as FIFA head, but has also been snared by the widening investigations.
"I was the target of the attacks initially. And Michel Platini started it all. This is personal," Blatter was quoted as saying.
"He has always wanted to be FIFA president… But he had not the courage to put forward his candidacy for the 2015 elections," he said.
"FIFA has been working without interruption…. In the 17 years that I have headed FIFA, the organization has become a big, profitable, commercial company. And this naturally provokes envy and jealousy."
Blatter’s defiant and combative comments come as U.S. and Swiss investigators continued digging into FIFA’s organization and practices.
In May, the soccer world was stunned by the detention of seven FIFA officials attending a meeting in Geneva. The arrests were carried out by the Swiss police at the request of U.S. officials.
In the indictment later released, the U.S. Justice Department painted a picture of rampant bribery, kickbacks, and vote-buying at FIFA.
Blatter himself has not been charged, nor has Platini, but many soccer observers and critics of FIFA have said it would be impossible for Blatter to have run the organization for as long as he did and have no knowledge of the practices detailed in the U.S. indictment.
Last month, Swiss investigators said they were investigating a 2011 payment Blatter authorized to Platini for work done in 1999–2002, as well as a probe of a TV rights deal he signed in 2005 with Jack Warner, who is among the FIFA officials named in the U.S. indictment.
Intense Global Criticism
Earlier this month, both Blatter and Platini were banned from the organization by its ethics committee for 90 days.
"Yeah, [Platini] started it, but then it became politics. And when it is in politics, it is not any longer Platini against me. It is then those, who have lost the World Cup. England against Russia. They lost the World Cup. And the U.S.A. lost the World Cup against Qatar," he said according to TASS. "What they have done together with the Swiss, they have created this attack towards FIFA and the president of FIFA.
"And you are from TASS and you know what are the problems between your country and the U.S.A.," Blatter was quoted as telling the reporter. "The FIFA World Cup or the FIFA president is a ball in the big political power game."
Days after the arrests in May, despite intense global criticism, Blatter was reelected president of the organization, though he promised to only serve until the next elections would be held in 2016.
The cloud hanging over FIFA has also prompted calls from some international soccer figures to revisit the decision to grant Russia and Qatar the right to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, respectively. The quadrennial tournament is among the most watched sporting events in the world, and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars for FIFA from licensing fees.
In the interview, Blatter also suggested that there was an agreement among top soccer officials in 2010 to grant Russia the right to host World Cup.
"In 2010 we had a discussion of the World Cup and then we went to a double decision. For the World Cups it was agreed that we go to Russia because it's never been in Russia, Eastern Europe, and for 2022 we go back to America," Blatter was quoted as saying. "And so we will have the World Cup in the two biggest political powers."
But Platini pressured the organization to instead award Qatar the 2022 tournament, he said.
Qatar's hosting of the matches has come under repeated criticism even before the corruption scandal emerged. The Persian Gulf monarchy's scorching climate worried players concerned about heat-related illnesses, and the country has also been accused of gross violations for laborers building the venues.
"If the U.S.A. was given the World Cup, we would only speak about the wonderful World Cup 2018 in Russia and we would not speak about any problems at FIFA," Blatter said.