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Daily Telegraph

Twenty-four hours before his attempt to secure re-election as FIFA president, Sepp Blatter was booed off the podium at the organisation’s extraordinary congress and became involved in an ugly physical confrontation with his chief opponent.

These setbacks came amid chaotic scenes as Blatter refused to allow 15 countries to ask potentially damaging questions about FIFA’s finances. Even diehard supporters were dismayed by the way Blatter tried to prevent a free and proper discussion.

At the end there was an encounter on the podium between Blatter and Issa Hayatou, the FIFA vice-president who is challenging for the presidency. One senior executive member feared Blatter might be punched by Hayatou, who stormed out, shouting: “This is scandalous.”

Blatter exerted complete control over a session that had been intended to be a question-and-answer exchange, allowing speeches to be delivered that were really a form of party poltical broadcast — in his favour.

Nine of the first 10 speakers he called were Blatter supporters and while he eventually called one who raised some critical questions on finance, he refused to call David Will, the FIFA vice-president from Scotland.

Will had wanted to tell congress that, despite the figures presented, FIFA in reality were insolvent. But despite two requests by Will, one of them a very public one when he went and stood next to Blatter at the podium, Blatter denied him the floor.

Also, while Bin Hammam, executive member from Qatar and Blatter’s campaign manager, spoke from the podium, other executive members hostile to Blatter found themselves without a microphone and unable to intervene.

One of these, Ismail Bhamjee, an executive member from Botswana, said: “I was shouting at him to try and get him to have fair play. He talks about fair play but this was a Mafioso style of conducting meetings. I used to have respect for Blatter but today I lost all respect for him.”

The mood on the floor was even uglier. Farah Ado, from Somalia, spent two hours constantly raising a hand to try to speak, but was not called. He stormed out, repeating to the world his earlier allegations that in 1998, when Blatter won the presidency, an attempt had been made by a Blatter supporter to buy Ado’s vote.

This turn of events was wholly unexpected. The first half of the congress had gone well with Blatter receiving rousing applause as he made his opening speech proclaiming that FIFA’s finances were very healthy.

But the mood turned as Blatter opened the meeting to the floor and delegates realised he would not allow any dissenting voices to be heard.

At the end, with the mood turning ugly, Blatter promised to allow the delegates he had not called, including Will, to speak at today’s ordinary congress, However the damage was done with Lennart Johansson, the president of UEFA, saying: “Blatter’s attempt to manipulate was a disgrace and may well have backfired. Blatter left a lot of people very angry.”

Whether this anger turns into a vote against Blatter when the election is held, at around 5am British time today, remains to be seen.

© Mihir Bose

      

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