Sepp Blatter Reelected To 5th Term As FIFA President
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Even after the arrests, the accusations, and the condemnation, the president of the World Soccer Federation, FIFA, has been re-elected, and it wasn't even close. Sepp Blatter won 133 votes in the first round. His opponent, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, got to 73, and then the prince withdrew his candidacy. In his acceptance speech, Blatter promised to bring back FIFA and hand over a strong, robust organization to his successor in four years' time. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Zurich and joins us now. And Eleanor, it seems that much of the world's media has been watching events in Zurich, and yet, in the end, the FIFA election result really wasn't much of a surprise, was it?
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Robert, it wasn't. He seemed to have cinched the vote a long time ago, so that wasn't much of a surprise. I guess if there was any surprise, it's that Prince Ali - and that's how he's being called here - made it to the second round. But as you said, he still didn't do well enough, and he knew he wouldn't make it, so he pulled out.
SIEGEL: Well, how was Blatter able to win so easily after the arrests of senior FIFA officials earlier in the week and after senior figures in world soccer, even some politicians, were saying that it was time for him to go?
BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, that was my question when I first got to Zurich. But as you talk to some of the delegates, you realize that he's a very beloved figure. Blatter had built alliances and had really long - the long-standing support with much of the developing world. Delegates said that he brought soccer out of Europe and South America - you know, it's traditional bastions - to the developing countries. And he also helped them with AstroTurf and equipment because these poor countries, they don't have the means to develop their soccer. And I spoke with a delegate from South Sudan and he said without Blatter, South Africa would've never had the World Cup in 2010. And I have to say this. Some of them did not believe the allegations, and they called the high-profile arrest that dawn in a hotel here - they thought it was an American show.
SIEGEL: Well, both Sepp Blatter and Prince Ali gave last-minute campaign speeches before today's vote. What'd they say?
BEARDSLEY: Well, Prince Ali gave a clear vision. He called it a complete break with the past. He said he'd clean up corruption and reverse the pyramid, he said, by putting the people and the clubs on top, not the officials. And he kept talking about a new dawn for FIFA. Here's part of his speech.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
ALI BIN AL-HUSSEIN: We are guardians of a game that is not simply for the world. It is a game that is loved and cherished by the world. If you give me the honor of your votes, I will take full responsibility and hold myself accountable to all of you and to the world.
BEARDSLEY: When Blatter spoke, he did take some responsibility for the corruption and he promised to clean it up as well. And he didn't try to sell himself to the delegates. He said you all know me. And then he began to talk about time. He said, it - but it really hasn't been so long, and the older you get, actually, time goes by very quickly. And then he says this. He's speaking here through a translator.
SEPP BLATTER: (Through interpreter) So I am with you. I'm quite simply with you. And I will quite simply just fight this day with you. I'd just like to stay with you. I would like to continue with you.
BEARDSLEY: It was a heartfelt plea, and some people found this very human. I spoke with some delegates. They said they were very touched. But a few others said it was rather sad because he came across as sort of an old man trying to hang on to the last years of his life with his FIFA family because FIFA clearly is Blatter's life.
SIEGEL: So, Sepp Blatter, re-elected president of FIFA. What's next for FIFA?
BEARDSLEY: So, Robert, the fifth term of Sepp Blatter is not going to be an easy one. There are ongoing investigations into FIFA officials. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch already said this is only the beginning. So there could be more allegations of corruption, more indictments of individuals. And I spoke to the head of the Australian Football Federation as he came out of the vote. He said he was very disappointed because he had campaigned openly against Blatter's re-election. But he said it was a democratic process, the vote had to be accepted, and he said he believed Blatter would reform because this time the organization demands it. And he said Blatter has no choice.
SIEGEL: Eleanor Beardsley in Zurich, thank you.
BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.