SAO PAULO Europe's powerful soccer body told FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Tuesday that he was no longer fit to run an organisation mired in allegations of corruption, in a stinging indictment of his reign just two days before the World Cup kicks off.
It was not all bad news for the 78-year-old Swiss, who earlier in the day all but confirmed his intention to lead soccer's world governing body for a record fifth term in an election to be held next year.
Having won standing ovations from delegates from Asia and Africa on Monday, the embattled president was also informally endorsed by Oceania, North America and the Caribbean on Tuesday, handing him a solid platform for success.
But the words likely to ring loudest in his ears came from European soccer organisation UEFA, where resistance to Blatter has grown in recent weeks since fresh allegations of corruption surfaced surrounding Qatar's bid to host the World Cup in 2022.
"Mr Blatter, this is nothing personal, but if you look at FIFA's reputation over the last seven or eight years, it is being linked to all kinds of corruption and all kinds of old boys' networks things," Michael van Praag, head of the Dutch Football Association, told the FIFA president.
"FIFA has an executive president and you are not making things easy for yourself and I do not think you are the man for the job any longer."
Preparations for the World Cup, which kicks off in Sao Paulo on Thursday, have been overshadowed by allegations in The Sunday Times that the former president of the Asian Confederation, Mohamed Bin Hammam, had used money from secret slush funds to help win votes and support for Qatar's successful bid.
Qatar denies the allegations and says it was not connected to Bin Hammam, while Bin Hammam has yet to comment publicly.
Labour disputes and protests, sparked by public anger over how much the tournament has cost Brazil and how the country has still struggled to be ready, have also marred the run-up to the world's biggest, and most lucrative, sporting event.
BLATTER COURTS SUPPORT
Underlining deep divisions within FIFA over how to manage the Qatar scandal and whether Blatter should stay on, he won resounding support from delegates from Oceania, North America and the Caribbean during meetings in Sao Paulo.
"We will all be behind you if you stand again," David Chung, president of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), told Blatter, referring to his expected candidacy which could see him stay in charge until 2019, when he will be 83.
Members of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) stood to applaud the Swiss after his address to them, as Blatter's bid for re-election remained on track despite FIFA's problems.
"I thank you for this support. I thank you, and this inspires me to continue at the helm of FIFA," Blatter told the OFC, leaving officials in little doubt as to his intentions.
Blatter said he would look at "mechanisms" that would guarantee Oceania a direct qualifying place in future World Cup finals. At the moment the winner of the Oceania qualifying competition enters a final playoff round to gain a spot.
The endorsements followed similar shows of support from Asian and African delegates in Sao Paulo on Monday, and if all four soccer bodies backed Blatter unanimously, it would easily be enough to see him re-elected.
UEFA is waiting to see whether its head, former French soccer great Michel Platini, is prepared to run against Blatter next year, in what would be a mouth-watering clash between two of the sport's most powerful personalities.
"Platini has discussed this with many members, but has not made up his mind yet," Van Praag told reporters in Sao Paulo. "Since that is the case UEFA does not have another candidate."
He added that he thought UEFA should promote another candidate in the case that Platini decided not to run.
Platini supported the Qatari bid, arguing that soccer should seek new frontiers, in this case in the Middle East, to ensure its global appeal continued to grow.
But the award of the tournament to a tiny Gulf state of two million people, with little soccer heritage and soaring summer temperatures, has been argued over from the day it was announced in 2010.
Blatter has since admitted he thought the choice was a mistake, and may mean shifting the tournament to the winter, causing huge disruption to soccer leagues around the world who would have to build their schedules around it.
On Monday, Blatter blasted some of the criticism of Qatar's 2022 bid as racist, and attacked those he said were "plotting" to destroy FIFA.
Those comments brought derision from some within UEFA.
"I found his comments on racism yesterday ridiculous," said UEFA executive committee member Karen Espelund of Norway.
"It's not about the messenger, its about the message and we need a critical press on all sides of football," she told reporters after Blatter met UEFA delegates. On Monday, Michael Garcia, the head of FIFA's investigatory chamber of their Ethics Committee, concluded his report on alleged corruption surrounding FIFA officials, which has taken him two years to complete.
He will submit the report to German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, the head of the Ethics Committee's adjudicatory chamber, in around six weeks. If he finds corruption, soccer officials say Qatar could be stripped of the Cup.
(Writing by Mike Collett-White, Editing by Nigel Hunt)
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