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Jun 9, 2014

Blatter accuses critics of racism

After turbulent preparations and the threat of disruptive protests in Brazil and controversies over Qatar, FIFA is hopeful the football will be the main focus during the World Cup.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has hit out at critics who he says want to destroy football's governing body and blasted allegations surrounding the 2022 Qatar bid as being tied to racism.

"There is a sort of storm against FIFA relating to the Qatar World Cup," Blatter said. "Sadly there's a great deal of discrimination and racism."

Blatter spoke to African football officials in Sao Paolo, saying that the latest allegations would be discussed at the FIFA Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday.

He said FIFA needed to combat "anything that smacks of discrimination and racism."

"It really makes me sad," he added.

Oil company BP and the makers of Budweiser beer are the latest World Cup sponsors to have voiced their concerns to FIFA over the corruption allegations surrounding Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 tournament.

Blatter also addressed unspecified critics of Asian football officials following widespread allegations by The Sunday Times of corrupt payments by their former leader Mohamed bin Hammam.

"I don't know what the reasoning is behind this but we must maintain unity," Blatter told the gathering of Asian Football Confederation members. "It is the best way to say to all the destructors in the world, they want to destroy not the game, but they want to destroy the institution."

The British newspaper has reported that Bin Hammam paid millions of dollars to Asian and African officials, buying influence for Qatar's 2022 World Cup campaign and his own FIFA presidential challenge to Blatter in 2011.

Blatter also reminded Asian officials of "Qatargate," a series of reports by France Football magazine which aggressively questioned the integrity of FIFA's World Cup hosting vote.

The FIFA chief, who is widely expected to stand for re-election next year, turned the criticism into an appeal for him to remain in office.

"We are in the situation where we need leadership. I still have fire inside me," said the 78-year-old Blatter, who has led FIFA since 1998.

Asian officials stood to acclaim Blatter's request for support, following an earlier ovation from African delegates.

Minutes earlier, he promised FIFA member countries bonus payments from 2014 World Cup profits. The tournament revenue will approach $4.5 billion for FIFA.

"I am sure you will be very happy," Blatter said.

In 2010, Blatter pledged FIFA members would each get $250,000 bonuses from the World Cup in South Africa, and continental confederations would get $2.5 million.

FIFA pledged a further $300,000 for each country in January 2011, four months before Blatter was elected unopposed. Bin Hammam withdrew when implicated by a FIFA investigation into allegations he bribed Caribbean voters.

After its meeting on Monday, CAF published a statement threatening legal action against The Sunday Times, which claimed that officials from 30 African football federations sought and received cash, gifts and favours from Bin Hammam up to 2011.

The assembly urged the CAF board to "file a lawsuit, if necessary, so that the authors of this smearing and defamatory campaign against African football leaders are brought to the book."

The statement praised Blatter for fighting against racism, and Hayatou for "transparent and distinguished leadership."

In December 2011, IOC member Hayatou was reprimanded by the Olympic body for receiving 100,000 French francs (then $20,000) cash in 1995 from FIFA's then marketing partner ISL. The agency later collapsed into bankruptcy and sparked a World Cup kickbacks scandal.

The IOC cited a conflict of interest for Hayatou who had denied wrongdoing.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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