FIFA president Sepp Blatter has offered a public apology for his widely-criticised comments regarding racism in football – but remained defiant in the face of demands he quit his role as head of world football’s governing body.
Amidst a furious outcry from commentators, footballers and politicians alike following Blatter’s suggestion that incidents of racist abuse on the pitch could be settled by a simple handshake between the players concerned, the 75-year-old admitted yesterday he had “done something not totally correct” and apologised to those affected
His belated words came as British MPs were invited to call formally for Blatter’s head on an Early Day Motion in Parliament. The motion, which condemns Blatter’s words and calls for his immediate resignation, will be put forward by Blaydon MP David Anderson on Monday.
But despite criticism from many leading figures including Prime Minister David Cameron, Blatter made it clear yesterday that he would not be standing down.
“When you have done something which was not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations,” he said.
But asked whether he would quit, he added: “I cannot resign. Why should I?
“When you are faced with a problem, you have to face the problem. To leave would be totally unfair and not compatible with my fighting spirit, my character, my energy.”
Blatter, already mired in controversy following a string of corruption scandals at Fifa, gave two separate television interviews earlier this week in which he denied racism exists in football, and claimed any derogatory racial comments between players could be easily rectified with a handshake at the end of the match.
The chorus of criticism from within the football world continued yesterday with angry words from figures including former England captain David Beckham.
“The comments (made by Blatter) were appalling,” Beckham said yesterday. “There obviously is, and has been, racism throughout soccer and in life over the last few years.
“It can’t be swept under the carpet, it can’t be sorted out with a handshake.
“That’s not the way of the world, and that’s not how racism should be treated.
“It’s out there and we have to keep working hard to keep it out of the game – and life in general.”
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini added: “There is racism in football, like there is in life. It is good that people are making an issue of it.”
Mr Anderson said he was pushing ahead with his Early Day Motion calling for Blatter to quit having worked closely with the Kick Racism out of Football campaign.
The MP said: “I have seen the great strides they and football have made in recent years.
“(Their work) makes a huge contribution in ensuring our next generation doesn’t treat racism in the same casual way that mine did.
“It is deplorable that the man who leads world football can be so unaware of the huge responsibility he has and the damage his attitude could do.
He added: “Fifa, rightly, has zero tolerance of racism, and it cannot be led by someone who thinks that it is okay to brush it away with a handshake. He has to go – and go now.”
Ged Grebby, chief executive of the campaign, lent his weight to the motion, saying: “For the head of football’s world governing body to say that there is no racism in the game is an unbelievably ignorant statement, and potentially undermines the progress football has made in tackling racism.”
For his part, Blatter seemed somewhat bewildered at the outcry his words have caused, saying he was “hurting” and “couldn’t envisage such a reaction”.
n The Bulgarian Football Union have been fined £34,000 by UEFA for incidents during the Euro 2012 qualifier against England on September 2. The punishment is related to “discriminatory” chanting by Bulgarian fans and for the lighting and throwing of fireworks during the clash in Sofia, which England won 3-0.
Comment: Page 14.