Sepp Blatter, president of the world soccer governing body Fifa that is embroiled in corruption investigations, will not travel to Canada for Sunday’s final of the women’s World Cup for personal reasons, his US-based lawyer said on Tuesday.
Reuters was unable to determine the specific reasons why Blatter, a Swiss national, had decided not to attend the final in Vancouver. Some lawyers with experience in international criminal cases said that Blatter would be ill-advised to travel after an indictment announced on May 27 by US prosecutors against nine current and former Fifa officials and five sports marketing businessmen.
US prosecutors have not accused Blatter, 79, of any wrongdoing, but his stewardship of world soccer’s governing body is under scrutiny, sources familiar with investigations in the US and Switzerland have said.
He announced on June 2 that he would step down as Fifa president after an election that is likely to take place late this year or early next year.
Fifa said in a statement that Secretary General Jerome Valcke also would not travel to Canada. A lawyer for Valcke did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Due to their current commitments in Zurich, the Fifa President and the Fifa Secretary General will remain at the Fifa Headquarters,” the statement said.
The Fifa presidency involves extensive travel, and this will be the first time Blatter has not presented the trophy to the winners of the women’s competition, which is held every four years, since he became Fifa president in 1998.
“He’s not going to go to the finals in Canada,” said the lawyer, Richard Cullen. “He has informed the organisers of that and cited personal reasons.”
Blatter, the self-styled “godfather of women’s football,” said before the tournament began on June 6 that he was looking forward to being in Canada.
Cullen said that Fifa Senior Vice President Issa Hayatou of Cameroon would preside at the trophy ceremony after the final in Vancouver instead. Hayatou, the president of the Confederation of African Football, was accused of selling his vote for the 2022 men’s World Cup hosting rights by a former Qatar bid employee, Phaedra Almajid. He has denied the allegations, and US prosecutors have not accused him of any wrongdoing.
Investigations by US and Swiss authorities include scrutiny of how Fifa awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar for the 2018 and 2022 men’s tournaments.
The indictment said Fifa executives took bribes of up to $150-million to influence bids and broadcasting and marketing rights for major soccer tournaments dating back 24 years.
As a Swiss national, Blatter enjoys legal protections in his home country that he would not have abroad, lawyers not connected to the Fifa investigations said.
Although Switzerland has an extradition treaty with the US, the country does not extradite its own citizens without their consent, according to the Swiss constitution.
“It would be a prudent course of action to avail oneself of all legitimate legal benefits that otherwise accrue to him as a national of Switzerland,” said Theodore Simon, a Philadelphia criminal defence lawyer.
Simon said, however, that a decision to remain in Switzerland should not be construed as an indication of wrongdoing because Blatter is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
A spokeswoman for US prosecutors declined to comment. – By David Ingram, additional reporting by Katharina Bart in Zurich.
Image – (L to R) Fifa executive committee member Lydia Nsekera, French Football Federation President Noel Le Graet, former player and General Secretary of the French Football Federation, Brigitte Henriques, and Fifa President Sepp Blatter pose on March 19, 2015 with the Fifa women’s World Cup trophy after Fifa’s executive committee decided that France will host the 2019 women’s football World Cup. (AFP)