SYDNEY (Reuters) - There were a few fissures but no major cracks apparent in FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s bedrock of Asia-Pacific support as officials began returning to the region from the annual congress of soccer’s world governing body over the weekend.
Asia’s 47-nation bloc, and the less numerous but equally supportive Oceania Football Confederation, were significant backers of Blatter’s campaign to be re-elected for a fifth term, despite the corruption scandal engulfing FIFA.
Blatter, 79, won Friday’s vote even though the U.S. Department of Justice has charged nine soccer officials with corruption and Swiss authorities are conducting their own criminal investigation.
It looks unlikely that any football bodies in the region will back Britain’s call for a Europe-led boycott of the World Cup if Blatter does not resign his post.
The Asian Football Confederation, whose Arabian Gulf-dominated leadership are among Blatter’s staunchest allies, issued a note congratulating the Swiss and, with no mention of the scandal, promised to continue to back him.
The Anglophone countries of Australia and New Zealand had split with their respective regional bodies before the ballot by publicly backing Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, who withdrew after being trounced in the first round of voting.
Australian soccer supremo Frank Lowy expressed disappointment at Blatter’s re-election but distanced himself from a boycott, saying it was “over-expectation” to call on such a small nation to take the lead in the campaign for change.
Oceania’s position on a World Cup boycott is somewhat academic given the infrequency with which their 11 full members appear at soccer’s showpiece event.
That situation is unlikely to change any time soon after their request for a single guaranteed qualifying spot was denied by FIFA’s executive committee on Saturday.
Attempts to contact Oceania officials for comment at their headquarters in New Zealand were unsuccessful on Monday but Fiji Football Association chief executive Bob Kumar said he had no concerns about corruption.
“We’re quite happy with what’s going on here,” he told Reuters by telephone.
“FIFA is helping quite a bit to the development of other countries and we support Blatter in that area.”
Both Lowy and New Zealand Football chief Andy Martin have demanded reform and more transparency at FIFA, calls echoed by Japan Football Association president Kuniya Daini when he arrived back in Tokyo on Sunday.
“Even within FIFA there is a sense of impending crisis. There were suspicions before but no measures were taken and no self-cleansing functioned either,” Daini, who declined to say who he voted for, told Kyodo news agency at Haneda airport.
“(Blatter) is the top figure in the world of soccer so in that sense he is responsible (for allegations).”
The Korean Football Association (KFA) said on Monday it had no official stance on any of the issues surrounding Blatter’s re-election.
The last of the Chinese Football Association (CFA)’s infrequent public utterances was posted on their website last Wednesday under a picture of a beaming CFA president Cai Zhenhua shaking hands with Blatter.
“We appreciate FIFA’s efforts in helping China to develop the full potential of football in the country,” Cai was quoted as saying.
“China has benefited from FIFA’s programs for many years at both administrative and technical levels.”
Additional reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Sohee Kim in Seoul; Editing by John O'Brien