LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has defended Sepp Blatter’s record as FIFA president and questioned why the 79-year-old Swiss should have to step down from the scandal-mired soccer body.
In an interview with state-funded Russian TV network RT, the 84-year-old also declared himself the “best supporter” of Russian president Vladimir Putin, spoke out against democracy and said he was “not very enthusiastic about America”.
“I don’t think he should ever have stepped down,” Ecclestone said of Blatter, who has been in office for 18 years and been suspended for 90 days amid the worst corruption scandal in FIFA’s history.
“And I don’t think he should have ever been challenged.
“It’s because of him we have a lot of countries throughout the world that are now playing football and if these people allegedly have been corrupted to make things happen in their country, it’s good. It’s a tax that football have had to pay.”
Blatter, who took the World Cup to Africa for the first time, was re-elected in May but then succumbed to an international outcry and is due to step down in February.
Ecclestone faced bribery allegations of his own in a German court last year, eventually paying a $100 million settlement to avoid a lengthy trial and preserve his innocence.
The diminutive billionaire is no stranger to controversial comments, causing a storm in 2009 when he told a newspaper interviewer that Adolf Hitler was someone who was “able to get things done”.
The Briton, who subsequently apologized unreservedly for that comment, has compared himself to a dictator in his sport and expressed his admiration for ‘strong leaders’.
Ecclestone told the Russian station, who published the interview on their website on Friday (www.rt.com/shows/sophieco/318842-sport-speed-formula-one/), that he did not “think there’s any place for democracy, full stop. Anywhere.”
Asked what he thought of Putin, who presented the winner’s trophy to Britain’s world champion Lewis Hamilton at last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, Ecclestone said: “Super. I’m his best supporter.”
Turning to America, Ecclestone said: “We (Formula One) ought to try and beef up a little bit in America.
“It’s hard for me. I’m not very enthusiastic about America,” he added.
“The biggest problem with them is I think they believe they’re the greatest sort of power in the world. Believe. Not in reality but in belief.
“And it’s difficult, because, they are a big island so they are a bit isolated. They are slowly starting to learn about what other people in the world do.”
The Russian station headlined the interview: “Bernie Ecclestone: America falsely believes it’s greatest superpower”.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Martyn Herman