European soccer leaders are gathering in Berlin ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final.
The Champions League final is Saturday in Berlin, but the real drama will be on the sidelines, where the FIFA game of thrones is underway.
Less than a week after FIFA president Sepp Blatter resigned amid an ongoing American criminal crackdown, world soccer insiders are treating the Berlin match as a summit meeting where they can shape various succession plots.
Blatter, who has ruled FIFA for 17 years but is now besieged by the governing body’s legal crisis, has vowed to hold onto power until a successor is elected. His declared intention to reform FIFA has been met with global derision.
“What we’re seeing now from Blatter is a last attempt to roll the dice,” British Member of Parliament Damian Collins told the Daily News.
Collins, who for several years has agitated for cleaning up FIFA, expressed concern that Blatter and his loyalists will try to install someone from the “old guard” rather than someone that will clean up the Switzerland-based organization that oversees global soccer.
While Spain’s FC Barcelona faces Italy’s Juventus on Saturday night at the Olympiastadion for the most important men’s soccer trophy of the year, representatives of more than 50 national soccer associations around Europe will be meeting, trying to regroup after a week that rocked the foundations of international soccer.
Since a wave of arrests on May 27, American law enforcement officials have unveiled indictments, guilty pleas and extradition orders as part of a massive prosecution based in the Eastern District of New York. More charges are expected, and Blatter is thought to be a potential target of the prosecution.
One of Blatter’s fiercest antagonists, Michel Platini of France, leads UEFA, the confederation of European soccer associations that organizes the Champions League tournament. Platini is expected to meet over the weekend with South Korea’s Chung Mong-joon, a wealthy heir to the Hyundai empire and former FIFA executive who is considering a run for Blatter’s seat.
Also on Friday:
– An Egyptian sports official said his country, which lost its bid to host the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, refused to pay a $ 7 million bribe to FIFA executive Jack Warner, now under indictment and thought to be a lynchpin to the government’s case.
– An Australian senator, Nick Xenophon, has asked federal police in that country to investigate the country’s soccer federation’s attempt in 2010 to win hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup — an effort that invovled the expenditure of tens of millions and resulted in just one vote while the tournament was awarded to Qatar.
– FIFA has admitted it secretly paid Ireland’s national soccer assocation five million euros in 2009 (about seven million U.S. dollars) after a referee’s failure to whistle helped keep Ireland out of the World Cup. The payoff has been portrayed as a settlement to keep Ireland from challenging the result of the game after video replay showed French striker Thierry Henry illegally touching the ball with his hand.
– The Associated Press reported Friday that Blatter will not attend a meeting of International Olympic Committee members next week in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC’s headquarters. Blatter, who is Swiss, is thought to be dealing with fallout the FIFA scandal, in which some of his former allies are thought to be under pressure to cooperate with law enforcement.
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