UEFA president Michel Platini withdrew his support from FIFA counterpart Sepp Blatter on Thursday, plunging world football into open warfare.
“I am supporting him no longer, it’s finished,” Platini said in an interview with two journalists, including one from AFP.
“He knows it, I told him. I think FIFA needs a new breath of fresh air.”
The 78-year-old Blatter has faced calls to stand down when his term ends next year as FIFA confronts allegations that a Qatari football official paid millions of dollars of bribes to secure the 2022 World Cup.
Platini said he agreed with some other UEFA members that it was time for 78-year-old Blatter, who has been in power since 1998, to stand down next year.
“I share the European position,” said 58-year-old Platini. “A new mandate for him would not be good for football. But he is a person one has to respect and he has all my respect.”
Blatter told the FIFA Congress in Sao Paulo on Wednesday that he was ready to take on a new mandate despite having said in 2011 he would not seek re-election for a fifth term.
“I’m ready to accompany you in the future,” he told the Congress.
Platini, who won great praise in 1998 for his organisation of the World Cup hosted by France, indicated that he and his supporters had not been happy with the Congress.
Several of Platini’s colleagues confronted Blatter on Tuesday when he addressed UEFA telling him that his claims that the accusations against Qatar were “racist” were without foundation. British media have reported most of the corruption allegations.
The FIFA leader was helped by a congress vote not to consider age- and term-limits for officials. He later denied having any designs on a life-time presidency
“Well it wasn’t the Europeans who blocked the reforms, it was clear who voted against the age limit,” said Platini.
However, Platini, whose support for Blatter in his first election campaign was rewarded by the Swiss when he backed him in the UEFA presidential election in 2007 against long-time incumbent Lennart Johansson, still would not commit himself to a run for the FIFA presidency.
At present there is just one candidate — former FIFA deputy secretary-general Jerome Champagne.
“It is an option to run but it is not because Sepp Blatter is a candidate that Michel Platini won’t be,” said Platini.
“In any case this situation it is not exactly as if I have to choose in between going to hospital or to prison,” he said laughing.
Platini voted for Qatar in the 2010 vote which gave the wealthy Gulft state the 2022 tournament. But following press reports of a meeting with France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy he strongly denied that anyone had pressured him or influenced him to vote for Qatar.
Given the reception Blatter received at most regional confederation meetings in Brazil this week, any challenger faces a tough task to dethrone him although it was clear the normally outwardly unflappable Swiss had been rattled by the UEFA opposition.
“Something like this, lacking respect like I saw and heard in the UEFA meeting, I have not had in my entire life,” Blatter told reporters after the congress.
Blatter has long been a controversial figure, and FIFA, which oversees a multi-billion dollar industry, has never been far from scandal.
Just prior to the World Cup, Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper alleged that more than five million dollars in bribes were paid to help Qatar secure the 2022 edition.
Blatter succeeded scandal-plagued Brazilian Joao Havelange in 1998. Under his stewardship, football’s revenues have mushroomed, with huge amounts from television rights and sponsorship.
But it has also attracted scandal, the latest of which is led by media reports that Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam — who challenged blatter for the presidency in 2011 before withdrawing a week before the contest — paid more than five million dollars in bribes to win support for World Cup.
Qatar has denied any wrongdoing, but the scandal has still tainted the build-up to the start of the World Cup on Thursday.