Battered Blatter hurt by racism fallout

FIFA President Sepp Blatter snapped at colleagues and looked beset by nerves on Wednesday as he described the hurt he felt after being criticised for his comments about racism in football.

The usually slick Blatter addressed the media after opening the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee meeting in Kuala Lumpur, but when invited to speak to the small crowd he knocked a microphone off the table in front of him and shuffled uncomfortably in his seat.

The 75-year-old struggled through the media conference in Malaysia and offered long, rambling answers about topics such as the strength of Asian economies, while officials tried to limit tricky questions.

Blatter has been battered by waves of negative headlines since last week when he said there was no racism in the sport and, if there was, players should just shake hands afterwards to resolve it.

The head of football's world governing body later released a statement to 'clarify his comments' and has been on a charm offensive after conducting a number of interviews in Europe to stress his commitment to eradicating racism from football.

However, the opening question at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, predictably on his comments on racism, brought a curt reply.

"I can only say this item for me is closed. I have made my apologies, I cannot say more," Blatter told reporters, eyes shifting around the room as he looked for the right words.

"If somebody is still thinking I am a racist, sorry to say that I am working now practically 37 years in FIFA ... there is no racism, nothing at all, and this matter for me is over and over. We go forward.

"There is zero tolerance [for] racism, zero tolerance [for] discrimination in all activities in the field of play and outside the field."

Asked if he had been surprised by the reaction to his comments and calls for him to resign from the post he has held since 1998, the Swiss said he had been upset by the criticism.

"In my activities as the FIFA president nothing is surprising me, but I was very much hurt by these comments because it touched me in my conscience."

After Blatter answered, an AFC official hosting the session asked for no more questions on the subject, and FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan, sat next to the Swiss, then offered his full support to the beleaguered FIFA leader.

AWKWARD MOMENT

However it was not just the media who were causing Blatter angst. When asked about the use of the hijab, the Islamic head scarf, in football, Blatter shot down Prince Ali's offer to answer on his behalf.

"I can just answer, I was asked, I answer. You can add but I answer," a visibly frustrated Blatter snapped as Prince Ali blushed.

The AFC official was required to come to the president's aid when he was asked if there was any way banned AFC head Mohammed Bin Hammam could be welcomed back into FIFA in future after they found him guilty of bribing officials.

"I am not up to comment on any decision taken by our different committees and we will await the outcome for the next step," Blatter said before the official added the subject should not be mentioned again.

Bin Hammam has launched an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to overturn the FIFA ban and faces a race against time to clear his name by a deadline of May 31 in order to return to his role.

The AFC have appointed Zhang Jilong as acting president and Blatter praised his work before having a dig at his former friend Bin Hammam.

"I can only congratulate and commend the Asian Football Confederation how they have dealt with the problem that has occurred here in this confederation especially by having to replace the president.

"We now have an acting president, we have an executive committee that is working together in solidarity and unity, and I am very, very happy."


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