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Despite Scandal, FIFA Re-Elects Sepp Blatter As President

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Sepp Blatter was defiant at a press conference today. The head of soccer's global governing body, FIFA, insists he had nothing to fear from the ongoing corruption investigation. Of course, he was re-elected the head of FIFA on Friday. Delegates voting at the group's annual meeting this week described the recent arrests and indictment of FIFA members as the biggest crisis in the organization's 111-year history. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: FIFA’s annual meeting in Zurich this year kicked off with the dawn arrests of seven FIFA executives at their luxury hotel. They’ve been charged with pocketing millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks over two decades. After the arrests and indictments there were calls for FIFA's presidential election to be postponed and for Blatter to step down; in the end, neither happened. To no one's surprise, Blatter won a solid victory, beating a Western-educated Jordanian prince half his age. The gleeful septuagenarian addressed delegates after his win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEPP BLATTER: I like you. I like my job, and I like to be with you. I'm not perfect, nobody's perfect, but we will do a good job together, I'm sure. So I thank you so much. I thank you for the trust and confidence. Trust and confidence together we go. Let's go FIFA. Let's go FIFA.

BEARDSLEY: Blatter promises he can reform FIFA, though he offered no specifics and he seemed to be at the heart of FIFA's culture of corruption. Head of Guyana Football Federation Clinton Urling says he’s disappointed, but he’s hoping for the best.

CLINTON URLING: Yes, I have to be optimistic. He is the elected president. It's a democratic process, so I will remain optimistic that Mr. Blatter will carry out those reforms.

BEARDSLEY: Guyana apart, much of the developing world was behind Blatter. He’s credited with helping build soccer programs in poor, small countries and for bringing the World Cup to Africa for the first time. Two hundred nine countries are members of FIFA, making it a global organization, and sometimes international problems intrude.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Free football. Free Palestine.

BEARDSLEY: Demonstrators gathered this week to protest what they say is the poor treatment of Palestinian soccer players by Israeli authorities. They allege Israel makes it impossible for the Palestinian team to travel and practice. The Palestinian delegation wanted to hold a vote on suspending Israel from FIFA for racism. In the end, Palestinian Football Federation head Jibril Rajoub backed off on the contentious measure, instead asking that FIFA form a committee to monitor the situation. Rajoub directed his speech at the Israeli delegation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIBRIL RAJOUB: I think it's the time now to protect the Palestinian footballers, to let them enjoy the privilege of the game as others are enjoying. It's the time now for me and you, and I'm ready to shake hands, even to hug you although I suffered a lot by your government.

BEARDSLEY: Rajoub and his Israeli counterpart shook hands. An Israeli-Palestinian handshake is something that eludes the world’s best peacemakers and diplomats. Albanian delegate Bardhyl Minxhozi says he’s not surprised it happened at a FIFA congress. He says soccer builds bridges between nations.

BARDHYL MINXHOZI: Football gives to people a common spirit. Football gives to people a way how to be together.

BEARDSLEY: International scrutiny of football and FIFA will continue with the ongoing American and Swiss criminal investigations. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says it's only the beginning. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Zurich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.