FIFA's beleaguered president Sepp Blatter was expected to be re-elected for a fifth term Friday, despite this week's scandal that saw several of his closest allies arrested for alleged corruption on his watch.
On the first ballot, Blatter received 133 votes, falling short of the 140-vote supermajority he needed. His only opponent, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, received 73. The voting moved to a second round.
Blatter, 79, was not mentioned in the 165-page federal indictment unsealed by U.S. officials Wednesday that alleged FIFA executives received more than $150 million in kickbacks over more than two decades.
However, soccer governing bodies in the United States, Canada and Europe have come out in support of Ali They cited the need for change after the biggest crisis in FIFA’s 111-year history.
Among the most high-profile figures to call for Blatter to step down was Michel Platini, the powerful head of Europe’s governing body UEFA. Platini told reporters Thursday that he had asked the FIFA president to quit "with tears in my eyes" — but conceded that Blatter had declined.
The FIFA president has made a series of bullish statements and speeches since the scandal broke. He denied he had any knowledge that some of his most high-ranking deputies were involved in wrongdoing, and in a speech to FIFA’s congress ahead of Friday’s vote called for "unity and team spirit so we can move forward together."
Blatter said the allegations had "unleashed a storm" but insisted it was essential for the congress to go ahead so the organization could "tackle the problems" of the past week.
Despite Blatter's high-profile detractors, they will unlikely be numerous enough to prevent another four-year term. The incumbent appears to have sewn up the requisite support of more than half of the 209 football associations that will vote in the election.
The continental governing bodies of Africa and Asia — the world’s two largest cluster of members — both issued statements following this week’s allegations in which they pledged their combined 101 associations' votes to Blatter.
Aside from the U.S. and Canada, most nations in the North and Central American federation were expected to vote for the incumbent, as were those in South America and Oceana.
Blatter’s challenger, 39-year-old Prince Ali, is expected to secure most European nations, aside from Russia and Spain. While his support includes some of soccer's traditional powerhouses, in terms of financial and on-field success, they are far outnumbered by the block votes of Africa, Asia and the Americas.
All told, the public declarations of support alone give Blatter close to the majority of votes he needs to get re-elected after two rounds. If all nations that are expected to support him hold firm, he will secure the presidency outright after just one round, having won two-thirds of the associations' ballots.
The item "Election of the President" is number 17 on the agenda for the FIFA congress Friday. There are no firm timings, but a result could be announced as early as 11 a.m. ET.