Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, has accused critics of trying to "destroy" soccer’s world governing body and claimed that allegations over the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar are to some extent based on racism.
The Fifa Congress begins in Sao Paulo later today, ahead of the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on Thursday, with the federation having to contend with new claims of corruption in the bidding process which led to the small Gulf state being controversially awarded the showpiece event eight years from now.
The allegations have surfaced in the UK press, which yesterday came in for criticism from the Confederation of African Football for what the regional body claimed were "degrading attacks" implicating the continent’s officials in wrongdoing linked to the vote.
However, several prominent Fifa sponsors have this week sought assurances that the claims will be properly investigated.
Addressing delegates from the Asian Football Confederation on Monday, Blatter defended Fifa’s record, saying: "Show unity and confirm this unity, it’s the best way to reply to all the destructors in the world. They want to destroy, not the game, but they want to destroy the institution because our institution is too strong."
He added that Fifa was "so strong we are sure they’ll not destroy it."
The 78-year-old is expected to seek support for a fifth term in office during the Fifa Congress despite having said when re-elected in 2011 that he would not be staying on beyond 2015.
Blatter, who also addressed members of CAF yesterday, said: "Once again there is a sort of storm against Fifa relating to the Qatar World Cup. Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism and this hurts me."
The Fifa ethics committee is already in the process of investigating claims of corruption related to the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively in December 2010.
However, there is a new focus on the issue this month, with the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper having reported apparently new allegations, including that Mohamed Bin Hammam, the Qatari former Fifa executive committee member, made payments of over $5 million to help his country win the right to host the World Cup. Bin Hammam has so far declined to comment on the claims.
CAF is upset that some of its members, including its president Issa Hayatou, have been implicated in the reports and threatened legal action to defend its name.
In a resolution issued after the CAF general assembly on Monday, the confederation hit out at what it described as "the repeated, deliberately hateful, defamatory and degrading attacks by some media, notably British, on the image and the integrity of the Confederation of African Football, its president, its members, its member associations and the entire African continent."
It also criticised "the persistent manipulation aimed at portraying to the international community that Africa played a preponderant role in voting the candidature of Qatar 2022."
CAF gave its "total and unreserved support" to Hayatou and urged its executive committee "to file a lawsuit, if necessary, so that the authors of this smearing and defamatory campaign against African football leaders are brought to book."
However, the top-tier ‘Fifa Partners’ appear to take the allegations against Qatar 2022 more seriously, with Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai-Kia, Sony and Visa having all issued statements expressing hope and confidence that they will be addressed.
Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, is the only such partner not to have commented on the matter.
Two second-tier ‘World Cup Sponsors’ yesterday emerged to put their views across.
Anheuser-Busch, whose Budweiser brand is a sponsor of the World Cup in a deal running to 2022, told Reuters: "We are concerned about the situation and are monitoring developments; we expect Fifa to take all necessary steps to address the issue."
Meanwhile, BP, whose oil brand Castrol is a sponsor of the 2014 tournament, said it expected Fifa to deal with the matter in a "right and proper manner."
Michael Garcia, the former US attorney who is head of the investigatory chamber of the Fifa ethics committee, is leading the probe into allegations of corruption in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
He has said that the investigation will be completed this week, with a report to be submitted to the adjudicatory chamber in approximately six weeks’ time, although it is not known to what extent the allegations raised by the Sunday Times have been explored.
The Qatari organisers of the 2022 World Cup have repeatedly denied foul play and claimed that Bin Hammam, who was banned for life by Fifa in 2012 following a separate corruption investigation, had no official or unofficial role in the successful bid.
The Middle East country was a controversial choice as host of the World Cup because of its small size, lack of soccer heritage and summer temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius, which have already prompted a continuing Fifa study to assess whether the tournament should be moved from its traditional months of June and July to the northern hemisphere winter.