British minister: Sepp Blatter 'should go'

Updated: November 17, 2011, 12:14 PM ET
Associated Press

GENEVA -- With his organization still reeling from corruption allegations, FIFA president Sepp Blatter now faces calls for his resignation Thursday after he made comments downplaying racism in soccer.

Blatter provoked outrage by suggesting in television interviews Wednesday that on-field racial abuse could be settled by a handshake and quickly forgotten.

Britain's sports minister called Thursday for Blatter to resign "for the sake of the game," the European Union described his remedy for racism as "completely unacceptable," and the global players' union said his comment was "a remarkable mistake."

Former Manchester United and English national team player Andrew Cole wrote in a newspaper column that Blatter was "clueless" and an "out-of-touch buffoon."

Blatter's latest gaffe follows previous verbal missteps, such as suggesting that women players should wear tighter shorts, and that gay fans should refrain from having sex at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexual acts are illegal.

All of this comes along with his recent promises and efforts -- which had won some praise -- to confront allegations of financial wrongdoing by senior colleagues following damaging allegations of bribery, vote-rigging and ticket scams.

The latest gaffe by the 75-year-old Swiss official sparked a furor in England, where authorities are investigating two allegations of racial abuse involving Liverpool and Chelsea players in Premier League games.

"This is the latest episode that calls into question whether this man should be the head of world football," British sports minister Hugh Robertson said. "For the sake of the game, he should go."

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand and Blatter then traded barbs on Twitter in an astonishing exchange of views between a professional athlete and an international official.

Ferdinand had led a growing chorus of disapproval from black players when he tweeted Wednesday that Blatter's views were "so condescending its almost laughable."

Ferdinand has been personally involved in the recent racism debate in England as his brother, Anton, who plays for Queens Park Rangers, was the target of an alleged slur by Chelsea's John Terry.

Cole and former international player Neil Shaka Hislop of Trindad and Tobago backed up Ferdinand.

Hislop questioned in a Twitter message whether FIFA was responsible for promoting racial harmony and equality -- a claim of soccer's potential to improve society that Blatter often makes.

"If the answer is 'Yes', then Blatter has to go, and go now. HAS TO," wrote Hislop, who is now an ESPN analyst.

Blatter's remark seemed at odds with his pledge after his June re-election that FIFA would not tolerate a lack of respect on or off the field.

"What he said was a remarkable mistake but I can't imagine (he should resign)," said Theo van Seggelen, general secretary of the FIFPro group of players' unions. "He admits it was a mistake, let it be a good lesson."

Within hours of Blatter's remarks, the English Football Association charged Liverpool forward Luis Suarez with racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, who is black. Liverpool said Suarez will plead not guilty and insisted that the club is "fully supportive of Luis in this matter."

Terry, the England captain, has said his comments were taken out of context. He is being investigated by the FA and London police.

Also Thursday, UEFA will prosecute a case in which England was the victim of alleged discrimination. The Bulgarian football federation has been charged after its fans allegedly directed verbal abuse at England players during a European Championship qualifier in Sofia in September.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press