FIFA President Sepp Blatter walks behind UEFA President Michel Platini and Prince Ali bin Al Hussein (L) of Jordan, FIFA presidential candidate, after making his speech at the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland, May 29, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
World soccer boss Sepp Blatter was expected to be re-elected on Friday, defying growing calls for him to step down in the face of corruption scandals engulfing the sport's governing body.
Addressing delegates at FIFA's annual Congress in Switzerland, where members will later vote to decide the organization's presidency, Blatter promised more transparency and urged members to remain unified.
Europe, which accounts for all but three of the countries that have ever made it to a World Cup's final match, is particularly keen to banish the 79-year-old Swiss. But Asian, African and Latin American states are expected to rally around him. Each of the 209 countries in FIFA has an equal vote.
On a visit to Berlin, British Prime Minister David Cameron told Blatter to go "the sooner the better". Chancellor Angela Merkel said the dirty side of soccer must be cleaned up.
In a low key-address that contrasted with a more defiant reaction on Thursday, Blatter said he was "appealing to unity and team spirit so we can move forward together."
He also sought to distance himself from the scandal, the biggest crisis FIFA has faced in its 111-year history.
U.S. authorities have accused top FIFA figures and sports executives of corruption, while Switzerland is investigating the award of the next World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar.
The scandal widened on Friday when Britain's Serious Fraud Office said it was examining possible corruption at FIFA.
A judge in Argentina has ordered the arrest of three businessmen accused of using bribery to obtain soccer media rights, and the Brazilian Senate moved to open a formal inquiry into soccer bribery allegations.
FIFA takes in billions of dollars in revenue from television marketing rights and sponsorships, making it one of the wealthiest and most powerful sports bodies in the world. It has been dogged by corruption scandals for decades, mostly investigating itself and avoiding scrutiny by criminal courts.
"We cannot watch everyone all the time. We have 1.6 billion people directly or indirectly touched by our game," Blatter said.
Russia and Qatar deny wrongdoing in their successful bids to host the cup
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of meddling in an effort to prevent Blatter's re-election.
Qatar on Friday issued a further defense of its bid and said it would carry on with plans to stage the event. The decision to host the world's biggest soccer tournament in a small desert state where daytime summer temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees Celsius startled many in global sport.
Blatter, who has been criticized for not doing enough to combat corruption in FIFA, is being challenged by Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein for the most powerful job in soccer.
Many of Blatter's opponents have spoken of steps they can take if he secures re-election. English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said England could back a possible boycott of the 2018 World Cup if Blatter stays in office.
Other European soccer officials have also alluded to the prospect of a boycott, but that is still seen as unlikely given the tournament's importance to the global game.
Some countries that have supported Blatter said they were switching allegiance following the scandal, but the numbers still appeared to favor his re-election.
Most of the developing world in Africa, Asia and parts of Central America and the Caribbean are reluctant to vote for a new FIFA leadership given that the organization guarantees them annual grants and bonus payments in World Cup years.
Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the most powerful men in world sport, said Blatter is the right man for the job and should be re-elected.
"FIFA should have a leader with a lot of experience," the FIFA executive committee member told Reuters at Zurich's Baur au Lac hotel, where seven FIFA executives were arrested on Wednesday.
On Friday, New Zealand Football said it would vote for 39-year-old Prince Ali despite a previous unanimous commitment from countries in the Oceania Football Confederation in January to back Blatter. Canada also said it would not support Blatter.
Adding to the pressure on FIFA and Blatter, there are growing concerns from sponsors, many of whom have backed the organization despite nearly 20 years of corruption allegations.
German sportswear company Adidas said FIFA should do more to establish transparent compliance standards. Anheuser-Busch InBev, whose Budweiser brand is a sponsor of the 2018 World Cup, said it was closely monitoring developments. Credit card company Visa urged immediate reforms and Coca-Cola said the charges had "tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup".