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Blatter faces critics at UEFA congress in Vienna

FIFA president Sepp Blatter will face some of his harshest critics on Tuesday at the UEFA annual congress in Vienna - most of whom will be voting to remove him from office when the Swiss stands for re-election in May.

Blatter faces critics at UEFA congress in Vienna
Sepp Blatter. Photo: EPA/ENNIO LEANZA

The 79-year-old is to address the 54-member nations of UEFA, knowing most of the delegates are backing the other three candidates: Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, Dutchman Michael van Praag and Luis Figo of Portugal.

Football legend Figo said Monday that a new victory for Blatter would mean four lost years.

Figo, who said he is financing his own campaign, added that nearly every football leader he meets declares a desire for change but he did not know whether federations would turn against Blatter.

Blatter is currently the favourite to win a fifth term at a congress on May 29, but has refused to speak at the same time as his rivals at the UEFA congress.

"If nothing happens, it is going to be like losing four years of trying to modernise, trying to have more transparency because things will continue the same," Figo told reporters.

"I am saying this to all the people I see in meetings and the feedback is positive.

"Most people say we think we need change, but you have to wait and see on May 29 if really they want change, or they want to continue to be managed like this," added the 42-year-old former Barcelona and Real Madrid star.

All three opponents say they are standing because of FIFA's tarnished image after a storm of controversy over the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Figo, the Ballon d'Or winner in 2000, has promised more transparency and a greater say for national associations, as well as a 40 country World Cup.

Van Praag says he wants to cut costs and increase democracy. The 67-year-old former president of Ajax also said he would only stand for one four year term.

While Blatter has never faced such an array of challengers for the leadership of the richest sporting federation, he still has important backing in Africa and Asia.

"Sometimes you are afraid of change and the most important thing is to try to convince people that change is not a big deal," said Figo.

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FOOTBALL

Austria investigates football chief for alleged corruption

Austrian prosecutors said Wednesday they are investigating the national football federation head over a payment made at the time of the disgraced Sepp Blatter's re-election as Fifa president in 2015.

Austria investigates football chief for alleged corruption
In this 2009 image Austrian football federation president Leo Windtner (L) takes part in the presentation of Austria's then new national team football coach Dietmar "Didi" Constantini. Photo: AFP

“We are investigating because of the suspicion of breach of trust and corruption,” the public prosecution office for economic and corruption affairs (WKStA) said.

The $100,000 (€84,000) transfer was made by Fifa, the world governing body, to a project supporting young footballers in Africa at the beginning of 2015.

The patron of this project was none other than the wife of the head of the Austrian Football Federation (ÖFB), Leo Windtner.

According to two Austrian websites, Addendum and 90minuten.at, the funds were approved just after Windtner had said in an interview that he supported Blatter serving another term.

The money was initially wired to the ÖFB, which returned it to Fifa, saying it was not involved in the African project. Fifa then transferred it directly to the project's account.

Windtner, 67, said on Wednesday that he would make a statement to prosecutors in the coming days and that he was “relaxed” about the probe.

“I didn't give Blatter any promise or undertaking,” Windtner said. “Everything was transparent and every cent accounted for. I have nothing to reproach myself for.”

He conceded that the money was at first wrongly transferred to the ÖFB and not to the African project, “but that was no fault of mine”.

In the end, the ÖFB supported Blatter's rival for the Fifa presidency, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

Blatter won re-election but amid swirling corruption allegations the Swiss was later banned from soccer for making an improper payment to then-Uefa chief Michel Platini.