Zurich - FIFA President Sepp Blatter has rejected an emotional plea to resign from one of the world's soccer greats on Thursday as the corruption scandal engulfing the game's governing body drew warnings from sponsors and political leaders.
As FIFA faced the worst crisis in its 111-year history, Michel Platini, the former French international who now heads UEFA, Europe's soccer confederation, said he had told Blatter to go but the 79-year-old had refused.
"I said, I'm asking you to leave, FIFA's image is terrible. He said that he couldn't leave all of a sudden," Platini told a news conference.
"I'm saying this with sadness and tears in my eyes, but there have been too many scandals, FIFA doesn't deserve to be treated that way," Platini said, speaking after an emergency FIFA meeting in Zurich earlier in the day.
Platini said 45 or 46 of UEFA's 53 eligible member associations would vote for Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al Hussein to succeed Blatter at an election due on Friday.
But it appeared that Blatter still commanded enough of FIFA's 209 member associations and could expect to be anointed for a fifth term as president.
Despite FIFA assertions that it was business as usual following the arrest of seven senior figures on U.S. corruption charges, Blatter kept out of public view on Thursday when he failed to show up at a medical conference.
FIFA's medical chief Michel D'Hooghe told the medical officers: "President Blatter apologises for not being able to come today because of the turbulences you have heard about."
Those "turbulences" included a dawn raid by plainclothes police at one of Zurich's most luxurious hotels on Wednesday leaving seven of the most powerful figures in football in custody and facing extradition to the United States on corruption charges. They are all contesting extradition but lawyers said the process could be completed within months.
Swiss authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups being hosted in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
U.S. authorities said nine football officials and five sports media and promotions executives faced corruption charges involving more than $150 million in bribes.
Blatter, who has denied allegations of involvement in corruption, said in a statement on Wednesday: "Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game."
Former World Footballer of the Year Luis Figo, of Portugal, said the day the scandal erupted was "one of the worst days in the history of FIFA".
However, the FIFA Congress was due to get under way on Thursday evening. It traditionally begins with an address from Blatter and then some entertainment. In the past the likes of Grace Jones and Shakira have set the hearts racing of the older men in suits who comprise most of the Congress's constituency, but that is not the case now.
The evening is likely to be a rather more subdued affair than normal under the banner "Game of Joy, Game of Hope" with dancers and musicians on stage followed by a grand buffet afterwards.
The serious business starts on Friday morning in Zurich's Hallenstadion, which is where the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup venues was made in 2010, decisions which lie at the very heart of most of FIFA's current malaise.
SPLITS IN WORLD GAME
With splits opening in the world game, the Asian and African confederations backed Blatter and said the election should go ahead as planned.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius disagreed, saying the vote should be delayed in light of the corruption investigation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron backed Prince Ali's candidacy and said there was a strong case for a change of leadership at FIFA.
Britain has long been a critic of FIFA and unsuccessfully bid for the 2018 World Cup which was awarded to Russia.
Les Murray of Australia, a former FIFA ethics committee member, called for Blatter to resign as have the FA chairmen of a number of leading European countries including England and Germany.
Blatter did, however, receive endorsement from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who accused the United States of meddling outside its jurisdiction by arresting FIFA officials.
"This is yet another blatant attempt to extend its jurisdiction to other states," Putin said, adding the arrests were a clear move to prevent Blatter's re-election and he had Russia's backing.
Meanwhile blue-chip sponsors, many of whom have solidly backed FIFA despite nearly 20 years of bribery and corruption allegations, appeared to be growing unexpectedly concerned at events unfolding in Zurich.
In an unusually strongly worded statement, Visa Inc said: "It is important that FIFA makes changes now, so that the focus remain on these going forward. Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship."
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 at FIFA.
Coca-Cola Co, another FIFA sponsor, said the charges had "tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations".