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BLATTER avoids no-confidence vote - for now


ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) _ FIFA president Sepp Blatter avoided a vote of no confidence Wednesday, surviving a round of questioning by the organization's executive committee.

A confident Blatter left the meeting believing he had successfully answered most of the 25 probing questions drawn up by UEFA president Lennart Johansson, ranging from his salary to his role in the collapse of the ISMM/ISL group, FIFA's markting partner which went bankrupt last month. But the president is still not in the clear and may have only been buying time.

Johansson himself was not present at the Zurich meeting, undergoing routine medical checkups in a Stockholm hospital. The 71-year-old Swede had a heart pacemaker fitted last year.

``There was no mention of any vote of confidence,'' Blatter said following a tense five-hour session to deal with the fallout over the collapse of the ISL/ISMM group. ``And I am very optimistic to be president or chairman of the extraordinary congress in Buenos Aires,'' he added, refering to the July 5-7 meeting.

While he answered several questions on Johansson's list Wednesday, Blatter said he planned to reply to others by writing and intended to visit the Swede to clear the air.

UEFA representatives, meanwhile, swept through the FIFA headquarters looking guarded and unhappy.

``We are reserving judgment on the answers and informations provided today in response to our president's letter. It appears there were a number of questions that were not answered,'' said UEFA Chief Executive Gerhard Aigner. ``We will await the written response to our president from the FIFA president before finalizing our views and deciding on any further steps.''

The governing body of European soccer, which felt it was not adequately consulted about several strategic matters, claims it is still owed dlrs 12.6 million from the Euro 2000 championships and that the money was spent by ISL for ``other purposes.''

Though he clearly wanted to settle the issue with UEFA, Blatter was also visibly angry with the organization, blasting the way Johansson's questions were leaked to the press.

``How much damage was done to FIFA with that?'' asked Blatter. ``When I answer Mr. Johansson it will be in a confidential letter, sent by courier. That is the style of FIFA but obviously not the style of UEFA.

Blatter said he wasn't surprised by the questions but still felt several were ``out of place.''

Rivalry between the two men has been intense since Blatter defeated Johansson for the FIFA presidency in 1998. The next elections are scheduled just before the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

However, Johansson _ a FIFA vice president _ has threatened to call a vote of no-confidence at FIFA's extraordinary congress in Buenos Aires if Blatter fails to come up with satisfactory answers.

ISL, a subsidiary of ISMM Group, negotiated FIFA's TV and sponsorship deals, including the television and marketing rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. The company's bankruptcy could cost FIFA up to dlrs 56 million and has already led to the cancellation of this year's World Club Championship in Spain.

FIFA lodged a fraud complaint against top ISMM executives last month at the offices of the examining magistrate in Zug, Switzerland, where bankruptcy investigations into ISMM are being conducted. The charges are based on suspicion of fraud, embezzlement and disloyal business management.

In the meantime, FIFA has set up its own marketing arm _ using some 75 former ISL employees _ to handle the marketing of the 2002 World Cup, and Blatter has repeatedly tried to insist that everything is under control.

``The members were relieved to be informed of FIFA's very stable financial situation,'' FIFA said in a written statement issued after the meeting. ``The committee noted that the possible loss for the 1999-2002 period following the bankruptcy of ISMM would be compensated in the period 2002-2006 as FIFA was now able to exploit its own marketing rights and benefit from the potential of the market.''

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