GENEVA — Sepp Blatter insists he won't publicly support a candidate in the FIFA election, though he revealed Thursday that four of the five men have contacted him about the campaign.
The suspended FIFA president told French radio station RMC that he could not intervene in the Feb. 26 ballot to succeed him.
"I can't, it's not possible," Blatter said, after tantalizing his interviewers by saying that "four of the five candidates contacted me and spoke about it."
Blatter declined to identify the fifth candidate even when it was suggested to be Prince Ali of Jordan, who he beat to win re-election last May.
"You can deduce it was perhaps him that was against me. You are intelligent enough," Blatter said in an interview conducted at a favourite restaurant in Zurich attached to FIFA's former headquarters.
The other candidates are: Asian soccer leader Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino of Switzerland, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne of France and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale.
He also revealed that "several" of FIFA's 209 member federations have called asking him how they should vote.
"Vote with your conscience. Vote for who you find good," Blatter said he told them.
Blatter was giving his first interview since appearing before the FIFA appeal committee on Tuesday to challenge his eight-year ban from office for conflicts of interest.
He robustly defended his former secretary general, Jerome Valcke, who was banned for 12 years by FIFA's ethics committee last week.
"You can attack me, and I can defend myself, but you can't attack the secretary general Valcke," Blatter told his French interviewers.
Valcke was found guilty of seven charges of misconduct, which included using private jets for sightseeing trips.
"It's a question of financial controls at FIFA. It's not a question of ethics," Blatter insisted.
Blatter, who picked Valcke as his top administrator in 2007, said he knew of the private flights at FIFA's expense but that the Frenchman was a good worker.
"He managed FIFA well," Blatter said. "We made now an organization that has reserves of 1.3 or 1.4 billion (dollars)."
Blatter said the ethics committee also should not have taken action against the $2 million payment from FIFA to Michel Platini that led to both getting eight-year bans.
Repeating his insistence that both are innocent, Blatter suggested it was "an accounting matter" not ethics.
Blatter and former France great Platini, who also appealed at FIFA this week, should get verdicts next Monday or Tuesday.
In a live interview lasting almost one hour, Blatter repeated many of his claims and theories about why FIFA fell into a corruption crisis with dual American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating top FIFA officials.
Blatter is the subject of criminal proceedings opened by Switzerland's attorney general and is a target of the U.S. Department of Justice, which has indicted 41 officials and businesses.
Blatter said the American authorities wanted to "take control of FIFA," and that a turning point was the U.S bid to host the 2022 World Cup losing to Qatar more than five years ago.
Platini was again blamed by Blatter for letting himself be pressured by then-France state president Nicolas Sarkozy to switch his and other European voters' support from the American side to the Qataris two weeks before the December 2010 vote.
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press