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Blatter slams critics who want to destroy FIFA

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter looks on during a press conference where he talked about the organization and infrastructure of the upcoming World Cup, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The World Cup soccer tournament starts on 12 June. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

SAO PAULO (AP) -- FIFA President Sepp Blatter has hit out at critics who he says want to destroy football's governing body.

Blatter's comments to unspecified critics were made to Asian football officials on Monday following widespread allegations by The Sunday Times of corrupt payments by their former leader Mohamed bin Hammam.

''I don't know what the reasoning is behind this but we must maintain unity,'' Blatter told the gathering of Asian Football Confederation members. ''It is the best way to say to all the destructors in the world, they want to destroy not the game, but they want to destroy the institution.''

The British newspaper has reported that Bin Hammam paid millions of dollars to Asian and African officials, buying influence for Qatar's 2022 World Cup campaign and his own FIFA presidential challenge to Blatter in 2011.

Blatter also reminded Asian officials of ''Qatargate,'' a series of reports by France Football magazine which aggressively questioned the integrity of FIFA's World Cup hosting vote.

The FIFA chief, who is widely expected to stand for re-election next year, turned the criticism into an appeal for him to remain in office.

''We are in the situation where we need leadership. I still have fire inside me,'' said the 78-year-old Blatter, who has led FIFA since 1998.

Asian officials stood to acclaim Blatter's request for support, following an earlier ovation from African delegates.

Minutes earlier, he promised FIFA member countries bonus payments from 2014 World Cup profits. The tournament revenue will approach $4.5 billion for FIFA.

''I am sure you will be very happy,'' Blatter said.

In 2010, Blatter pledged FIFA members would each get $250,000 bonuses from the World Cup in South Africa, and continental confederations would get $2.5 million.

FIFA pledged a further $300,000 for each country in January 2011, four months before Blatter was elected unopposed. Bin Hammam withdrew when implicated by a FIFA investigation into allegations he bribed Caribbean voters.

After its meeting Monday, CAF published a statement threatening legal action against The Sunday Times, which claimed that officials from 30 African football federations sought and received cash, gifts and favors from Bin Hammam up to 2011.

The assembly urged the CAF board to ''file a lawsuit, if necessary, so that the authors of this smearing and defamatory campaign against African football leaders are brought to the book.''

The statement praised Blatter for fighting against racism, and CAF President Issa Hayatou for ''transparent and distinguished leadership.''

In December 2011, IOC member Hayatou was reprimanded by the Olympic body for receiving 100,000 French francs (then $20,000) cash in 1995 from FIFA's then marketing partner ISL. The agency later collapsed into bankruptcy and sparked a World Cup kickbacks scandal.

The IOC cited a conflict of interest for Hayatou who had denied wrongdoing.

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