Zico asks Blatter to change FIFA election rules

ZURICH (AP) — Former Brazil great Zico met with FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Tuesday to ask for changes in election eligibility rules at soccer’s governing body.

Zico has announced he wants to run for FIFA’s presidency after Blatter leaves in February, but is struggling to fulfill the requirement of having at least five federations supporting him as a candidate.

Zico told The Associated Press that this rule needs to change because local federations are pressured by their confederations and can’t make their own choices.

He said Blatter was very receptive to his letter calling for the changes, and said the president also didn’t agree with the current rules.

“It’s difficult,” Zico told the AP in a telephone interview after meeting with Blatter at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich. “The way things are right now, it’s very difficult for anybody to become a candidate.”

So far, Zico only has the support from Brazil and needs to find other four federations to back him by Oct. 26 in order to become an official candidate.

He expected to have the support of Turkey and Japan, countries where he spent a lot of time playing and coaching, but said the local federations are being pressured not to support him.

“The federations must be allowed to make their own choices,” Zico said. “President Blatter agrees with that, and hopefully things will change in the future. If we can achieve that, it would be a significant accomplishment going forward.”

FIFA said Blatter received Zico as a courtesy and at his request, but said “there was no discussion on the merits of the FIFA presidential election rules.”

UEFA President Michel Platini is considered the frontrunner to replace Blatter next year. UEFA had been pushing for tighter qualification rules for presidential candidates before they were approved last year by FIFA’s executive committee.

Zico, who played for Brazil at the 1978, 1982 and 1986 World Cups, said that recently he had very productive meetings with Turkey’s federation but was not able to get its support because of UEFA’s influence. The same thing happened in Japan, which he said is being pressured by the Asia confederation.

Platini, who has some influential supporters in Asia, dismissed the need for changes in eligibility regulations, saying “rules are rules.”

“He doesn’t have five letters?,” the Frenchman said when asked Tuesday about Zico’s intentions. “I’m sorry.”

Blatter can’t actually do much about changing the rules. Any changes would have to be approved by FIFA’s executive committee — which is meeting this week in Zurich.

Zico traveled to Switzerland to try to gather support for his bid by meeting with federation officials who are attending the session on Thursday and Friday.

He said he will meet with U.S. federation president Sunil Gulati on Thursday and is hopeful of winning his support, which would leave him needing three more.

“It will be difficult, we know,” he said. “But let’s see how it goes.”