DUBAI // Sepp Blatter apologised on Friday for his controversial statements regarding racism in football, but the Fifa president dismissed calls for him to resign despite increasing pressure from international sports figures.
Diego Maradona and David Beckham joined the chorus of voices condemning Blatter for comments he made in two interviews when he said that racism does not exist on the field and that any incidents can be settled with a handshake at the final whistle.
on Friday, in an interview with the BBC, Blatter said he was "hurting", adding: "I couldn't envisage such a reaction. When you have done something which was not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations."
Maradona, voted Fifa's joint Player of the Century, with Pele, had earlier said he was not surprised by Blatter's controversial comments, but laughed at the suggestion the head of football's world governing body would step down.
"I don't believe it, really, but I know it's not the first time he's made a mistake, so it doesn't surprise me," said the Argentine, now the coach at the Dubai club, Al Wasl.
"Racism in sport is unacceptable. Blatter has to rectify the situation because the topic of racism is very dangerous and somebody as prominent as he is, is making those who love football look very bad in society.
"Blatter and Fifa need to take action on this immediately, but that also means they need to take action against themselves as they are at fault."
Beckham, the former England captain, had called Blatter's comments "appalling", adding: "I don't think the comments were very good for this game. [Racism] can't be swept under the carpet and it can't be sorted out with just a handshake."
But Blatter was defiant when pressed on whether he would stand down.
"I cannot resign," he said. "Why should I? When you are faced with a problem you have to face the problem. To leave would be totally unfair and not compatible with my fighting spirit, my character, my energy."
Neil Warnock, the coach at Queens Park Rangers, said the only way of forcing the 75-year-old Swiss to walk away would be for black players to refuse to play in the next round of international fixtures.
"Racism does happen on the field of play and the shaking of a hand just doesn't put it right," Warnock said. "But who is going to sack him? I don't see that anybody is going to sack him.
"The only way we could get him out of the situation that he is in, is if every black player in the country, in every country, refused to play in the next international game. That's the only way. Nothing else is going to get him out until he wants to go."
Tokyo Sexwale, the South African minister featured in a photo with Blatter when Fifa released a statement saying that the president's comments had been misunderstood, said he had spoken to Blatter since the interviews aired.
"It takes a big man to say 'I'm sorry'," Sexwale said. "In Fifa we kick the football and not the man."