ZURICH (AFP) - Sepp Blatter resigned Tuesday as president of Fifa in a stunning capitulation to critics as the weight of corruption scandals threatened world football’s governing body.
“I don’t feel I have a mandate from the entire world of football,” Blatter, 79, calmly told a press conference at Fifa headquarters just four days after winning a fifth term.
He added that in his remaining months in office he would “focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts.” The special congress cannot be held until between December 2015 and March 2016, according to Domenico Scala, chairman of Fifa's independent audit and compliance committee.
The Swiss official, who has ruled the world’s most powerful sports federation for 17 years, said he would remain in charge until a special congress can choose a new leader. He vowed to pursue strong reforms in that time.
But US media the New York Times and ABC News said Blatter was also the focus of an FBI investigation.
Some opponents said the world should “celebrate” Blatter’s departure.
But Uefa president Michel Platini, who had called for Blatter’s resignation, hailed the “brave decision.” Sponsors like Coca Cola called the move “positive.” The arrest of seven Fifa officials in a luxury Zurich hotel last Wednesday unleashed the latest corruption storm to hit the organisation’s leader.
“I felt compelled to stand for re-election, as I believed that this was the best thing for the organisation,” he said on a day in which new revelations about dubious payments increased pressure.
“That election is over but Fifa’s challenges are not. Fifa needs a profound overhaul,” Blatter added.
“While I have a mandate from the membership of Fifa, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football - the fans, the players, the clubs, the people who live, breathe and love football as much as we all do at Fifa.” The seven detained last week are among 14 football officials and sports marketing executives accused by US prosecutors over more than $150 million of bribes.
The raid was accompanied by the launch of a Swiss police investigation into the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar.
Blatter had repeatedly pleaded his innocence and that of Fifa over the corruption.
“The executive committee includes representatives of confederations over whom we have no control, but for whose actions Fifa is held responsible. We need deep-rooted structural change,” he reaffirmed in his statement.
Critics were quick to welcome Blatter’s shock announcement, though some praised him.
“It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision,” said Platini, a former ally who last week told the Fifa president to his face that he should leave.
English Football Association chief Greg Dyke, one of the fiercest critics of the Fifa leader, said the resignation was “brilliant for world football” and reason to “celebrate”.
Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, a member of the Fifa executive and both a key figure in the 2018 World Cup and supporter of Blatter’s, said the resignation came as a “complete shock” but was intended to preserve Fifa’s unity.
Prince Ali bin al Hussein, who challenged Blatter in last Friday’s vote, signalled that he will be a candidate in a new election.
The Jordanian prince withdrew from the race after the first round of voting at the Zurich congress on Friday.
Blatter beat him by 133 votes to 73 in the first round, with rock solid support from Asia and Africa seeing him through.
Key sponsors welcomed Blatter’s resignation. Coca-Cola called Blatter’s decision “a positive step for the good of sport, football and its fans.” Credit card giant Visa, which warned it might withdraw its sponsorship, said Blatter’s resignation was “a significant first step towards rebuilding public trust” but added: “More work lies ahead.” Blatter has been with Fifa for 40 years, moving up from a marketing official to secretary general in 1981 and president in 1998. He took over from Joao Havelange, whose long reign was also overshadowed by scandal.
The Swiss official took over an international federation facing financial difficulties and turned it into a money spinning operation that between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, made $5.7 billion (5.3 billion euros). Fifa now has a cash mountain of $1.5 billion.
But since the first day, scandal has never been far from his office. There were allegations over the vote that elected him in 1998 and the collapse of the ISL sports marketing giant also triggered a crisis at Fifa.
The past four years have been his toughest however. The day after the December 2010 vote that awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups triggered widespread accusations of bribery.
Qatar has strongly denied any wrongdoing but one senior Qatari official, a Fifa vice president, was banned for life amid accusations that he gave bribes.
“It is my deep care for Fifa and its interests, which I hold very dear, that has led me to take this decision,” Blatter said.
“What matters to me more than anything is that when all of this is over, football is the winner.” Blatter, stolid throughout the 10 minute appearance, then shook the hand of a member of his staff and walked back to his office without taking a question.