In a stunning announcement made at a hastily called news conference Tuesday in Zurich, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he will resign after FIFA elects a new leader at an “extraordinary congress” that will be called by the organization’s executive committee.
The election will be at least four months away, a FIFA official announced. FIFA’s next congress, at which such decisions usually are made, is not until next May in Mexico, but FIFA announced its desire to speed up the process in order to put the scandal in the past.
“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.
Blatter was elected to a fifth term as FIFA president on Friday, two days after U.S. prosecutors indicted a number of FIFA officials on corruption charges and promised more indictments were likely, though Blatter’s name was not specifically mentioned. However, after Blatter’s announcement, news broke that he is being targeted by the FBI.
“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,” Blatter said.
“Therefore, I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress. I will continue to exercise my functions as FIFA president until that election.”
On Monday, reports linked FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, Blatter’s right-hand man, to a $10 million payment sent to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner in exchange for what prosecutors say was a positive vote on South Africa’s bid for the 2010 World Cup.
The $10 million was taken out of the operating budget for that year’s World Cup and transferred by FIFA in 2008 to an account controlled by Warner, ostensibly to fund something called the “Diaspora Legacy Programme.” All of this was detailed in a letter sent from the South African Football Association to Valcke in 2008. The letter was published Tuesday by the Press Association in Britain:
In a statement released Tuesday, FIFA claimed the program supported “the African diaspora in Caribbean countries as part of the World Cup legacy” and that neither Valcke “nor any other member of FIFA’s senior management were involved in the initiation, approval and implementation of the above project.” However, the program’s name did not appear in any official FIFA documents until the letter was uncovered Tuesday, and U.S. prosecutors allege that Warner transferred the $10 million to his personal accounts.
Last week’s indictments and Valcke’s alleged corruption were only the latest scandals faced by FIFA under Blatter’s reign, which began in 1998.
FIFA itself investigated the bidding processes involved in the votes to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a nation with inhospitable summer weather and almost zero soccer tradition. Michael Garcia, a former U.S. prosecutor, spearheaded the investigation, but the organization has refused to release his full report, instead releasing only a summary that Garcia declared a whitewash before resigning.
Human rights groups also have blasted FIFA for not doing more about harsh conditions faced by migrant workers building the World Cup stadiums in Qatar. According to some estimates, more than 1,000 foreign workers have died in Qatar since 2010, when FIFA awarded the World Cup to the country.
Blatter turned FIFA into a financial behemoth, with billions in the bank as advertisers and television networks across the globe lined up to link their names to the World Cup, the world’s most-watched sporting event. In turn, Blatter dispersed this largesse to the confederations of the world’s smaller soccer-playing nations, who then promised to support him during presidential elections. Under FIFA’s electoral process, each confederation gets one vote, meaning the smallest nations have the same amount of power as titans such as Germany, Italy, Spain and Brazil.
Thus, Blatter maintained his stranglehold on the presidency until the mounting corruption charges toppled his reign.