The embattled chief of world soccer hung onto his post Friday after a rival bowed out in an election that displayed the deep rifts inside the sport amid American-led allegations of widespread corruption among some of its top overseers.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has not been directly implicated in the probes by U.S. and Swiss authorities into alleged offenses that include soliciting bribes for the right to host the sport’s grand prize, the World Cup.
But enough opposition was mounted to keep Blatter from getting the two-thirds majority needed among the 209 votes cast by delegates in Zurich — a result seen as a significant embarrassment for the 79-year-old president who has led the sport since 1998.
Blatter, who was expected to coast to an easy reelection before the scandal broke earlier this week, fell just short with 133 votes. His lone rival — a senior FIFA executive, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan — received 73. The status of the remaining votes was not immediately clear.
Moments later, Hussein stepped aside to let Blatter win after sending the clear message of dissent.
As FIFA executives began to count the paper ballots, the organization’s live Web feed carried as background music the Mexican ballad “Bésame Mucho,” loosely translated as “Kiss Me Much.”
Hussein, his tie loosened and askew, checked his smartphone while waiting for the results.
Prosecutors have suggested that the investigations could dig deeper, and Blatter’s critics have called for a change in a time of unprecedented turmoil for the directors of the world’s most popular sport.
Blatter has rejected calls to step down, but pressure has spilled beyond the ranks of FIFA.
During a visit to Berlin, British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “unthinkable” that Blatter should remain in charge amid the corruption allegations, and he urged Blatter to step aside.
“The sooner that happens the better,” Cameron said.
The voting underscored how deeply the corruption allegations have shaken the powerful and privileged world at the summit of global soccer.
The twin investigations, unveiled Wednesday, include sweeping U.S. indictments against 14 people on bribery, racketeering, fraud and money-laundering charges going back to the 1990s.
A separate Swiss investigation is examining possible improprieties in FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
Seven people, including two FIFA vice presidents, were taken into custody by Swiss authorities at a luxury hotel in Zurich, where FIFA delegates from around the world had gathered. Another defendant, former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, was arrested in his native Trinidad and Tobago.
In an address Friday, the Swiss-born Blatter urged delegates to display “unity and team spirit” in dealing with the allegations and called for measures to uncover any deeper rot within FIFA.
“The events of Wednesday have unleashed a storm. . . . It will take some time” to rebuild FIFA’s battered image, he told delegates.
But he also repeated his defense that he cannot be held personally responsible for the crisis.
“I am willing to accept [that] the president of FIFA is responsible for everything, but I would at least like to share that responsibility with everyone,” Blatter said. “We cannot constantly supervise everyone in football. . . . You cannot ask everyone to behave ethically.”
On Thursday, Blatter braced FIFA for even more blows. “I’m sure,” he said, “more bad news will follow.”
In a sign of possible domino-effect fallout, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office said it is studying material related to the FIFA probes and “stands ready to assist ongoing international criminal investigations,” the Reuters news agency reported.
Britain has not opened its own probe.
Proceedings at the FIFA congress were briefly disrupted by a bomb threat, reports said. Participations left the meeting hall earlier than scheduled for lunch, but the building was not evacuated, Zurich police said. No suspicious items were found.
Steven Goff in Washington contributed to this report.