FIFA president Sepp Blatter will resign from football’s governing body amid a widening corruption scandal and has promised to call for fresh elections to choose a successor.
Mr Blatter, 79, was re-elected for a fifth term on Friday, two days after a corruption crisis erupted and seven football officials were arrested in Zurich ahead of the Fifa congress.
Clearly there’s a smoking gun of some sortFA chairman Greg Dyke
At a hastily arranged news conference in Zurich yesterday, Mr Blatter, pictured right, referred to the election result before confirming he would step down. “This mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football,” he said. “Fifa needs a profound restructuring.”
Elections to appoint his successor are now expected to take place some time between December and March.
“I will continue to exercise my function [until the new election],” said Mr Blatter, who looked strained and serious while reading a statement in French before walking off without taking any questions. Three days earlier, he was defiant and feisty in the same room when fending off questions about Fifa’s battered reputation and the chance that US federal agencies could seek his arrest.
The US department of justice would not comment, while the Swiss attorney general said Mr Blatter was not under investigation in Switzerland.
Mr Blatter was praised by one of his biggest opponents, one-time protege Michel Platini.
“It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision,” said Mr Platini, the Uefa president, who failed to persuade Mr Blatter last week to resign ahead of the election.
Mr Platini, who opted out of taking on Mr Blatter head to head, will now be expected to run for the top job.
Mr Blatter said he reached the decision after he had “thoroughly considered my presidency and … the last 40 years in my life.”
English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said Mr Blatter’s decision to stand down as Fifa president was “brilliant for world football”.
Mr Blatter’s announcement comes after Fifa admitted it paid $10 million (£6.5m) destined for the South Africa World Cup to an account controlled by the disgraced former vice-president Jack Warner. The payment followed a letter from the South African FA to Fifa secretary- general Jerome Valcke.
It is only four days since Mr Blatter won a fifth term as Fifa president when rival Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein pulled out of the running in the second round of voting in Zurich.
Mr Dyke said: “It is a good afternoon. I think it’s brilliant for world football. This is the start of something new.” He added: “When I left on Friday I said ‘this is not over’ – but even I couldn’t have thought it’d be over so soon. Why didn’t he step down last week? Clearly there’s a smoking gun of some sort. He’s not been honourable in years. Now he’s gone – let’s celebrate.
“Fifa needs a root and branch examination, we need to know where the money is being spent. It’s been a corrupt organisation for something like 30 years and at long last we’ve got a chance to change it. What matters is, can we reform Fifa?”
On the organisation’s next leader, Mr Dyke continued: “They must have an impeccable character and be able to run an organisation where corruption has been rife for years … a lot of people could do the job.”
UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, a long-time critic of Fifa under Mr Blatter, said the world governing body now had to implement major reforms.
He said: “Governments, national associations and international confederations, along with players and fans, have all called for Sepp Blatter to resign in recent days.
“We welcome his belated announcement today but this is only the beginning of the process of change we need to see from Fifa. I sincerely hope this is the first step to a new Fifa that can command the confidence and respect of the football world once again.”
Mr Blatter, who joined Fifa in 1975, added: “Since I shall not be a candidate (for the new president’s role), and am therefore now free from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts.”
Term limits for his successor and members of the executive committee; a smaller executive panel elected by all Fifa member federations and not just by continent; and tougher integrity checks for candidates, done centrally from Zurich, are among changes that could be put into place.
Mr Blatter again directed blame at his executive committee colleagues who have repeatedly been implicated in bribery and corruption.
“The executive committee includes representatives of confederations over whom we have no control, but for whose actions Fifa is held responsible,” he said.
The new election will be overseen by Domenico Scala, chairman of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee. Mr Scala gave a statement after Mr Blatter, in which he praised a decision that was “difficult and courageous in the current circumstances”.
“This is the most responsible way to ensure an orderly transition,” Mr Scala said. “There is significant work to be done to regain the trust of the public.”
Mr Blatter’s announcement is sure to create uncertainty over the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which are being hosted by Russia and Qatar respectively.
On the subject of World Cup bids, Conservative MP Damian Collins said: “I believe that [the votes] should be rerun.
“There should be an interim leadership to lead Fifa through the rest of the year with Mr Blatter removed and [then we] start the process of looking at re-running the World Cup bidding processes. We don’t necessarily need a new president in place for that and in many ways it would be better if a new president could be elected after a reform process has been completed.
“I think we had some good candidates that came forward earlier in the year, from Europe and around the world, but clearly there’ll be other people who want to throw their hats into the ring now that it’s an open field.
“I hope we have a proper reformer; we don’t want someone who’s tainted by their association to Mr Blatter and other insiders to protect the old guard.”
Mr Collins added: “Sepp Blatter should in no way be removed from the investigatory process that the FBI and the Swiss authorities are leading on. Clearly something has happened in the last 24 hours or so and he should still be available for questioning in their criminal investigation.”
Adrian Bevington, former managing director of Club England, an arm of the FA, said: “I said on Friday I didn’t see him lasting his four-year mandate but nobody was anticipating this today. For him to go through all of the processes on Friday, the press conference on Saturday, he was dogged and was throwing brickbats around aimed at the UK media, at Uefa, America.
“To then suddenly announce he’s stepping down is quite startling. The next 48 hours are going to be intriguing.
“We’ll then see who’s going to put themselves forward. I’d be intrigued to see whether Prince Ali will go again; he did very well in the election so he could be a very credible candidate.
“The organisation is in a state of flux – they’re more high-profile than ever, they’re under investigation from all kinds of agencies around the world.”