Zurich (AFP) – Sepp Blatter on Tuesday resigned as president of FIFA in a stunning capitulation to critics as a mounting corruption scandal engulfed world football’s governing body.
“I don’t feel I have a mandate from the entire world of football,” Blatter, who defiantly rejected calls to quit for several months, calmly told a press conference at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters.
The 79-year-old Swiss official, FIFA president for 17 years and only reelected on Friday, said he would remain in charge until a special congress can choose a new 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 doubtful payments put pressure on the governing body.
“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.”
“Therefore, I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress.
The arrest of seven FIFA officials in a Zurich hotel last week, as part of a US corruption inquiry, and a Swiss police investigation into the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar proved the final straw.
The seven are among 14 football officials and sports marketing executives accused by US prosecutors over more than $150 million of bribes.
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.
He added that as he would not stand in the election, “I shall be able to 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.
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 UEFA president Michel 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 criticis of the FIFA leader, said the resignation was “brilliant for world football.”
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, immediately announced that he will be a candidate to take over.
The Jordanian prince withdrew from the race after the first round of voting at the Zurich congress.
Blatter beat him by 133 votes to 73 in the first round, with rock solid support from Asia and Africa seeing him through.
Blatter has been with FIFA for 40 years, starting as a marketing official, becoming secretary general in 1981 and president in 1998, taking 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 multi-billion dollar operation.
In the four years between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, FIFA made $5.7 billion (5.3 billion euros). The organisation 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.
Swiss police investigating the award of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments raided the FIFA headquarters last Wednesday when the arrests were being carried out at a luxury city hotel.
“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 calmly walked back to his office.
This post has been updated.
Photo: AFP / Fabrice Coffrini