FIFA president Sepp Blatter resigns amid corruption scandal
FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced his resignation on Tuesday amid the corruption scandal that has rocked world football's governing body.
Speaking at a news conference in Zurich, Blatter said he would remain in his position until a special election can be held to appoint his successor.
Domenico Scala, the chairman of FIFA's Audit and Compliance Committee, said an election would be held sometime between December 2015 and March 2016, during which time FIFA will vet candidates.
Blatter was just re-elected to a fifth term as president at the FIFA Congress on Friday, two days after a crisis erupted and seven officials were arrested in Zurich as part of a United States Justice Department corruption investigation. Blatter was not among the 14 officials indicted but ABC News reported on Tuesday he was a target of the probe.
A strained and serious Blatter read a six-minute statement in French to an audience of a small handful of journalists before exiting without taking questions.
"FIFA needs a profound overhaul," Blatter said, according to FIFA's translation. "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 [as president] at an extraordinary elective congress. I will continue to exercise my functions as FIFA president until that election."
U.S. authorities last week indicted 14 people -- nine football officials and five sports-marketing executives -- who face charges of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering. They are accused of accepting more than $150 million in bribes
The racketeering case focused on marketing rights for tournaments in North and South America over two decades. Seven officials were arrested last week -- including two FIFA vice presidents, one newly elected FIFA executive committee member and a FIFA staffer. They are fighting extradition.
Sources familiar with the case told ABC News that Blatter was being investigated by the FBI and U.S. prosecutors as part of the probe. The FBI declined to comment because Blatter has not been publicly identified as a target of the investigation. The sources said the feds are conducting the FIFA probe the same way they would handle a mob racketeering case.
"Now that people are going to want to save themselves, there's probably a race to see who will flip on [Blatter] first," one of the sources said, explaining how the feds typically try to get people to inform on their superiors.
Swiss authorities also began a separate investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar -- two countries embroiled in human rights complaints -- but on Tuesday the office of the attorney general said Blatter is not under investigation in that case.
The 79-year-old had been defiant and feisty in the same room on Saturday, fending off questions about FIFA's battered reputation and the chance he could be arrested. His mood had changed in the 24 hours before his announcement, Blatter aide Walter Gagg told The Associated Press.
"We know that the in the last 48 hours he was thinking of the future and perhaps what happened in the last hours, this gave him the conviction," said Gagg, a long-time confidante of Blatter.
Gagg added: "We had lunch with him [on Monday]. He was relaxed he was fine. I had a very good meeting with him early in the morning [on Tuesday]. Then came the different information from the U.S. with this and that.''
Blatter joined FIFA in 1975 as technical director for development projects, was promoted to general secretary in 1981 and spent 17 years as right-hand man to Joao Havelange of Brazil before being elected to lead the sport in 1998.
"I have been reflecting deeply about my presidency and about the 40 years in which my life has been inextricably bound to FIFA and the great sport of football," he said. "I cherish FIFA more than anything and I want to do only what is best for FIFA and for football.
"I felt compelled to stand for re-election, as I believed that this was the best thing for the organisation. That election is over but FIFA's challenges are not."
Scala gave a statement immediately after 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," Scala said.
Scala said FIFA's laws only permit the election of the president at a FIFA Congress, but both he and Blatter said waiting until next May would be too long.
"The next ordinary FIFA Congress will take place on May 13, 2016, in Mexico City. This would create unnecessary delay and I will urge the executive committee to organise an extraordinary congress for the election of my successor at the earliest opportunity," Blatter said.
"This will need to be done in line with FIFA's statutes and we must allow enough time for the best candidates to present themselves and to campaign."
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Michel Platini, the president of European body UEFA, had called for Blatter's resignation last week before the vote. On Tuesday, he was among many who praised Blatter's decision to go.
"It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision," said Platini, Blatter's onetime protégé.
Scala said that FIFA will also revisit how its entire organisation, including the powerful executive committee, is structured.
"While it would be premature to speculate on the outcomes of this work, nothing will be off the table, including the structure and composition of the executive committee and the way in which members of the executive committee are elected," Scala said.
"I expect this to be an important aspect of ongoing reform. As I said a year ago, the structure of the executive committee and its members are at the core of the current issues that FIFA is facing. Current events only reinforce my determination to drive this reform."
Blatter's farewell was not without some curious moments. The president said he had previously attempted to institute reforms, but his efforts "have been blocked." He then pledged to use his time remaining at FIFA to begin restructuring the organisation.
"We need term limits not only for the president but for all members of the executive committee," said the man who ran for a fifth term as president after originally saying his fourth would be his last.
"I have fought for these changes before and, as everyone knows, my efforts have been blocked. This time, I will succeed."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.