FIFA President Sepp Blatter to resign

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ZURICH – Just four days after being reelected to a fifth term, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced he will resign his post in a surprise press conference Tuesday at the organization’s headquarters in Zurich.

The 79-year-old Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term on Friday, two days after a corruption crisis erupted and seven soccer officials were arrested in Zurich ahead of the FIFA congress.

“This mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football,” Blatter said Tuesday at a hastily arranged news conference in Zurich. “FIFA needs a profound restructuring.”

Elections are expected to take place sometime between December and March.

“I will continue to exercise my function (until the new election),” said Blatter, who looked strained and serious while reading a statement in French before walking off without taking questions.

The resignation announcement came as a surprise to many soccer watchers, in no small part because of the defiant tone Blatter initially struck after being reelected last week.

“[FIFA’s] Congress, they are of the opinion that I am still the man to go into these problems and to solve these problems,” Blatter said.

He claimed last week the indictments and arrests were an attempt to interfere with the FIFA elections.

“I am not certain … but it doesn’t smell good,” Blatter said.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it would have no comment.

The Swiss attorney general said Blatter was not under investigation in Switzerland.

Blatter was praised Tuesday by one of his biggest opponents, his one-time FIFA protegé Michel Platini.

“It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision,” said Platini, the UEFA president who failed to persuade Blatter last week to resign ahead of the election.

Platini, who opted out of taking on Blatter head-to-head, will be expected to run for the top job now.

Another likely entrant into the race for FIFA president is Prince Ali of Jordan, who was Blatter’s sole challenger in last week’s election.

Prince Ali declined to say if he’d run again, but didn’t rule it out.

“I am at the disposal of all the national associations who want a change, including all of those who were afraid to make a change,” Prince Ali said in an interview with CNN.

Not all were as gracious after his announcement, however.

Blatter said he reached the decision after he had “thoroughly considered my presidency and … the last 40 years in my life.”

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 world soccer.

Blatter promised his final few months in office will deliver the modernizing reforms he had previously promised in 2011 during an earlier corruption crisis but fell short of expectations.

“Since I shall not be a candidate, 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,” Blatter said.

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 Blatter said he would like to put into place.

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.

Blatter’s resignation was precipitated by a revolt within the FIFA executive committee over the weekend, when two of the 24 members resigned.

The new election for FIFA president will be overseen by Domenico Scala, chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee.

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. “There is significant work to be done to regain the trust of the public.”

Although Blatter has not been named in the recent corruption investigation, speculation had grown that the legal noose was tightening around him when FIFA secretary general, Jerome Valcke, was implicated in a $10 million payment to Caribbean soccer chief Jack Warner.

American investigators said Warner’s long-time FIFA colleague, Chuck Blazer, believed the money was paid as bribes in exchange for their votes to give the 2010 World Cup to South Africa.

While a FIFA statement did not deny Valcke knew of the payments in 2008, it said neither he “nor any other member of FIFA’s senior management were involved in the initiation, approval and implementation” of the project.

The World Cup bidding angle is a direct route into FIFA for the Department of Justice, which laid out a racketeering case mostly involving marketing rights for tournaments in North and South America over two decades.

The South African allegation threatens to tarnish a 2010 World Cup which Blatter has claimed as a defining achievement of his 17-year reign.

FIFA described the payment on Tuesday as part of the South African government’s “project to support the African diaspora in Caribbean countries as part of the World Cup legacy.”

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