What Prompted FIFA President Sepp Blatter to Resign?
Sepp Blatter, the overlord of the world’s most popular sport, unexpectedly announced his intention to resign, bowing to a spreading corruption probe just four days after winning re-election.
The 79-year-old said he will call a special congress sometime between December and March to elect his successor as president of FIFA, a position he has held since 1998.
Blatter’s $1 billion-a-year empire started crumbling as soon as Swiss police acting on U.S. extradition requests roused senior officials from their beds in a luxury hotel last week. As his organization became the subject of a criminal investigation, support drained away.
FIFA called a surprise press conference. Blatter wore a dark suit and blue diagonal-striped tie with a FIFA pin in his lapel. He stood behind a podium after nametags for him and Domenico Scala, chairman of the FIFA audit and compliance committee, were removed, perhaps a precursor of what was to come.
As president of FIFA, the French acronym for Federation Internationale de Football Association, Blatter’s tenure was marked by controversy, most recently surrounding the selection of Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Ultimately it was his undoing.
Responding to Blatter’s resignation announcement, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who surfaced as Blatter’s only challenger at last week’s presidential, election told CNN that he was “at the disposal of all the national associations that want change including many who were afraid to do so before this day.”
ABC News reported, citing people that it didn’t identify, that Blatter is being investigated by the FBI and U.S. prosecutors as part of the probe that led to last week’s indictments.
It emerged Tuesday that FIFA’s No. 2 official under Blatter authorized a $10 million payment. U.S. prosecutors say that person was Jerome Valcke, a person familiar with the matter said.
Michel Platini, who heads Europe’s soccer governing body and called on Blatter to quit last week said in a statement his announcement was “a brave decision and the right decision.”
Bookmakers see the French man as a favorite to be Blatter’s successor.
For some who knew Blatter, his resignation seemed unthinkable. For Jon Doviken, a former FIFA deputy secretary general, Blatter’s resignation was something he had given up hope of ever seeing.
“It’s a strange feeling because it’s been going on for so long,” said Doviken, who was ousted after being part of a group that tried unsuccessfully to unseat Blatter in 2002. “I had predicted that people would have to carry him from that office.”
Other reaction to Blatter’s resignation from around the soccer world came swiftly, from Russian resignation to elation among other European countries.
“His resignation came as a surprise to me,” Russia’s Sport Minister Vitaliy Mutko said according to state-run Tass news service. “From Blatter’s statement it is clear that he wants to save FIFA, awaiting further reforms.”
Other nations were less forgiving.
“We have all the time stated that FIFA needs a new leadership — that it is time for Blatter to step down,” Karl-Erik Nilsson, chairman of the Swedish Football Association, said in a statement on its website. “He’s now doing that, and we think that’s good.”
Blatter’s departure means a new era for world’s soccer is starting, others said.
“All the corrupted directors from the federations will feel his departure as a tsunami,” Brazil’s 1994 World Cup winner Romario wrote on his Facebook page. “This is the best news of the recent times!”
Born on March 10, 1936, near the Matterhorn in Visp, Switzerland, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Lausanne. He was a striker in Switzerland’s top amateur soccer league and worked in journalism and public relations, including at watchmaker Longines, before joining FIFA, according to his official biography from the governing body.
The Swiss native joined as a technical officer in 1975 and was first elected to succeed Joao Havelange as president in 1998. During that time, Blatter witnessed 10 World Cups on five continents over four decades at FIFA.
As president, FIFA’s income ballooned — the latest World Cup tournament generated almost $5 billion in revenue — and more than $1 billion of that was shared with member nations via so-called “solidarity” programs.
A trip to Ethiopia in 1976 ultimately led to his biggest achievement, taking the World Cup to South Africa in 2010.
“This World Cup for him, it’s like a mother with a baby,” Walter Gagg, a FIFA aide and a friend for four decades, said in a 2010 interview. “For him, this will be his legacy.”
At the same time, FIFA’s reputation was battered by successive crises as Blatter suppressed criticism of the organization. In 2004, he said public interest in women’s soccer would grow if players wore “tighter shorts” and later compared player trading to “modern slavery.”
His handling of the 2001 collapse of the organization’s marketing partner ISL was called “clumsy” in a report by FIFA’s ethics head that Blatter eventually cleared for publication in 2013. It said Blatter’s predecessor and mentor, Havelange, received bribes from the defunct marketing company. Other senior FIFA board members were also named.
FIFA’s reputation sunk even lower after the 2010 vote for Qatar and Russia and Blatter’s successful presidential campaign a year later. After his only opponent, Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam, withdrew following accusations of trying bribe voters, Blatter secured the post for a fourth time.
He said the term would be his last and he would rebuild FIFA. With FIFA still mired in crisis, Blatter backtracked, saying he would go on. He tried.
For more on FIFA, read this next:
- QuickTake: The World Cup’s Competition and Corruption
- Read the Full FIFA Indictment Here
- FIFA’s Paris Cash Drop: $10,000 Bundles Stacked in Suitcase
- FIFA Scandal Unearths Brazilian Power Broker Atop Soccer Fortune