With reporting from Lesley Walker
In a hastily called press conference tonight, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced he will resign as head of the world’s football governing body.
The 79-year-old, who just won his fifth term on Friday (with Qatar’s backing), has come under fire recently due to a organization-wide corruption scandal.
Speaking at the press conference, Blatter said:
“The elections are closed but the challenges that FIFA are facing have not come to an end. FIFA needs profound restructuring.
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.”
An extraordinary Congress will be called to elect his successor.
According to the organization’s bylaws, the vote cannot take place for at least another four months, during which Blatter will continue to serve as president.
Domenico Scala, chairman of the FIFA audit and compliance committee, spoke after Blatter, and said that elections would likely be held sometime between December of this year and March 2016.
Dissatisfied with what has been seen as a lack of transparency in FIFA, many in the world football community have been calling for Blatter’s resignation for years.
Support for his exit grew last week after several FIFA officials were arrested by order of the US on charges of racketeering, fraud and other crimes that date back to the mid-1990s.
Also last week, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland, where FIFA is headquartered, launched a criminal investigation in connection to the World Cup tournaments being awarded to Russia and Qatar.
Despite the scandal, FIFA pushed ahead with presidential elections two days later, during which Blatter was re-elected.
However, the final straw appeared to come after the New York Times today reported that Blatter’s top deputy, Jerome Valcke, was linked to a $10 million transfer of funds cited in the US indictment.
FIFA said this afternoon that Valcke was not involved.
Following Blatter’s resignation today, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General issued a statement saying that the outgoing president is not under investigation.
What it means for Qatar
Neither Blatter or Scala mentioned any specific controversy that is currently swirling around FIFA. However, other football executives immediately turned their attention to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid:
“Something has come out of the events of last week that has caused Mr Blatter to resign,” said English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, according to The Guardian. “He’s gone. At long last we can sort out Fifa. We can go back to looking at those two World Cups. If I were Qatar right now I wouldn’t be feeling very comfortable.”
With the president’s resignation, Qatar’s World Cup organizers have lost one of their most powerful and ardent defenders.
It was under Blatter’s tenure that Qatar won the right to host the tournament, a choice that remains controversial among many critics to this day.
Blatter has previously lashed out at Qatar’s critics, suggesting last June that “there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism” behind the “storm against FIFA relating to the Qatar World Cup.”
Whether his successor adopts a similar tone or presses Qatar to crack down on the abuses of migrant workers will depend on the candidates vying to replace him.
None of the three challengers who campaigned in last month’s election publicly criticized Qatar, although all made general statements about the need to eliminate corruption.
Along with elected a new president, FIFA will undertake structural reforms that are expected to include changes to the composition of its executive committee as well as how its members are selected, Scala stated.
“Current events only reinforce my determination to drive this reform,” he said.
Scala also suggested that executive committee candidates would be subject to “FIFA-driven integrity checks,” rather than leaving such vetting procedures up to individual football confederations.
Finally, Scala said FIFA would seek to publish the compensation figures of the president and executive committee members as well as introduce term limits.
All these measures would be debated at the same extraordinary session in which FIFA is expected to elect a new president. Speculation is already rife about who would lead the organization, with former contender Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan and UEFA President Michel Platini’s names coming up.
A Jordanian football association official told newswire AFP that “Prince Ali is ready” for the upcoming election.
Platini, who has previously calling for Blatter to step down, said of tonight’s announcement:
Statement of UEFA President Michel Platini: "It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision”.
— Dan Roan (@danroan) June 2, 2015