Sepp Blatter, the once-unassailable overlord of the world’s most popular sport, unexpectedly announced his intention to resign, bowing to a spreading corruption probe.
The 79-year-old said he will call a special congress to elect his successor as president of FIFA, a post he has held since 1998 and to which he was re-elected four days ago.
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.
“Although the members of FIFA have given me new mandate and re-elected me president, this mandate doesn’t seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football,” Blatter said Tuesday in Zurich. “I appreciate and love FIFA more than anything else and I only want to do the best for football and for FIFA, our institution.”
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.
It emerged Tuesday that FIFA’s No. 2 official under Blatter authorized a $10 million payment that U.S. prosecutors have characterized as a bribe, a person familiar with the matter said.
Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, is the official described in an indictment who made payments from FIFA to bank accounts in New York that were overseen by Jack Warner, the longtime head of Concacaf, the Central American and North American soccer confederation, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter wasn’t public.
Neither Valcke nor other senior management were involved in the “initiation, approval and implementation” of the payment, FIFA said in a statement Tuesday. It said the 2008 transfer was approved by the finance committee chairman. At the time that was Julio Grondona, an Argentine who died last year at age 82, while Warner was deputy chairman.