FIFA President Sepp Blatter to Resign

The world soccer body, the target of two major criminal investigations, will hold a new election, with Blatter staying on until a new president is picked.

In an announcement that has shocked — and many would say delighted — the soccer world, Sepp Blatter said that he would step down as president of world soccer governing body FIFA.

“I will organize extraordinary congress for a replacement for me as president,” said the 79-year-old Swiss, who has served as FIFA president since 1998 and was re-elected to a fifth, four-year term last Friday. "I will not stand. I am now free from the constraints of an election. I will be in a position to focus on profound reforms. For many years we have called for reforms. But these are not sufficient."

The news, which Blatter announced in a short statement at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on Tuesday, comes less than a week after early-morning raids in Zurich in which several members of FIFA's executive committee were arrested on charges of money laundering, bribery and wire fraud connected to FIFA events, including the granting of the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

In his 17-year reign as FIFA president, Blatter has overseen incredible growth at the organization, with soaring profits and an global expansion into Asia — where the World Cup was held in 2002 — and Africa, which hosted the 2010 World Cup. But his presidency also coincided with what investigators say was rampant corruption and fraud among FIFA functionaries, some of whom took kickbacks in exchange for granting broadcasting and marketing rights to FIFA tournaments. Others, it is alleged, sold their votes for World Cup bids. The allegations are the basis of two separate criminal investigations, one led by the FBI, the other by the Swiss Department of Justice. Blatter himself has not been charged with any offense and has repeatedly said he was ignorant of any illegal activity in his organization. 

“I have thoroughly considered and thought about my presidency and the last 40 years in my life. These years were closely related to FIFA and the wonderful sport of football. I appreciate and love FIFA more than anything else," Blatter said. "I only want to do the best for FIFA and my institution. I decided to stand again as the best option for football. The elections are closed but the challenges we face haven’t come to an end.”

Blatter has been under intense pressure to step down since last Wednesday's raid, but recent allegations may have finally pushed him over the edge. Reports claim that Jerome Valcke, FIFA secretary general and Blatter's right-hand man, knew about a $10 million payment made by South African officials to disgraced former FIFA executive Jack Warner, allegedly a bribe to secure Warner's vote for South Africa's (successful) World Cup bid in 2010. The South African Football Association denies the country bribed FIFA officials to help secure the 2010 World Cup. 

Domenico Scala, chairman of FIFA's audit and compliance committee, said the process of electing a new president would take at least four months and that the timing of the election is likely to be between December of this year and March 2016. Blatter will stay on as president until a successor is elected. 

Scala added that FIFA will consider wide-ranging changes to the structure of its executive committee to ensure greater transparency.

“These steps will ensure that the organization cannot be used by individuals seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of the game,” said Scala.

Michel Platini, president of European soccer association UEFA and one of the favorites to replace Blatter as FIFA president, in a statement called Blatter's resignation "a difficult decision. A brave decision. The right decision."

Both Scala and Blatter refused to take questions from journalists and quickly left after making their statements.

A question now is how HBO host John Oliver will react. The Last Week Tonight host has made Sepp Blatter his personal White Whale, repeatedly calling out the FIFA president on his show with lengthy items detailing the FIFA corruption scandals.

On last Sunday's show, Oliver begged FIFA sponsors — which include McDonald's, Adidas and Budweiser — to pull their support. If they did, and helped get rid of Blatter, Oliver pledged on air that he would “make the ultimate sacrifice” and drink a Bud Light Lime. “I will do it. I will drink one, maintaining eye contact with the camera and say it’s delicious, because if you get rid of the Swiss demon who has ruined the sport I love, this stuff will taste like f—ing champagne!"

Watch the video below.

Twitter: @sroxborough

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