FIFA president Sepp Blatter has announced he will step down from his role as allegations of corruption swirl ever closer to football’s iron throne.
Blatter surprised the world on Tuesday by announcing his decision, which came just days after he was re-elected to a fifth term as leader of the global football organization. In an early candidate for understatement of the year, Blatter said his re-election “does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football.”
Saying FFIA needed “a profound restructuring,” Blatter said he would call for a special election between December and March 2016 to appoint a new president. Blatter will stay on as FIFA boss until the election, which will be overseen by FIFA’s audit and compliance committee chairman Dominco Scala, who called Blatter’s decision “the most responsible way to ensure an orderly transition.”
In making his announcement, Blatter’s serious demeanor stood in stark contrast to his defiant press conference on Friday, when he rejected suggestions that he should stand down for the greater good of the organization. “Why would I step down? That would be admitting I did something wrong.”
Blatter’s newfound humility could have something to do with the US Department of Justice and FBI’s allegations of corruption appearing to ensnare Jérome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary and Blatter’s right-hand man.
Sources told the New York Times that Valcke is the anonymous “high-ranking FIFA official” that US law enforcement has accused of okaying a $10m payment from FIFA to the personal bank account of Jack Warner, the former head of the CONCACAF governing body, who was among the 14 individuals indicted last week on racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering charges.
The purpose of this $10m payment is hotly disputed, with the DOJ saying it was a bribe intended to garner support for South Africa hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. South Africa reportedly didn’t have the ready cash on hand so it asked FIFA to make the payment on its behalf using funds it was due to receive from FIFA for its hosting duties.
FIFA has attempted to counter these claims by saying the funds were for a charitable endeavor of the South African Football Association, although no public mention of this endeavor was made at the time and no evidence has emerged that the intended targets of this charity ever saw a dime.
FIFA has attempted to pluck Valcke from the fire by pinning responsibility for the $10m payment on Julio Grondona, the former chairman of FIFA’s finance committee, who conveniently died last summer and thus can’t respond to questions.
Shortly after Blatter’s resignation announcement, ABC News reported that Blatter himself was the target of an ongoing US investigation. ESPN reporter Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN) quoted FBI sources saying “there’s probably a race to see who will flip on [Blatter] first. We may not be able to collapse the whole organization but maybe you don’t need to.”
On Sunday, HBO host and Blatter nemesis John Oliver updated last year’s viral anti-FIFA rant with the clip below. On Tuesday, Oliver tweeted a single word: “Champagne…”