WASHINGTON DC —
Sepp Blatter, president of the international football federation FIFA, abruptly resigned Tuesday in the midst of an unfolding corruption scandal.
"I have been reflecting deeply about my presidency and about the 40 years in which my life has been inextricably bound to FIFA and the great sport of football I cherish FIFA more than anything and I want to do only what is best for FIFA and for football," Blatter said in a statement.
"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.
Therefore, I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress," the statement said, adding "I will continue to exercise my functions as FIFA President until that election."
Election of a new FIFA president apparently will take months. Experts expect a vote could take place between December of this year and March of 2016.
The 79-year-old FIFA chief took the world by surprise when he announced his decision at a news conference in Zurich, since he had repeatedly professed his innocence throughout days of adverse publicity about FIFA executives' corrupt activities and multimillion-dollar bribe-taking.
Need for 'profound restructuriing'
In the immediate aftermath of last week's police raids and arrests, Blatter vowed to cleanse the football federation of everyone involved in illegal activities. Tuesday he admitted that "FIFA needs a profound restructuring," and pledged his commitment to that goal.
Blatter's appearance in Zurich Tuesday evening was televised worldwide, but there had been no advance word of his decision to step down. Sports commentators said they were expecting another staunch defense by Blatter of his leadership of world football; the sudden turn of events left many of them "flabbergasted."
US, Swiss raids
The FIFA corruption scandal, long a subject of rumor and whispers, became reality last week when U.S. FBI agents and Swiss police raided a meeting of the federation's top leaders in Switzerland. Amid swirling allegations of millions of dollars in bribes paid to influence the staging of international soccer tournaments, including the World Cup, charges of receiving bribes and racketeering were brought against an array of suspects from South America, the United States and elsewhere.
Calls for resignation
Blatter was re-elected as FIFA's president two days later, praised by his supporters for the dramatic expansion of world football - and of FIFA's influence and prosperity - during his decades of leadership. Several prominent members of FIFA including the European football federation's Michel Platini spoke out in dissent, saying the corruption investigation should prompt Blatter to step aside, but Blatter and his allies brushed off such suggestions.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who announced his candidacy for FIFA's top job well in advance of the police raids, was the leading candidate opposing Blatter. The prince finished second in the balloting, although with enough votes to force a second ballot, but then withdrew when it became apparent that support for Blatter guaranteed his re-election.