FBI target Blatter as Fifa kingpin quits at last

 
Frank Dalleres
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Sepp Blatter delivered his resignation speech at a hastily-convened press conference
President calls time on 17-year reign amid corruption probe

BESIEGED Sepp Blatter is believed to be under investigation by the FBI after shocking football by suddenly quitting the presidency of scandal-hit world governing body Fifa yesterday.

Blatter, 79, brought an abrupt end to his 17-year reign with a hastily-convened speech, saying he did not feel he had “a mandate from the entire world of football” despite being elected for a fifth term four days earlier.

His decision came with Fifa in crisis, following last week’s indictment of seven serving officials by the United States Department of Justice, which alleges corruption and fraud totalling $150m (£98m).

It also raised fresh questions about whether Russia and Qatar will retain the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups that they controversially won in a 2010 vote.

The move was welcomed by leading football figures, including Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, and sponsors including Visa, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Budweiser and McDonald’s.

Blatter is a key target for federal investigators, multiple American media outlets reported last night, as part of the biggest bribery and corruption probe in sporting history.

The Swiss has remained untouched by allegations against some of Fifa’s most senior figures, but it is thought that US officials believe some of those seized in last week’s dawn raids may testify against superiors.

Blatter has always maintained his innocence, blaming corruption on a few isolated individuals, and reiterated in his resignation speech that he sought re-election as he thought it “best for Fifa and football”.

But he added: “That election is over but Fifa’s challenges are not. Fifa needs a profound overhaul. 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.”

Frenchman Michel Platini, the president of European governing body Uefa, and Blatter’s election rival Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, lead the candidates to be Fifa’s next president.

Blatter is likely to remain in charge until the end of the year, however, with Fifa indicating yesterday that another ballot would not be held until December at the earliest, and perhaps not until March 2016, in order to give candidates time to campaign.

Platini, a fierce opponent of Blatter but who chose not to stand against him, called it “a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision”, while Prince Ali confirmed he would stand again.

Dyke said: “I think it’s brilliant for world football. This is the start of something new. Why didn’t he step down last week? Clearly there’s a smoking gun of some sort. Now he’s gone, let’s celebrate.”

Visa said Blatter’s resignation was “a significant first step towards rebuilding public trust, but more work lies ahead.” Coca-Cola called the move “a positive step” but demanded “concrete action to fully address all issues raised”. Adidas said it was “a step in the right direction”, while Budweiser said it expected it to “accelerate Fifa’s efforts to resolve internal issues”. McDonald’s said it was “hopeful” of major Fifa reform.

Timeline: how Fifa scandal escalated

WEDNESDAY 27 MAY
Dawn raid in Zurich sees seven Fifa officials among 14 people indicted by US over claims of corruption totalling $150m. Swiss authorities also say they’re probing voting for the rights to host 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar

THURSDAY 28 MAY
Blatter refuses to stand down on eve of election, telling congress: “It must fall to me for the wellbeing of our organisation to find the way forward to fix things.” Uefa chief Michel Platini urges Blatter to quit, saying: “Enough is enough”

FRIDAY 29 MAY
Blatter beats sole rival Prince Ali to win fifth term, but sponsors McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Adidas join Visa in expressing concern at corruption allegations and urging Fifa to clean up its image

SUNDAY 31 MAY
FA chief Greg Dyke calls on Platini to organise a European boycott of World Cup. Former Fifa VP Jack Warner accuses America of a bid to grab World Cup hosting rights, but cites article from satirical outlet The Onion

TUESDAY 2 JUNE
Fifa denies that Blatter’s No2 Jerome Valcke authorised a $10m payment that US prosecutors say was a bribe, despite the emergence of a letter addressed to Valcke. Hours later, at a hastily-convened conference, Blatter announces end of his 17-year tenure

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