Sepp Blatter rocked the world of soccer on Tuesday by unexpectedly saying he would step down as FIFA president in the wake of a corruption investigation that reportedly may include the embattled chief himself.
Citing sources familiar with the case, The New York Times and ABC News reported on Tuesday that Blatter was being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. prosecutors. Blatter has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Blatter, 79, announced his decision to step down at a hastily arranged news conference in Zurich, six days after police raided a hotel in the city and arrested several FIFA officials, and four days after he was re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA president.
Blatter said an election to choose a new president would be held as soon as possible, though a FIFA official said it would probably not take place until at least December.
“FIFA needs profound restructuring,” said Blatter, a Swiss national who has been a dominant presence at FIFA for decades.
“I decided to stand again to be elected because I was convinced it was the best option for football.
“Although the members of FIFA gave me a new mandate, this mandate does not seem to be supported by everyone in the world.”
Blatter’s decision to step down as the growing scandal plunges FIFA further into the worst crisis in its history was welcomed by his most prominent critics.
European football federation chief Michel Platini, a French former international player and favorite to succeed Blatter as FIFA president, said,: “It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision.”
The second favorite on the list, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, who stood against Blatter but withdrew after gaining 73 votes to Blatter’s 133 in the first round of last Friday’s vote, stopped short of confirming that he would run again.
Asked if there should be a fresh start at FIFA, he told Britain’s Channel 4 News, “I’m willing to help.”
Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association and one of Blatter’s most outspoken critics, said it was “good news for world football” but then questioned Blatter’s motive. “Who got him? Who shot him?” he asked.
FIFA, which Blatter had led since 1998, was shocked last week by the announcement of a U.S. investigation into alleged widespread financial wrongdoing stretching back more than two decades.
Swiss authorities also mounted their own criminal probe into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Blatter’s decision to step down was “courageous” and would help prevent a split in FIFA.
While Blatter was not mentioned in the U.S. or Swiss investigations, there had been widespread calls for him to quit, mostly from Western nations. Some major sponsors also expressed misgivings about the impact of the scandal.
Two sponsors, Coca-Cola Co and Adidas, welcomed Blatter’s resignation.