ZURICH — FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced Tuesday he will resign from soccer’s governing body amid a widening corruption scandal, and promised to call for fresh elections to choose a successor.
The 79-year-old Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term on Friday, two days after a corruption crisis erupted and seven soccer officials were arrested in Zurich ahead of the FIFA congress.
“This mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football,” Blatter said Tuesday at a hastily arranged news conference. “FIFA needs a profound restructuring.”
Elections are expected to take place sometime between December and March.
“I will continue to exercise my function (until the new election),” said Blatter, who looked strained and serious.
Three days earlier, Blatter was defiant and feisty in the same room when fending off questions about FIFA’s battered reputation and the chance U.S. federal agencies could seek his arrest.
Blatter said he reached the decision after he had “thoroughly considered my presidency and … the last 40 years in my life.”
Blatter joined FIFA in 1975 as technical director for development projects, was promoted to general secretary in 1981 and spent 17 years as right-hand man to Joao Havelange of Brazil before being elected to lead world soccer.
The new election will be overseen by Domenico Scala, chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee.
Scala gave a statement immediately after Blatter in which he praised a decision that was “difficult and courageous in the current circumstances.”
“This is the most responsible way to ensure an orderly transition,” Scala said.
Last weekend, Blatter played a central role in persuading the Palestinian Soccer Association from abandoning a bid to have Israel booted out of world soccer, instead pushing a compromise proposal.
He later said PA had shown “a big heart” in dropping the move, and expressed hope that the sport could help foster better relations between the two sides.
Blatter said of the Palestinians: “They were convinced that they could win a vote to suspend the other federation, but that didn’t happen: they amended their own proposal and removed it. This is an exceptional gesture that deserves to be commended, and I hope that this gesture will serve as a happy omen in the region between the two federations, but also between the two countries.
“Maybe (soccer) can be the precursor towards a solution that everybody wants,” Blatter said. “The two federations are independent, but they have proved that they can work together.”
For his part, the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, maintained that the Palestinian decision to drop the motion was not the result of diplomatic failure, and said the Palestinians had made achievements at the FIFA congress.
“The decision was made in coordination with the Arab associations and our (other) supporters, and out of concern for negative responses from Israel,” he said in a statement.
He added that the FIFA Congress’s vote in favor of setting up a monitoring mechanism to oversee treatment of Palestinian soccer teams was “an achievement that can but counted on.”
On Friday Rajoub submitted a last-minute amendment to the proposal, eliminating the demand for a ban, and told the Congress that “a lot of colleagues” had asked him not to call for Israel’s suspension.
Rajoub proposed a monitoring mechanism to oversee three points: the movement of Palestinian soccer players and soccer equipment donated to the Palestinians, monitoring racism and discrimination against Palestinian soccer players, and the issue of Israeli teams from settlements in the West Bank, which he referred to as “five racist clubs which should be banned.”
The Congress voted 165-18 in favor of the Palestinian amendment, approving the FIFA monitoring mechanism and essentially abandoning the effort to have Israel banned.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday hailed the Palestinian withdrawal as a diplomatic victory.
“Our international effort has proven itself and led to the failure of the Palestinian Authority attempt to oust us from FIFA. I thank all those took part in the international effort that led to the failure of this attempt,” he said.