Sepp Blatter’s stunning decision to step down Tuesday as the head of FIFA, world sport’s richest and most powerful organization, immediately led to two questions: Why now? And who’s next?
Blatter didn’t give a reason for his decision but the timing of the announcement was almost as surprising as the decision itself, coming just four days after he had been reelected to a fifth term as FIFA president. That vote was held just two days after the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed a 47-count indictment that charged nine present and former FIFA officials with bribery, corruption and fraud, among other charges.
Following his reelection, Blatter strongly resisted calls that he step down while denying he was guilty of any wrongdoing. But his stunning about-face came less than a day after the New York Times, quoting unnamed U.S. government officials, reported that Jerome Valcke, Blatter’s top aide, made $10 million in bank transactions that were central to the corruption scandal.
FIFA denied the reports but investigations by the FBI and Swiss authorities are continuing with both refusing to rule Blatter out as a suspect.
As for what’s next, Blatter said Tuesday that FIFA cannot afford to wait until next May’s annual Congress to choose a successor, calling for a special presidential election that could be held between December 2015 and March 2016. Once a new leader has been found, Blatter said he plans to “focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts.”
Those are the same kind of reforms Blatter has steadfastly refused to adopt during 17 years as FIFA president.
Among the likely candidates in the special elections are UEFA boss Michel Platini and Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein. Platini is a longtime Blatter critic who called on the FIFA president to delay last week’s election and threatened a boycott of the process by the European countries he represents. Prince Ali, meanwhile, was the only man to contest Blatter for the presidency, drawing enough support to deny Blatter a mandate and force a second round of balloting.