UPDATE with additional details: Somewhere, John Oliver may just be chugging a Bud Light Lime. Sepp Blatter, after serving as president of world soccer governing body FIFA since 1998, announced his resignation today. The 79-year-old was re-elected to the post just this past week amid a scandal that saw six top FIFA officials arrested on May 27 on several corruption charges including wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and involving suspicion of accepting bribes and kickbacks, some in relation to the group’s main event, the World Cup.
In his resignation speech today, Blatter said, “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.”
Blatter’s move to resign comes following revelations first reported by The New York Times on Monday. His top lieutenant, Jérôme Valcke, reportedly made $10M in bank transactions that are central elements of the bribery scandal, according to U.S. officials and others sources cited by the NYT. That brought the money trail closer than ever to Blatter, who on Saturday, following his FIFA re-election, dismissed suggestions that U.S. Justice Department investigators could come knocking on his door. “Arrested for what? Next question,” he said.
FIFA oversees the World Cup which is big business for broadcasters and sponsors — and even leads the major Hollywood studios to strategically program their film releases every four years. Although soccer still lags behind the likes of the NFL and NBA in the U.S., America represents FIFA’s most valuable single territory. In October 2011, Fox outbid Disney’s ESPN and Comcast’s NBC for the English-speaking rights to the 2018 and 2022 tourneys for a guaranteed $425M. NBCUniversal’s Telemundo Spanish networks paid $600M for the U.S.-based Spanish-language TV rights.
In light of the arrests in Switzerland last week, major sponsors threatened to take action with Visa, McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Co, Adidas, Budweiser and Hyundai all releasing statements. Visa, for one, said it would “reassess its sponsorship” unless FIFA was prepared to take “swift and immediate steps” to address the allegations against the arrested officials along with other associate figures and news that Swiss police are questioning 10 FIFA execs over the decision to award World Cups to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, respectively. Qatar has been a particular bone of contention for some time with questions as to why an intensive outdoor sport would be played in a country where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees fahrenheit.
After Blatter’s resignation today, Domencio Scala, Independent Chairman of the Audit & Compliance Committee at FIFA, said the outgoing president “has created an opportunity for us to go further than FIFA has before — to fundamentally change the way in which FIFA is structured.” While the next FIFA Congress is scheduled for May 2016 in Mexico City, Scala said an extraordinary congress could be held anytime between December this year and March of 2016 to elect a new president.
Here are excerpts from Blatter’s resignation speech — which suggest he’s still not done with the org:
“Since I shall not be a candidate (in the next election), and am therefore now free from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts. For years, we have worked hard to put in place administrative reforms, but it is plain to me that while these must continue, they are not enough.”
“We need deep-rooted structural change… We need term limits not only for the president but for all members of the Executive Committee. I have fought for these changes before and, as everyone knows, my efforts have been blocked. This time, I will succeed.”
“It is my deep care for FIFA and its interests, which I hold very dear, that has led me to take this decision. I would like to thank those who have always supported me in a constructive and loyal manner as President of FIFA and who have done so much for the game that we all love. What matters to me more than anything is that when all of this is over, football is the winner.”