FIFA President Sepp Blatter Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
More now on that stunning resignation announcement today from the embattled president of FIFA, international soccer's governing body. Sepp Blatter made that announcement at a news conference in Zurich. Blatter won re-election to a fifth-straight term just four days ago, but his election was controversial. It followed an indictment of 14 FIFA and business executives by U.S. law enforcement officials. The corruption case threw FIFA into chaos and prompted calls for Blatter to step down after 17 years heading the organization. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Last Friday, Sepp Blatter was exalted after his win over challenger Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan.
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SEPP BLATTER: I thank you for the trust and confidence - trust and confidence, together we go. Let's go FIFA. Let's go FIFA. Thank you.
GOLDMAN: Today, much more somber, Blatter acknowledged the victory, guaranteed Friday by delegates at the FIFA Congress in Zurich, was not a clear victory. He spoke through an interpreter.
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BLATTER: (Through interpreter) This mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football - supporters, clubs, players, those who inspire life in football as much as we do at FIFA.
GOLDMAN: There is plenty of speculation as to what happened between those two speeches to prompt today's announcement - certainly, the indictment last Wednesday, and law enforcement officials stressed the investigation that led to it was ongoing. Another possible smoking-gun yesterday when Blatter's top deputy, Jerome Valcke, was linked to an alleged $10 million bribe involving the bid for the 2010 World Cup, an allegation Valcke and FIFA denied.
JEFF THINNES: The noose was getting tighter and tighter.
GOLDMAN: Jeff Thinnes consults corporations on ethics and anti-corruption programs.
THINNES: Maybe he was confronted with some information today that, you know, provides the incontrovertible evidence that he, in fact, knew what was going on and could no longer claim innocence.
GOLDMAN: Certainly, Sepp Blatter didn't admit anything. He's always denied involvement with any alleged corruption. Last Wednesday, after the indictment was announced, he distanced himself from those charged. Today, he even described himself as an longtime advocate for reform in FIFA and said those efforts would continue while he maintains the presidency until a special meeting is held to elect his successor. That's expected between December 2015 and March of 2016. Jamie Fuller owns the sportswear company Skins. In January, he helped start a reform movement called New FIFA Now. Fuller's concerned that Blatter will remain in office at least another six months.
JAMIE FULLER: In the short-term, we've achieved nothing. And if we're not careful, in the long-term, we'll achieve nothing other than moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic.
GOLDMAN: The long-term is the focus now of critics and reform advocates. They want a truly external, independent reform commission, not the current one that's part of FIFA. Ethics consultant Jeff Thinnes says FIFA has to truly commit to transparency in all things, including how it conducts business.
THINNES: How do they go about selecting the candidates to compete to host some of these major events? What are the criteria that are used for those selections? What promises are being made in both directions? That should all be subject to the public light, and that's missing completely from FIFA.
GOLDMAN: And, says Thinnes, others within FIFA will have to go. Unlike corporations where just the CEO and some underlings get in trouble, Thinnes says FIFA is dealing with a culture of corruption. It'll take time to root things out, he says, because this is a big tree, a tree with global branches and a lot of poisonous fruit hanging on those branches. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.