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Amid Scandal, FIFA President To Resign Just Days After Being Reelected


The most powerful person in the biggest sport in the world is giving up his job. Sepp Blatter has spent 17 years as president of FIFA, the world's governing body for soccer. Blatter says he realized the soccer world was no longer behind him, but he may have realized something else. A U.S. corruption investigation that led to the arrest of FIFA officials has been getting closer to him. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A day after being re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA's president despite the controversies swirling around his 17-year tenure, Sepp Blatter remained defiant as he fielded questions from the media.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you concerned, at some stage, you might be arrested?

SEPP BLATTER: Arrested for what? Next question.

BEARDSLEY: But last night, as Blatter announced he would step down and call an extraordinary gathering of FIFA to elect a new president, he appeared chastened.


BLATTER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Speaking in French, Blatter said he recognized that he no longer had the support of the clubs, players and fans, the people who breathe and love soccer. Blatter said what mattered most was the game. Randy Harris, president of the Barbados Football Association, was in Zurich last week for the vote. Back home now, he says he's not surprised by the quick turn of events.

RANDY HARRIS: The pressure that was on President Blatter, and FIFA by extension, was different than anything before.

BEARDSLEY: That pressure was in the form of two criminal investigations into top officials at the organization. The U.S. alleges they took more than $100 million in bribes and kickbacks over the last decade. And Swiss officials are investigating whether the selection of Russia and Qatar for the next two World Cups was rigged. British Football Association head Greg Dyke, speaking to the BBC, says Blatter's resignation is great news for world soccer.


GREG DYKE: At long last we can sort out FIFA. We can go back to look at those two World Cups. If I was in Qatar today, I wouldn't be feeling very confident.

BEARDSLEY: Rumors of FIFA corruption have always slid right off Blatter. He was re-elected just two days after top FIFA executives were arrested at dawn in their Zurich hotel rooms. What seemed to change the game was the revelation yesterday that the U.S. investigation implicates FIFA's secretary general, Jerome Valcke. Valcke is allegedly linked to a $10 million wire transfer from the South African government to one of the indicted officials, Jack Warner, head of the North and Central American soccer branch of FIFA. Pim Verschuuren deals with sports ethics and governance at a Paris think tank. He says Valcke is Blatter's right-hand man.

PIM VERSCHUUREN: He's a kind of, you'd say, soldier for Blatter. And he represented Blatter within the system.

BEARDSLEY: Verschuuren says if Valcke was at the heart of FIFA's alleged corruption, there's little doubt Blatter was too. A new FIFA presidential election will be held in about six months. Blatter says until then, he'll stay on and attempt to reform FIFA from within. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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