FIFA, the multi-tentacled murky organization that has held the world of soccer in a firm grip, had its head cut off this week.
Sepp Blatter, its 79-year-old president who appeared invincible, resigned late Tuesday just four days after declaring only he could lead FIFA.
On Wednesday, Interpol, the international policing organization, issued red notices, or international wanted persons alert, for six soccer officials. Two of them are former FIFA executive committee members: Jack Warner, one time head of the Americas confederation; and Nicolás Leoz, the former head of Conmebol, the South American confederation. The four other executives have links to Argentina and Brazil.
The red notices are Interpol’s way of informing countries that an arrest warrant has been issued in one of its member countries, and that it is seeking to locate and arrest the people named.
The notices also signal continued pressure by U.S. authorities on FIFA and Mr. Blatter.
Until now, Mr. Blatter has shown an amazing ability to cling to power, but he met his match in Loretta Lynch, the newly appointed attorney general who decided to make soccer corruption her first big target.
In a hastily convened press conference, a few hours after the New York Times reported that his closest lieutenant, Jerome Valcke, had signed off a $10 million, or €9.07 million, payment at the heart of the U.S. investigation into corruption, Mr. Blatter resigned.
Sepp Blatter has complained that he is accountable for but has had no control over the actions of the executive committee for years.
ABC News, the New York Times and Reuters are all quoting anonymous officials saying U.S. authorities including the FBI are now investigating Mr. Blatter himself.
No one yet fully knows what prompted Mr. Blatter to resign so suddenly. One of his advisers told Handelsblatt that he only learned of Mr. Blatter’s decision to resign one hour before his resignation was announced.
“Although I have a mandate from the FIFA members, I did not feel that I have a mandate from the entire football world,” he said.
His reasoning is unconvincing. Mr. Blatter has known for years that he does not have the support of the entire world of football. Countries in northern Europe, mainly Germany and the United Kingdom, have been attacking him for years.
Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German Football Association the DFB, said in a press conference that Mr. Blatter’s decision resign was “absolutely right, and overdue.”
What has now changed is the investigation in the United States.
Testimony by a former FIFA executive-turned whistleblower Chuck Blazer could be made public on Wednesday. Mr. Blazer was the man who essentially brought soccer to American audiences, signing the first television contracts. He was well known for taking a cut of the deals he helped secure, but his downfall came only when U.S authorities came after him for not paying taxes on some of his earnings.
He agreed in 2011 to cooperate with U.S. officials in a wider ranging inquiry into corruption at FIFA, secretly taping FIFA meetings and conversations with officials. The evidence he helped gather formed the basis of the U.S. decision last week to indict 14 officials over charges of corruption and racketeering.
The U.S. Department of Justice revealed last week that Mr. Blazer had already pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering and corruption. His testimony will help make clear just how much Mr. Blatter knew about corruption at FIFA.
World Cup sponsors meanwhile reacted with relief to Mr. Blatter’s decision to resign.
Visa, which had threated to pull its sponsorship unless FIFA dealt with the corruption allegations, said Mr. Blatter’s resignation is “a significant first step towards rebuilding public trust,” but added “it is our expectation that FIFA will take swift and immediate steps towards addressing the issues within its organization.”
Coca-Cola also called on FIFA to “win back the trust of all who love the sport of football,” and Adidas said the news marked “a step in the right direction on FIFA’s path to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do.”
For now, Mr. Blatter is still around.
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a television interview, called for a complete overhaul of FIFA, saying the “discrepancy between officials and fans has never been as great as now,” and the first stage of these changes are something Mr. Blatter may ultimately oversee.
He will remain at the helm until an emergency meeting of FIFA elects a new president, sometime between December 2015 and March 2016. FIFA rules say elections need to be held with at least four months notice, and prospective candidates need time to garner support from their individual associations.
Mr. Blatter wants to change FIFA before he leaves, cutting the executive committee down from its current size of 25 members. At the moment, the executive committee is made up of members selected by FIFA’s regional confederations. Under new rules, they could be chosen by and held accountable to FIFA’s congress.
FIFA’s congress acts like a parliament, with the power to elect the president and admit, suspend or expel members but it has limited control over the executive committee, which is made up of representatives of the FIFA regional bodies.
Mr. Blatter said in his resignation speech that he wanted to strengthen congress to stop situations in which top officials like Jack Warner, who have long been suspected of being corrupt, sit on the executive committee with no oversight from congress. Mr. Blatter has complained that he is accountable for, but has had no control over, the actions of the executive committee for years.
Mark Pieth, the Basel-based criminal law professor who is head of FIFA’S reform commission, also recommended that the terms of office of the president and all members of the FIFA executive board should be limited – an idea blocked by Mr. Blatter.
Meera Selva is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. Holger Alich, Handelsblatt’s Zurich correspondent also contributed to this report. To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org