FIFA President Sepp Blatter has announced in Zurich that he intends to resign, just four days after being re-elected to a fifth term amid a corruption scandal.
Blatter, the world football body's top official, announced his decision unexpectedly during a hastily arranged news conference. On stage, the 79-year-old Swiss was accompanied only by FIFA's communications director.
Blatter said an extraordinary FIFA congress would be called to elect his successor "as soon as possible." It would be organized by FIFA's executive committee, he added.
He said he would continue to exercise his functions as president until that special election - prior to FIFA's next congress due in Mexico City on May 13, 2016. He gave no specific date during his 10-minute appearance.
"I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress. I will continue to exercise my functions as FIFA president until that election," Blatter said.
"This will need to be done in line with FIFA's statutes and we must allow enough time for the best candidates to present themselves and to campaign," he said.
"Since I shall not be a candidate, 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," Blatter said.
"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," he added.
FIFA's compliance committee chairman Domenico Scala said four months' notice was required for a fresh election under the world body's statute.
"There is significant work to be done to regain the trust of the public," said Scala at the news conference after Blatter had spoken.
Referring to turmoil surrounding his re-election, Blatter said his mandate had been called into question.
"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 said.
Blatter said FIFA "has been my life...what counts most for me is FIFA and football around the world."
Blatter 'not under investigation'
Reuters quoted Switzerland's office of attorney general (OAG) as saying that it was not investigating Blatter.
"Joseph S. Blatter is not under investigation by the OAG. His announced resignation will have no influence on the ongoing criminal proceedings," the office said in a brief statement.
Last week, Swiss authorities opened investigations against persons unknown alongside a far wider US corruption probe into FIFA.
Denial on Valcke
Earlier on Tuesday, FIFA had denied that Blatter's right-hand man, Secretary General Jerome Valcke, was implicated in a $10 million (9.1 million euros) payment at the heart of the US investigation.
Seven soccer officials were arrested in Zurich last Wednesday, pending possible extradition requests from the US.
In all, US authorities said nine officials and five sports media and promotions executives were charged in cases spanning 24 years.
The US Justice Department on Tuesday said it would have no comment on Blatter's announcement.
Reactions from critics
In a first reaction, UEFA president Michel Platini, who last week called on Blatter to quit, welcomed Blatter's announcement: "It was a difficult decision. A brave decision. The right decision."
One of Blatter's chief critics, English FA chief Greg Dyke, said Blatter's move was "great for football," claiming that Blatter had realized that the mounting scandal "was getting close to him."
Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German DFB football federation, told the mass tabloid newspaper "Bild" that Blatter's intended departure was overdue.
"It's a tragedy as to why he did not spare himself and all of us by doing so earlier. The decision is absolutely correct," Niersbach said.
"The pressure was too much," said veteran German ex-player Franz Beckenbauer. "He would never have found peace, whether he carries blame in the scandal or not. FIFA's problem lies in his system."
"This is the best news in a long time," said Romario [de Souza Faria], Brazilian senator and 1994 World Cup winner.
"In recent decades, FIFA has become just a machine for making money," he added.
Prince Ali likely to run
A senior Jordanian football official was quoted by the news agency AFP as saying that Prince Ali bin al Hussein, who challenged Blatter in last Friday's vote, would be a candidate in the fresh election.
"As for new elections, Prince Ali is ready," said Sala Sabra, vice president of the Jordanian football federation which the prince heads.
On CNN television, the prince declined to confirm candidacy but said: "I am at the disposal of all the national associations who want a change, including all those who were afraid to make a change."
The Jordanian prince, who is also a FIFA vice president, had withdrawn from last Friday's race after the first round of voting at the Zurich congress.
Blatter won that first round, with solid support from Asia and Africa confederations.
Blatter, a former marketing official who rose to become FIFA president in 1998, turned FIFA into a multibillion-dollar operation.
In recent months, Blatter had defiantly held off calls for resignation amid controversies over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
ipj/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)