Sepp Blatter’s shock U-turn decision to step down as FIFA president has been met with huge surprise and relief by Swiss newspapers – all of which, however, point to the major challenges ahead for world football’s governing body.
“Blatter blown away by the storm”, “Blatter leaves his throne”, “Blatter gives up”. The decision by Blatter to step down in the wake of a corruption investigation that now includes the 79-year-old himself has received widespread coverage in the Swiss press.
Blatter told a hastily arranged news conference in Zurich on Tuesday that his move was the “best option for football” and came as he did not “seem to be supported by everyone in the world”.
Le Matin said the Swiss national’s decision to step down, which came six days after police raided a hotel in the city and arrested several FIFA officials and four days after he was re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA president, was “a relief”.
“The fact that the head of an organisation accused of such corruption obtained a majority [of votes] and didn’t step down was incomprehensible,” it wrote on Wednesday.
Football could have avoided this week of crisis if there had been “less obstinacy and arrogance”, it continued.
The news of his departure surprised many writers and columnists. As questions are asked about what happened between Blatter’s election on Friday and Tuesday’s announcement, many papers wonder whether FIFA’s denial that his right-hand man, Secretary-General Jérôme Valcke, was implicated in a $10 million (CHF9.4 million) payment relating to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is partly to blame.
“The president knew that this matter was going to poison his fifth term of office,” wrote Le Temps.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung said Blatter should have ended his reign after his fourth term as he had become “a burden on the institution”.
FIFA has been in turmoil over the past week. It was stunned by the announcement of a US investigation into alleged widespread financial wrongdoing stretching back more than two decades. Swiss authorities also launched their own criminal probe into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
The investigation closed in on Blatter on Tuesday. The president, who has led football’s world governing body since 1998, is being investigated by US prosecutors and the FBI, sources told Reuters, The New York Times and ABC News. Blatter has not been charged with any wrongdoing, however.
The Neue Luzerner Zeitung said it was clear that his resignation was due to “massive external pressure”.
In its front-page editorial Le Temps said Blatter’s announcement was an “admittance of failure”. The Impartial and Express newspapers went further saying it showed he was guilty.
“He couldn’t just ignore what was going on around him – he was probably one of the main players,” they wrote.
The Tribune de Genève pointed out that Blatter would remain at the helm of world football at least until the end of the year. Blatter said an election to choose a new president would be held as soon as possible, though a FIFA official said it would probably not take place until at least December.
“Wouldn’t it have been better if he’d got out the mop to clean up a lot earlier?” asked the Geneva daily.
The months ahead will not be easy for world football’s governing body as candidates emerge in the election for a new president. Infighting is a real possibility, suggest some papers.
“Blatter’s resignation is not a sign of strength. He is not brave, he is cowardly,” said the Basler Zeitung. “The even bigger losers, however, are the representatives of those confederations between Asia, South America and Africa.”
Blatter was elected last Friday after his only challenger, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, withdrew after the first round. This saw Blatter receive 133 votes, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed (out of 209) at FIFA’s 65th Congress in Zurich.
Prince Ali stopped short of confirming he would run again. Asked if there should be a fresh start at FIFA, he told Britain’s Channel 4 News: “I'm willing to help.”
European football federation chief Michel Platini, a favourite to succeed Blatter as FIFA president, said on Tuesday: “It was a difficult decision, a brave decision and the right decision.”
The 24Heures newspaper said it would be difficult to find a replacement to save the organisation at a time when transparency was key. Even Platini, who had urged Blatter to step down, had voted for Qatar to hold the 2022 World Cup, the paper noted.
La Liberté acknowledged that during Blatter’s 17-year reign he had turned the organisation into “sport’s global superpower”, which has become a “formidable money-generating machine”.
It would be hard for FIFA to shake-off its reputation of “corruption, deals and scandals”, it concluded.
Foreign press reaction
“Blatter on a platter” was the front page headline in tabloid The Sun. Murdoch stablemate The Times went for “Blatter walks and leaves World Cup in meltdown”.
In its editorial, The Times quoted Blatter saying “I cherish FIFA more than anything”. “This was his problem,” the paper said. “He cherished the institution that he built far more than football... Mr Blatter had turned FIFA into a fiefdom in his own image that serves mainly as a facilitator and beneficiary of the colossal cash flows generated by the world's most popular sport.”
However, The Independent cautioned against getting too carried away “because what happens next is what really counts”. It added: “We should remain deeply suspicious of FIFA and all its doings. Although Mr Blatter admitted yesterday that the organisation... needs ‘profound restructuring’, many of the organisation’s delegates, accustomed to the perks and privileges of their position, may not agree if they personally lose out.”
The Guardian concluded: “It is salutary that [FIFA’s power] was broken not by challenges from investigative reporters, nor by the repeated but ineffectual challenges of UEFA, but by the fact that the reach of the FBI extends to all dealings in US dollars wherever they happen, and most critically the support that was – eventually – forthcoming from the Swiss authorities. Bourgeois propriety finally triumphed over Swiss secrecy. It should not have taken so long.”
Russian newspaper Sport Express said his resignation was an “unpleasant and disturbing thing for Russian interests”. But it added that it didn’t expect any “fatal consequences” for Russia’s 2018 World Cup.
The Austrian regional paper Die Presse said Blatter had made FIFA what it was today, “a firm with an annual $2-billion turnover....he was a top manager with contacts, business acumen and negotiation skills. Under his leadership football was sold to the highest bidder”.
The French daily La Libération quipped that Blatter was a “real character”: “He had us laughing right to the end…what will the bosses of the 133 football federations who voted for him be thinking, such as the Frenchman Noël Le Graët?”
Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper wrote that Tuesday was a “happy day” for football but warned, “let’s not yet open the champagne…only time will tell whether the game is able to claim that it has finally managed to rise above all the garbage that has been going on over the past few weeks.”
swissinfo.ch with agencies