At a colourful and at moments farcical press conference in Zurich, world football’s governing body FIFA announced both a range of reforms and a presidential election date for choosing a successor to Sepp Blatter.
Member associations will vote on the next FIFA president at an extraordinary meeting to be held on February 26, ending Blatter’s nearly 16-year reign at the top of an organisation he first joined some 40 years ago.
On the same date members will vote on a series of proposed reforms that have been put forward in answer to recent criminal corruption probes in Switzerland and the United States into the activities of top football officials.
Those reforms include disclosure of the salaries of FIFA executives, “enhanced centralised integrity checks” of executives, limiting the number of terms the president can stay in power and “higher standards of governance at all levels of football structures including confederations and member associations”.
A neutral chairman will also be appointed to an independent task force focusing on further reforms, whose first report will be presented to FIFA’s executive in September.
Blatter, who was elected for a fifth presidential term in May only to announce days later that he would stand down, will continue in his post for another seven months while the organisation grapples with criminal investigations into FIFA corruption.
Following the executive committee meeting at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on Monday, Blatter appeared at a press conference only to walk out moments later when a British prankster staged a protest by showering the embattled president with a wad of fake banknotes.
After the protester had been marched out of the building by security guards, Blatter quipped that he had telephoned his mother-in-law who told him to not worry as some people suffer from a “lack of education”.
Getting back to script, Blatter praised himself for “doing something special” on June when he announced he would stand down as FIFA president. “I kicked the ball out of the field to stop something,” he said.
Blatter was referring to a stream of corruption allegations, two criminal probes, the US indictments of nine football officials and marketing executives and the arrests of seven corruption suspects in Zurich in May.
Blatter said he could not comment on corruption issues in light of ongoing criminal investigations, but despite not personally being connected with any allegations, he conceded that he would be leaving with “regrets”.
However, he also reiterated that neither he, nor FIFA, could be held responsible for every action surrounding football in the world.
“FIFA cannot be held responsible for all the actions of 209 football associations, 300 million participants and 1.6 billion people connected either directly or indirectly with football,” he said.
When asked by the assembled media what he intended to do after FIFA, he joked that he would like to join their ranks as a radio journalist. He ended the conference by saying that the “beautiful game” would go forward with a sense of “fair play”, inspiring “emotion, hope and peace” in the world.
Michel Platini, president of European football’s governing body UEFA, is considered a favourite to succeed Blatter. He had considered running in the May presidential election but bowed out and instead supported Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein’s bid.