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FIFA scandal: Sepp Blatter under FBI scanner

Reports claim 79-year-old’s role in payment of bribes is being investigated by US agency after he announced his decision to step down as FIFA president

Zurich: Sepp Blatter's shock resignation as FIFA president failed yesterday to quell the corruption storm surrounding football's world body that now even threatens to touch him.

Sepp Blatter 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is now looking into Blatter's role in tens of millions of dollars of bribes given to football officials, according to US media. Interpol, meanwhile, put six other suspects, including two former FIFA executive members Jack Warner and Nicolas Leoz, on their most wanted list and issued an international alert. Four heads of sports marketing companies have also been put on the list.

Also Read: Who can replace Sepp Blatter?

Critics of the 79-year-old Swiss official rejoiced at his thunderbolt announcement on Tuesday that he would stand down as soon as an election can be held to find a successor. His decision sparked a global race to take over as head of the world's richest and most powerful sporting federation.

Race to replace Blatter
South Korean tycoon Chung Mong-Joon, Prince Ali bin al Hussein, who was beaten by Blatter in a vote last Friday, and Brazilian football legend Zico all said they could take part. Most eyes remain on Michel Platini, the UEFA president who has not given a hint of his plans.

Also Read: Indo-American Sunil Gulati in race for FIFA presidency?

But Platini did call off a meeting of the European confederation to discuss the FIFA crisis in Berlin on Saturday because of the "uncertain and unpredictable events" surrounding the world body. Blatter, who has ruled FIFA for 17 years, won a fifth term in an election on Friday. But renewed criticism of his reign and new corruption revelations about FIFA forced him into a corner.

Who flips first?
Blatter vowed that in his remaining months in office he would "focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts." US authorities have charged 14 football officials and sports company executives over more than $150 million in bribes. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch refused Wednesday to comment on reports that Blatter is also a FBI target.

The New York Times, which broke news of seven arrests before the FIFA congress last week, quoted law enforcement officials and other sources to back their report that the FIFA chief is now in line. ABC News said Blatter was part of the larger probe that led to the arrest of seven FIFA officials last Wednesday. "Now that people are going to want to save themselves, there's probably a race to see who will flip on (Blatter) first," one source told ABC News.

Sponsors
Key sponsors said FIFA still has a lot of work to do to clear its name. Coca-Cola called the move "a positive step for the good of sport, football and its fans". South Korean auto group Hyundai-Kia urged FIFA now to create "a governance structure that ensures the highest ethical standards for the sport". Credit card giant Visa, which had warned it might withdraw its sponsorship, said Blatter's resignation was "a significant first step" but added: "More work lies ahead."

Standing ovation for Blatter in Zurich

Zurich: FIFA president Sepp Blatter received a standing ovation that lasted several minutes at the world football governing body's headquarters in Zurich yesterday.

The 79-year-old Swiss, who announced on Tuesday his intention to step down just four days after being re-elected for a fifth term, was said to be emotional while giving a speech to some 400 members of staff.

"He more or less said what he'd already said (on Tuesday) to the press," said a source. "He was just normal, expressing himself to the FIFA staff. There was a long ovation lasting several minutes and Mr Blatter was emotional, although not on the brink of tears."

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