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FBI targets Blatter as shock resignation puts World Cups in doubt


FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 2013

FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 2013

FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 2013

Russia and Qatar's hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments were thrown into doubt last night after Sepp Blatter, the head of football's governing body, was finally forced to relinquish his iron grip on the sport.

Mr Blatter made the unexpected announcement that he would quit as president of Fifa last night just four days after his re-election.

It prompted speculation that his decision was the result of a new development in an international police investigation into alleged bribery and corruption in the organisation.

Sources close to the case said last night that Mr Blatter is being investigated by the FBI and US prosecutors as part of the same investigation that led to the arrests last week of seven current and former Fifa officials.

Mr Blatter had been re-elected as president of Fifa for another four-year term only on Friday, having resisted calls from some of the sport's most respected voices to quit.

He said he had made the decision to stand down because of a "lack of support in the world of football". He said he would leave as soon as a replacement could be elected - which Fifa said could be as late as next March.

Mr Blatter fell on his sword hours after the emergence of a letter which suggested Fifa had lied over the identity of an official who had handled a $10 million payment alleged to have been a bribe.

The letter was viewed as evidence of the extent to which investigators from the Swiss authorities and the FBI - who are now working together - have been able to access internal Fifa documents, and potentially computer servers at the organisations HQ.

Mr Blatter had repeatedly refused to consider any re-run of the bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the light of corruption allegations, but his absence could open the way for a thorough review of the controversial decisions.

Mr Dyke said: "If I was in Qatar today I wouldn't be feeling very confident.

"I think [the news] is long overdue but it is good news for world football. It now means that we can get someone in to run Fifa, we can get in there and find out where all the money has gone over all these years and sort it out for the future."

England, one of the countries that bid unsuccessfully for the 2018 World Cup, will now be alert to the possibility that it could yet win the right to stage the tournament if Fifa's 2010 voting process is declared null and void by Mr Blatter's eventual successor.

England would be in a position to host a World Cup at short notice, having the stadiums, the infrastructure and the recent experience of the London 2012 Olympics on its side.

While Russia may feel that it is now too close to the 2018 tournament to change the host nation, Qatar - which has been mired in controversy over the deaths and working conditions of migrant workers building its stadiums will feel far more vulnerable.

 Mr Blatter had suppressed the publication of a report into the 2018 and 2022 vote by Michael Garcia, the former US Attorney, a decision which led to Mr Garcia's resignation.

Any new candidate for the Fifa presidency would have to run on a manifesto promising transparency, making the publication of the potentially damning report far more likely.

Mr Blatter, who has been Fifa president for 17 years, was defiant in the face of calls from the likes of Michel Platini, head of the European football body Uefa, to stand down and allow Fifa to start anew.

It became clear that something had changed his mind when Fifa announced a hastily-arranged press conference at which Mr Blatter said of his election: "This mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football."

He said an extraordinary congress of Fifa would be held as soon as possible, with his successor expected to take charge between December and March.

 Mr Blatter had woken up to the news that the New York Times had uncovered evidence that his deputy, Jerome Valcke, was the man behind a $10m bank transfer from Fifa accounts to accounts controlled by Jack Warner, a former Fifa vice-president now accused of taking a bribe in exchange for helping South Africa to win the right to host the 2010 World Cup.

Fifa issued a strong denial of Mr Valcke's involvement, saying the official involved was in fact Julio Grondona, an Argentinian official who died last year.

Just an hour later a leaked letter to Mr Valcke from the South African FA was published online which appeared to show that Fifa had lied.

Senior football sources speculated that the speed with which the letter had been published may have unnerved Mr Blatter because is suggested that a cache of Fifa's internal documents had been accessed by someone who was leaking them to the media.

Swiss investigators are known to have gained access to electronic data and documents from Fifa's head office in Zurich, which they have made available to the FBI, an organisation that made clear that last week's arrests were only the beginning.

Some of the seven Fifa figures arrested last week had started to turn on Mr Blatter, including Trinidadian Mr Warner, who openly asked why Mr Blatter had not also been arrested.

He said: "How come he is not charged? Why only persons from Third World countries have been charged?"

Mr Blatter's refusal to stand down as Fifa president had led to calls for a boycott of the World Cup by competing nations. Even the Duke of Cambridge had publicly expressed concern over the "huge disconnect between the sense of fair play that guides those playing and supporting the game, and the allegations of corruption that have long lingered around the management of the sport internationally".

Chris Bryant, the shadow culture secretary, said: "This is great news for football. I'm glad Sepp Blatter has listened to the overwhelming calls and taken the inevitable decision to go.

"His departure is necessary but not sufficient. Fifa needs complete reform, and to rerun the 2022 World Cup bid.

"The election of a new president needs to happen as soon as possible to give Fifa a chance to clean up its game and regain its reputation."