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FBI targets Blatter as shock resignation puts World Cups in doubt

Sepp Blatter has announced he will step down as FIFA president and could now be facing an investigation by the FBI into his own activities.

The 79-year-old's decision was hailed as "a brilliant day" by Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, who said the change at the head of FIFA could have implications for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Reports in the United States say Blatter himself is being investigated by the FBI in connection with the disclosure of a letter confirming a 10million US dollar payment was made via FIFA's executive office to disgraced executive Jack Warner.

Blatter's announcement comes just four days after he was re-elected for a fifth term and follows corruption charges against FIFA officials that caused the biggest crisis in the world governing body's history.

The final straw came when FIFA was forced to admit that it had paid the 10million US dollars destined for the South Africa World Cup to an account controlled by Warner.

The payment followed the letter - obtained by Press Association Sport - from the South African FA to FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.

Blatter said in hastily-arranged news conference in Zurich: "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.

"Therefore, 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."

That election is to take place between December and March and Blatter will remain in position until then.

Blatter's announcement is sure to create uncertainty over the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which are being hosted by Russia and Qatar respectively.

Dyke told Press Association Sport: "It's a brilliant day for the game."

He added: "If I was the Qatari organisers I wouldn't sleep very well tonight. There has been less evidence about corruption involving Russia. Qatar was never understandable - to have a World Cup in the middle of summer in Qatar when even FIFA's health and safety people advised not to do it."

Dyke's comments inevitably did not go down well in Qatar.

The president of the Qatar Football Association, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, said in a statement: "We welcome the office of the Swiss attorney general conducting its own work into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

"We would urge Mr Dyke to let the legal process take its course and concentrate on delivering his promise to build an England team capable of winning the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar."

South Korea's former FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-Joon is considering standing for the election to succeed Blatter.

Chung, who served on FIFA's executive committee from 1994 to 2011, said he will "listen closely" to the opinions of others involved in international football before making up his mind, according to the Korean news service Yonhap.

UEFA president Michel Platini, one of the possible candidates to succeed Blatter, has postponed a meeting of European associations in Berlin on Saturday.

Platini said: "It is with great concern that I, like most football fans around the world, have been following the daily developments regarding the investigations pertaining to FIFA corruption matters.

"Due to (Tuesday's) announcement and the uncertain and unpredictable nature of the investigations, I have decided that it would be more appropriate to postpone the meeting that was announced last week, and which could have taken place in Berlin this weekend.

"Considering new information is revealed every day, I believe it is wiser to take time to assess the situation, so together we can take a position on this issue. There will be other opportunities for us to meet in the coming weeks and by then hopefully more light will have been shed on this matter. During the weekend in Berlin, we will aim to focus our attention on one of many great occasions at UEFA - the UEFA Champions League final."

Some of FIFA's biggest corporate sponsors including Coca Cola, McDonalds and Visa have welcomed Blatter's decision to step down.

Visa said it was a significant first step towards rebuilding public trust.

The Russia 2018 local organising committee issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon in which it praised Blatter for his "enormous contribution" to football at all levels.

It read: "The LOC Russia 2018 highly respects FIFA president Joseph S Blatter for his decision to lay down his mandate at the helm of FIFA, which he has been heading for almost two decades.

"We appreciate the enormous contribution that president Blatter has made to the development of football as head of FIFA at all levels - from grass-root development work to the pinnacle, which is the FIFA World Cup.

"Mr Blatter will remain in office until the extraordinary elective congress, which is to take place between December 2015 and March 2016.

"In 2018 the FIFA World Cup will be held for the first time on the territory of the world's largest country. The Russia 2018 LOC will continue to work closely with FIFA towards this goal on a daily basis.

"We will sustain all our efforts to provide and ensure the highest level of organisation for the guests and participants of the tournament and deliver a great festival of football to all fans.

"The exciting journey to the FIFA World Cup in Russia will soon see its next milestone with the upcoming preliminary draw that is to take place in St Petersburg on July 25 this year."

Irish Independent

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