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FIFA President Steps Down

Newly re-elected FIFA president Sepp Blatter said at a Tuesday news conference he will resign and called for a new election amid a growing corruption scandal that had prompted World Cup sponsors to urge reforms and, by extension, worried worldwide TV rights holders including Fox and Telemundo in the United States.

“FIFA needs a profound restructuring,” Blatter said at the Zurich, Switzerland, news conference, The New York Times and other outlets reported.

Blatter’s decision comes just days after he won re-election as president of the soccer’s international governing body. At a press conference in Zurich, Switzerland, he said a lack of support from fans and clubs forced his hand.  

"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," Blatter said at the Zurich press conference which was aired over ESPN.

Blatter has endured an avalanche of criticism from the press and from sponsors over the growing scandal, which has resulted in the arrest of 14 FIFA officials so far. U.S. federal prosecutors in Brooklyn brought charges Monday against 14 soccer officials and marketing executives accused of corrupting soccer’s international governing body. A series of arrests were made in Switzerland and prosecutors have said more indictments could be coming.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that one FIFA official -- Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general and Blatter’s second in command – had made $10 million in bank transactions central to the scandal. According to the Times, that money was used for bribes to Valcke and others for selecting South Africa as the 2010 site for the World Cup. The Swiss government also is reportedly looking into the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup, which was awarded to Russia.

The selection of the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar as the site of the 2022 World Cup, and reports that hundreds of migrant workers have died building facilities for the event, have added to the controversy.

But the final nail in Blatter’s 16-year tenure as head of FIFA may have been the growing dissatisfaction by sponsors of the governing body.

According to a May 28 report in the Washington Post, several major sponsors for the World Cup, including Visa, Coca-Cola and Budweiser had issued warnings to coincide with the FIFA Zurich meetings expressing concern over the mounting controversy.

“As a sponsor, we expect FIFA to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organization,” Visa said according to the Post, adding that if FIFA failed to take the appropriate actions the credit card giant would “reassess our sponsorship.”

In a statement Tuesday, Coke said it respected Blatter’s decision to resign, adding that it was a “positive step for football.”

“Our expectation remains that FIFA will continue to act with urgency to take concrete actions to fully address all of the issues that have been raised and win back the trust of all who love the sport of football,” Coke continued. “We believe this decision will help FIFA transform itself rapidly into a much-need 21st century structure and institution.”

While sponsors are beginning to speak up, so far cable networks that carry FIFA matches have been silent.

In 2011, Fox Sports and Telemundo paid an estimated $400 million and $600 million respectively for the English and Spanish language U.S. media rights to the FIFA World Cup between 2015 and 2022. Those deals were extended to 2026 in February. Neither Fox nor Telemundo immediately returned a request for comment.

According to reports, there are several potential replacements for Blatter as FIFA chief, including Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who lost to Blatter in Friday’s FIFA election. But all cabdidates will have to wait until at least December. FIFA presidential elections require four-month notice, and candidates must be vetted and allowed to present ideas. The voting could take place between December 2015 and March 2016.