Wellington. Football officials from Australia and New Zealand welcomed the shock resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter after both publicly backed his main challenger for the office last week.
The 79-year-old Swiss national, who beat Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan in last week’s vote, resigned on Tuesday in the wake of a corruption investigation. Blatter, who has led soccer’s world governing body since 1998, is being investigated by US prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a person who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which like Oceania has been a staunch ally of Blatter, said on Wednesday it was monitoring the situation and would discuss internally the “best way forward for both FIFA and world football.”
The Japan Football Association (JFA) said it was surprised by Blatter’s decision to stand down so soon — just four days after his re-election for a fifth term.
Kozo Tashima, Japan’s new FIFA Executive Committee member, told reporters on Monday that stories about corruption had dogged FIFA for a long time and “all of the pus must be squeezed out” for it to regain trust. On Wednesday, the JFA said it would play its role in helping FIFA reform.
Football Federation Australia (FFA), which joined the AFC in 2006, and New Zealand Football (NZF), which remains in Oceania, had gone against the stated positions of their respective confederations by deciding to back Prince Ali.
NZF chief executive Andy Martin told Reuters on Wednesday that Blatter’s resignation would help football rebuild its tattered reputation.
“I think this has lifted a cloud and taken away a lot of the concerns of stakeholders and their association with the sport,” he said.
“We now want a strong collaborative leader who can bring the football world together and can bring out the change that the game has been crying out for.”
Blatter’s resignation came after the latest controversy involving soccer’s world governing body, which saw seven high-ranking officials arrested in Switzerland at last week’s FIFA Congress on behalf of United States authorities.
A total of 14 FIFA officials and corporate executives have been charged by the US Department of Justice with running a criminal enterprise involving more than $150 million in bribes.
Change at all levels
NZF had publicly switched allegiance to Prince Ali after the arrests, while FFA had been increasingly critical of Blatter’s leadership after losing out to Qatar in a vote to host the 2022 World Cup.
The Australian governing body welcomed Blatter’s decision to step down, but said there now had to be root-and-branch change.
“FIFA needs fresh leadership and the resignation of the president is a first step,” FFA said in a statement. “The challenge is not just to change the top elected position, but the governance structure at all levels and the culture that underpins it.”
New Zealand’s Martin added that it was too early to say if NZF would again back 39-year-old Prince Ali, with other powerful figures such as UEFA president Michel Platini expected to put themselves forward.
“What we need to look at is who throws their hat in the ring,” Martin said. “Whoever is stronger than Prince Ali would have to be a very strong candidate to say the least, but we need to see who puts their hand up and what they’re offering.”
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