Game is finally up for embattled Fifa president Sepp Blatter

Federation chief concludes turbulent 17-year reign at hastily convened press conference

Seventeen years after he won the position in an election characterised by allegations of corruption, Sepp Blatter finally lost control of the Fifa presidency last night.

The news came just four days after he defied his critics by securing a fifth four-year term and was delivered at a press conference so hastily called that barely a handful of reporters made it along.

At the conference, Blatter spoke of his desire to transform the organisation but said the task was beyond him and he now intends to pass it on to others.

Quite what had changed since Friday when he had ignored widespread calls for him to do just that was not made clear, but his comments came towards the end of another very bad day for Fifa and those responsible for running it.

It started when the organisation suggested Julio Grondona was the "high-ranking" official – referred to in the US Attorney's indictment – who authorised payments totalling $10 million from Fifa to accounts controlled by Jack Warner. Grondona was head of the federation's finance committee at the time and has since passed away.

The New York Times, however, reported that the US authorities believe the man in question is Fifa General Secretary Jerome Valcke, who works closely with Blatter.

The money was paid on behalf of the South African Football Federation in what has been identified as a bribe for votes cast in support of the country’s bid to stage the 2010 World Cup.

The publication of a letter from the association to Valcke authorising the payment, in any case, leaves very little doubt that it was intended for Warner, then Concacaf president, and that there was plenty for Fifa to be suspicious about.

The issue always looked as though it was going to prove problematic for Blatter and Fifa, who had claimed that last week’s allegations by the US authorities had little to do with them directly.

Time was up

The 79-year-old did not refer to the letter directly or the wider scandal but clearly things had moved on enough for Blatter to accept that, with his time apparently up, the thing to do now was to try to exert some influence over the manner of his departure and the legacy he leaves.

Professing his ongoing love for the federation, he said he had turned to Domenico Scala, the independent chairman of Fifa's audit and compliance committee, to oversee a wide-ranging process of review and reform.

“The size of the executive committee must be reduced and its members should be elected through the Fifa Congress,” he said.

“The integrity checks for all executive committee members must be organised centrally through Fifa and not through the confederations. We need term limits not only for the president but for all members of the executive committee.

“I have fought for these changes before,” he claimed, “and, as everyone knows, my efforts have been blocked. This time, I will succeed.”

Scala then went further, suggesting that Fifa will accede to many of the demands its critics have long been making.

The remuneration of the president and other leading executives will, he suggested, be revealed, its accounting procedures will become more transparent and those involved in the organisation, at whatever level, will no longer be permitted to use it to “enrich themselves”.

Striking

It was striking stuff and, taken in conjunction with the criminal investigations in the US and Switzerland it has, if delivered upon, the potential to be a landmark announcement for an organisation that has for decades defied all outside pressure for reform.

Quite how many more senior officials and executives will have to go in the clearout that follows remains to be seen. Much may depend on the identity of Blatter's successor who is expected to be elected at the end of this year or the start of next, with Prince Ali bin-Hussein's candidacy possibly being swept aside by a number of higher profile candidates, one of whom may be Uefa president Michel Platini.

There might well, however, be a backlash on the part of those from Africa, Asia and Oceania. They stood by Blatter last week to beat any attempt at a European takeover that might bring fundamental change to the ways in which Fifa’s wealth is redistributed, and so the battle to succeed Blatter may yet prove every bit as painful for football as the battle to get rid of him.

Nevertheless, FAI chief executive John Delaney was among those welcoming the news.

“It’s a good day for world football,” he said.

“I felt last week that he would survive the vote but there was a momentum against him from sponsors, the FBI, the British governmen . . . from within football, where nearly 40 per cent of the countries had the bravery to vote against him.

“Even though it’s a secret ballot, a lot of people were of the view that it would have been difficult to remove him and be seen to support a move against Blatter.

“It’s a good day for world football but it’s important that when the debate moves on, we use this opportunity to change the culture at Fifa.”