GENEVA — In soccer’s version of the long goodbye, Sepp Blatter is staying put.
Two days after announcing his decision to resign as FIFA president, Blatter sent a tweet with a picture of himself sitting at his desk, pen in hand. He wrote that he was already working on reforming the organization that has been plunged into crisis by a U.S. corruption investigation.
The 79-year-old Blatter said Tuesday that he plans to remain in office and lead reforms for up to nine months, until a new election is held to find a successor. That hold on power is unacceptable for some soccer leaders and anti-corruption experts.
“He must go immediately,” Lennart Johansson, the former FIFA vice-president who lost the 1998 presidential election long dogged by claims of vote-buying by Blatter supporters, said Friday in Berlin. “People want us to be clean.”
Blatter has continued working while he is a target of a U.S. federal case which promises to implicate more people after four soccer and marketing officials made guilty pleas and 14 were indicted last week.
Transparency International, the anti-corruption advisory group invited by FIFA to help with Blatter’s first round of reforms amid a bribery scandal in 2011, said the veteran leader was not credible to lead changes.
“Blatter cannot oversee the ‘new’ FIFA, he must go now,” Transparency International managing director Cobus de Swardt said in a statement Friday. “World football cannot be left in limbo.”
Blatter’s preferred exit strategy does follow FIFA’s statutes — rules he helped craft in 40 years spent at soccer’s governing body.
The 27-member executive committee he chairs must meet and call for a special election congress of FIFA’s 209 member federations. That ruling panel’s next scheduled meeting is Sept. 24-25 in Zurich, but can be called together sooner.
Not good enough, according to one of Blatter’s new executive committee colleagues, Wolfgang Niersbach, in an interview with German TV station ZDF aired Friday.
“Everything needs to go much faster,” said Niersbach, the president of the German soccer federation who was voted into the FIFA boardroom by European officials who want him to intervene more actively than most predecessors. “For me, it’s incredible the way it happened.”
After the executive committee meets, an election would be held four months after the deadline set for would-be candidates to apply. It was a two-month campaign until new rules were written after Blatter’s 2011 win.
Blatter, therefore, said in his surprise resignation speech Tuesday that the election should not be held before December, and maybe as late as March.
That extends his reign by up to nine months. And it gives him time to draft promised new rules which — if passed at the special congress — could impose term limits that ensure whoever follows has nothing like his nearly two decades in power.
“I have fought for these changes before and, as everyone knows, my efforts have been blocked,” Blatter said in his resignation speech, which was reprinted Friday as his column for FIFA’s weekly magazine. “This time, I will succeed.”
The secrecy Blatter has always enjoyed about his salary and bonuses could also end for his successor.
Still, Blatter has only promised to propose the reforms with the support of Domenico Scala, who leads FIFA’s audit and compliance panel. They are not sure to get support of other confederation leaders to vote them through.
There is also a question if Blatter can see out his final months when no one at FIFA knows where and how fast the U.S. investigation is heading. If he leaves sooner than planned, FIFA statutes call for senior vice-president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon to step up as interim president.
Hayatou, the president of the African soccer confederation, has faced his own allegations of corruption during his 27-year tenure.
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in Berlin contributed to this report.
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press