Sepp Blatter shocked the world on Tuesday, abruptly resigning as FIFA president after winning re-election on Friday. During his victory speech, Blatter vowed to clean up FIFA and take every step necessary to reform the organization. Four days later, he's decided that FIFA can't change while he's at the helm and will step down to allow world soccer's governing body to undergo a complete restructuring.
Here, we'll try to answer the most important questions about exactly what the heck is happening.
Why is Sepp Blatter resigning right after winning re-election?
There are a lot of possibilities here. Clearly, he got some information in the last four days that he didn't have on Friday -- like confirmation that the FBI is after him. The reasons he might have went down, in order of plausibility:
1a. Over the last couple of days, news has emerged that FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke was involved in the transfer of a $10 million payment from South Africa to the Caribbean Football Union, which Valcke did not have the power to authorize. Blatter might know that there's a link from that transaction to him somewhere, waiting to be uncovered.
1b. Maybe one of the guys that the FBI has indicted has decided to talk. Of those currently facing extradition to the United States, the one likely to know the most about any criminal activity Blatter has had a part in is Jack Warner, the former CONCACAF president and FIFA executive committee member who was forced out of the organization in 2011. It's possible that Warner or someone else the U.S. Department of Justice has gotten ahold of has decided to start talking about Blatter.
3. Blatter was dumb enough to try to buy votes in the most recent presidential election and already got busted for it. This seems pretty unlikely.
4. If you're not feeling cynical, maybe Blatter's had an epiphany. He thought he was the man to reform FIFA four days ago, but over the weekend, he realized that he wouldn't be able to implement his vision. Out of his love for the game, he decided to step down.
It's worth noting that the Swiss attorney general says that Blatter is not part of their investigation.
Who takes over?
This is a very interesting and difficult to answer question. Prince Ali bin Hussein garnered enough support on Friday to force a second round of voting (and will run again), so he's the logical choice, but certainly not the only one. Previous presidential candidates bowed out of the race so that all the anti-Blatter support would be concentrated with one candidate, but some new faces might aspire to be president now that Blatter is gone.
Former player Luis Figo, former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne, Dutch FA president Michael van Praag, and UEFA president Michel Platini will be presented as candidates in the coming days. Some of them will run, while some of them will declare that they have no interest in being president. A few other names who have not put their hat into the ring previously will emerge, as well.
With Blatter gone, it's possible that every candidate could issue a public platform and decide to engage in a debate on international television. It might be a very positive thing for world soccer.
When will the special election take place?
There will be a special FIFA congress held sometime this winter, at a date to be determined. Chairman of FIFA's audit and compliance committee, Domenico Scala, says the election is likely to take place sometime between December 2015 and March 2016. Previously, the next FIFA congress was scheduled to be held in May of 2016, but Blatter said that was too long to wait for a new president.
What happens in the meantime?
Blatter still runs FIFA. What he'll be able to accomplish as a lame duck president remains to be seen, but he's still going to be president for the foreseeable future. Yes, this means that he could change his mind and decide not to resign, or to run again in the special election. Back in 2011, Blatter said he wouldn't stand for another term as president, but changed his mind quickly. Let's hope that doesn't happen again.
Will this solve any of FIFA's problems?
There's a chance it doesn't. Champagne, in particular, subscribes to the idea that FIFA's problems are systemic and cannot be fixed by one person. "Blatter is not corrupt," Champagne said in an interview. "The issue is not the person, it's the program, it's the vision. It's what we do with the tools, with the administration."
FIFA has 209 voting members, each with equal power in presidential elections. Among them are powerful voting blocks of countries with tiny populations and very few economic resources to spend on soccer. The conditions are so good for corrupt candidates that it will be mildly surprising if Blatter isn't replaced by someone who is just as much of a crook.
What does this mean for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022?
That is to be determined. It's possible that someone centers their presidential campaign around holding a re-vote, and the Swiss authorities are still investigating whether or not there was any criminal activity involved in those bids. But more likely than not, the show will go on in Russia and Qatar.
Could Blatter still get arrested?
Absolutely. It's unlikely the U.S. authorities stop pursuing him because he stepped down as FIFA president. Cutting plea bargains with lower-level schemers to get to someone higher up, then someone higher up than them, and so on until they get to the top, is a pretty common tactic from American authorities. If they think Blatter is the top guy behind corruption in international soccer -- and it seems like they do -- they're going to keep going after him.