FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his most likely heir Michel Platini have both been banned from the soccer community for eight years. This effectively puts an end to Blatter’s historic career, while also putting a serious dent in Platini’s future ambitions.
Both Blatter and Platini insisted to the FIFA ethics committee that they had done nothing wrong, despite the fact that Blatter paid Platini more than $2 million in 2011, nine years after the two men claimed that it was originally due. This payment was suspiciously made just weeks before the elections for FIFA presidency. In addition to their bans, both Blatter and Platini were also fined more than $50,000 each.
The FIFA ethics committee said in a statement, “Mr. Blatter, in his position as president of FIFA, authorized the payment to Mr. Platini which had no legal basis in the written agreement signed between both officials on August 25, 1999. Neither in his written statement nor in his personal hearing was Mr. Blatter able to demonstrate another legal basis for this payment. His assertion of an oral agreement was determined as not convincing and was rejected by the chamber.”
The personal advisor for Blatter Klaus Stoehlker has said that the FIFA president would appeal his ban and take the matter to court if necessary. Platini has also promised an appeal.
In May, Swiss authorities raided a hotel and arrested nine senior FIFA officials on charges of money laundering and racketeering. Last month, an additional 16 individuals were also arrested.
Facing heavy pressure, Blatter agreed to step down from his position in June, just days after he had been elected for a fifth term as president. Platini quickly emerged at the most likely individual to replace the longtime president.
Last Thursday, Blatter personally appeared before the ethics committee. In his appearance, Blatter protested his innocence, likening the process to the Spanish inquisition. Platini refused to make an appearance, instead having lawyers appear on his behalf.
Neither Blatter nor Platini have been able to present a written contract for the offending late payment from 2011. At the time, Blatter was facing a serious challenge from Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam, who was later banned for claims of bribery.
According to Blatter and Platini, the payment was related to a separate matter that took place sometime between 1998 and 2002. However, there were a number of problems with this, including that Swiss law places a five year time limit on such payments and the fact that the payment was never featured in FIFA’s financial reports. Ultimately, both men were banned for eight years, causing severe damage to their reputations.
Following Blatter’s downfall, Platini was essentially the most powerful individual in all of soccer. He was the leading favorite to replace Blatter, despite his heavy associations with the former president. Now, it seems that he will never manage to obtain the top position in FIFA.
UEFA said in a statement, “Naturally, UEFA is extremely disappointed with this decision, which nevertheless is subject to appeal. Once again, UEFA supports Michel Platini’s right to a due process and the opportunity to clear his name.”
Blatter had served as FIFA’s president for 18 years. Originally, he was only suspended for a provisional 90 days. Unless Blatter can rally with an unlikely appeal, his career as a prominent soccer executive is over. The longtime president is extremely displeased with the decision.
Blatter said, “This is not justice. I put these people into the office, where they are now in the ethics committee and they don’t even have the courage to listen to the secretary general, Platini or me.”
For now, FIFA and the international soccer community are hopeful that they will be able to put these embarrassing events behind it and move forward to a non-corrupt future.