Banished for eight years for unethical conduct, Sepp Blatter won’t leave the presidency of his beloved Fifa without a fight.
“I will fight. I will fight until the end,” Blatter said yesterday at a news conference that started 90 minutes after he and his former protege, Michel Platini, were each banned by Fifa’s ethics committee from all football-related activities.
It was a stunning removal of world football’s most powerful leaders over a £1.3 million payment by Fifa to Platini, the president of European football’s ruling body Uefa. The payment is also the subject of a criminal investigation in Switzerland.
“I’m sad. It can’t go on this way. It’s not possible,” said the 79-year-old Blatter, who has spent more than half his life working for football’s scandal-hit governing body. “After 40 years, it can’t happen this way. I’m fighting to restore my rights.”
Already serving a provisional ban, the elected Fifa president and his long-time likely successor were kicked out of the sport just two months before 209 member federations elect a new leader.
Platini, a Fifa vice president whose bid to succeed Blatter on 26 February now looks over, described the proceedings as a “true mockery”.
Their offences were judged to be conflict of interest and disloyalty to Fifa. They avoided life bans because corruption was not proven. Platini’s lawyer, Thibaud d’Ales, said it came as no surprise that the corruption charge had been dropped. “They used it with the sole purpose of dirtying Michel Platini, although they knew from the start it was an untenable argument.”
Guilty verdicts were expected. So were the subsequent denials of wrongdoing and promises of urgent appeals to Fifa and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Blatter’s defiant display was a bonus for media summoned to Fifa’s former headquarters in Zurich, close to the new building where he spent eight hours with four ethics judges last Thursday. Blatter invoked Nelson Mandela within a minute, pointing to the spot where the iconic South African leader had lifted the World Cup trophy 11 years ago, when his country was chosen as the host nation for the 2010 tournament.
Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, the Nobel organisation and the United Nations were also referenced in a spirited 52-minute performance. His last words were: “I’ll be back, thank you.”
Blatter’s trademark fighting talk was delivered while still sporting a strip of surgical tape on his right cheek after a minor medical procedure five days earlier.
Blatter said: “I am not ashamed,” he said. “I am sorry that I am a punching ball. I am sorry for football... I am now suspended eight years, suspended eight years. Suspended eight years for what?”
Platini was also dismissive of the ethics commission’s work. He said its proceedings, which included a hearing earlier this month that he did not attend, had been “orchestrated... by governing bodies that I know well” to tarnish him. “I’m convinced that my fate was sealed before the 18 December hearing and that this decision is just a pathetic manoeuvre to hide a true will of taking me out of the football world.My behaviour has always been faultless and I’m at peace with my own conscience.”
Platini said he will also seek damages for what he has endured during the ethics commission’s proceedings, while, in a brief statement, Uefa said it was “extremely disappointed” with the ruling and supported its leader’s right to clear his name.
Fifa’s ethics judges decided that Blatter and Platini had broken rules on conflicts of interest, breach of loyalty and offering or receiving gifts.
Platini, left, took £1.3m of Fifa money in 2011 – a payment approved by Blatter as uncontracted salary for work as a presidential adviser from 1999-2002.
In yesterday’s verdict, Blatter was fined £33,700 and Platini £54,000.
“Neither in his written statement nor in his personal hearing was Mr Blatter able to demonstrate another legal basis for this payment,” the judges said. “By failing to place Fifa’s interests first and abstain from doing anything which could be contrary to Fifa’s interests, Mr. Blatter violated his fiduciary duty to Fifa. Blatter’s assertion of an oral agreement was determined as not convincing and was rejected.”
Blatter hit back at that conclusion during his news conference, saying the ethics committee had, in effect, called Platini liars.
“This is not correct,” Blatter said. Blatter acknowledged an administrative “error” in failing to register Fifa’s debt to Platini in its accounts for eight years, though he insisted: “This is nothing to do with the ethics regulations.”