Zurich: FIFA’s ethics tribunal banned Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini for eight years Monday, saying they had abused their positions over a suspect $2 million payment.
In a verdict that heightened the crisis in football’s scandal-plagued world body, the court strongly criticised the FIFA president and vice president, saying there was “no legal basis” for the payment that Blatter authorised for Platini in 2011.
While full-blown corruption charges were dropped, both men angrily vowed to fight the bans.
Blatter said he felt he was being used as a “punching ball” and declared: “I will fight to the end.”
The ban, which starts immediately, promises to end 79-year-old Blatter’s four decades with FIFA in disgrace. It is also a devastating blow to Platini’s hopes of taking over as head of FIFA in an election on February 26.
European football leaders said the case was a worry however. Dutch football federation president Michael van Praag, a former challenger to Blatter for the FIFA leadership, called the sentence “extremely scandalous” for world football.
The German federation’s acting leader Reinhard Rauball said “changing faces” would not be enough for FIFA. “They must regain trust and credibility. It is going to take years.”
“I think this is punishment enough, because it means they can never come back,” former UEFA president Lennart Johansson told the Swedish daily Expressen.
Blatter, FIFA’s president since 1998, was fined 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,000/46,300 euros) while Platini, the head of UEFA, Europe’s governing body, was fined 80,000 Swiss francs.
FIFA suspended the pair and launched an inquiry in October after Swiss prosecutors accused Blatter of criminal mismanagement over the two million Swiss franc ($2 million/1.8 million euro) payment that was caught with special software.
– ‘Abusive execution’ –
A statement by the FIFA tribunal said Blatter and Platini were guilty of “abusive execution” of their powers over the payment.
The judges said there was a conflict of interest and “no legal basis” for the transfer in their written agreement on advisory work by Platini between 1999 and 2002.
Blatter’s “assertion of an oral agreement was determined as not convincing and was rejected by the chamber.”
The court said: “Mr Blatter’s actions did not show commitment to an ethical attitude.”
The judgement was even more damning of French football legend Platini.
“Mr Platini failed to act with complete credibility and integrity, showing unawareness of the importance of his duties and concomitant obligations and responsibilities.”
Under the ban, neither Blatter nor Platini can go near the FIFA headquarters in Zurich. Blatter cannot speak on behalf of the world body and Platini cannot even act as a television commentator for the European Championships he has helped to organise in France next year, a source close to FIFA said.
Both strongly deny any wrongdoing. Blatter spent eight hours before a FIFA court last Thursday while Platini boycotted his hearing on Friday saying he had been “convicted” in advance.
Blatter told a press conference he felt he had been “betrayed” and used as a “punching ball.”
He said he would go to FIFA’s appeal committee, the Court of Arbitration for Sports and the Swiss courts if necessary.
He insisted the FIFA ethics committee had no right to depose him as president.
Blatter was campaigning for reelection in 2011 but insisted he had not offered a bribe to Platini.
“Never in my life I would offer money to get something. This hurts me really in my heart,” he said.
Platini said in a statement that the FIFA decision was a “masquerade” intended to “sully” his name.
FIFA in chaos –
He said he would go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and civil courts.
“This verdict is just a pathetic coverup for a desire to eliminate me from the world of football.”
FIFA said they had 10 days to appeal to its judiciary.
Blatter would be fighting for his reputation. For Platini, the ban rules him out of the FIFA election to be held on February 26.
The deadline for candidates to be registered and pass an integrity check is January 26.
With FIFA’s reputation in tatters after the arrest of several top officials, Blatter announced four days after winning re-election to a fifth term in May that he would stand down and call a new election.
Seven FIFA officials were arrested in a luxury Zurich hotel two days before the election congress.
Now US authorities have charged 39 football officials and sports business executives over more than $200 million in bribes for football television and marketing deals.
Swiss prosecutors are in parallel investigating FIFA’s management and the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
Facing pressure from governments and the International Olympic Committee for major reforms, there are currently five candidates to take over FIFA: Asian football head Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, South African politician and tycoon Tokyo Sexwale, former FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, UEFA general-secretary Gianni Infantino and Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA assistant general secretary from France.