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Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini Are Barred From Soccer for 8 Years

With white whiskers sprouting from his chin, a bandage across one cheek and his tie slightly askew, Sepp Blatter, the longtime president of FIFA, appeared slightly unkempt on Monday morning. When he spoke at a news conference in Zurich, however, Mr. Blatter was simply unbowed.

Ranting against his lengthy suspension from the sport by FIFA's ethics committee — a committee he helped create and routinely endorsed — Mr. Blatter, 79, wove widely in his rhetoric, variously invoking his humanitarianism, his loyalty, his passion, his moral compass and his faith. He spoke in English, Spanish, French and German — and declared in all of them that his four-decade career should not end in disgrace.

"I want to talk about betrayal," he said. "Today, first of all, I was very sad. But not anymore. Now I am fighting."

His battle figures to be especially difficult. Mr. Blatter and Michel Platini, two of the most powerful figures in global soccer, were barred from the sport for eight years on Monday after being found guilty of ethics violations.

For Mr. Blatter, who has been FIFA's president since 1998, as well as Mr. Platini, who is the president of UEFA, which oversees soccer in Europe, the bans prohibit any involvement in soccer-related activities — a sanction that, in Mr. Platini's case, seemingly ends any chance that he will be able to run in February's special election to fill the post Mr. Blatter has said he will vacate.

Mr. Blatter's suspension means that he will not be able to step away from soccer on his own terms, a reality that appeared to infuriate him.

"Of course, I should have stopped after the 2014 World Cup," Mr. Blatter said, referencing his decision not to retire last year but instead to pursue a fifth term as president. "That would have been perhaps the wise thing to do. Now we are in a situation we don't deserve to be in."

Mr. Blatter and Mr. Platini, 60, had been provisionally suspended since October while the investigative chamber of the ethics committee scrutinized their actions, in particular a payment of about $2 million that Mr. Blatter approved for Mr. Platini in 2011. The judiciary chamber of the committee ruled on Monday that there was no legal basis for the payment, and it also said that both men were guilty of a conflict of interest in agreeing to it. "Neither in his written statement nor in his personal hearing was Mr. Blatter able to demonstrate another legal basis for this payment," the committee said. "His assertion of an oral agreement was determined as not convincing and was rejected by the chamber."

The committee said Mr. Platini's actions "did not show commitment to an ethical attitude," adding that he had abused his position as a vice president for the soccer body and as a member of its executive committee.

In a statement sent to the French press agency, Mr. Platini denied the charges and said the entire situation was a "true mockery." He also labeled the disciplinary process "pathetic" and said the decision against him went against "all legitimacy and credibility."

Mr. Blatter, who at one point questioned whether the ethics committee even had the authority to discipline the FIFA president, struck a similar tone. "I am ashamed that the committee goes against the evidence presented," he said. "I have never cheated with money."

Mr. Blatter, who was fined 50,000 Swiss francs, or about $50,370, and Mr. Platini, who was fined 80,000 Swiss francs, will appeal the verdicts to FIFA and then to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is based in Switzerland and frequently arbitrates matters involving sports governance. Both men are also likely to seek an expedited process. Mr. Blatter wants desperately to have his name cleared so that he can host the special FIFA Congress in which his successor will be chosen. Mr. Platini, who had long been seen as the front-runner in the election, will hope to salvage a last-ditch entry into the race.

At this point, however, the suspensions are likely to leave Mr. Blatter and Mr. Platini on the outside of the sport they have led for decades. The two men remain under investigation by Swiss prosecutors, and while UEFA released a statement of support for Mr. Platini, that backing was not unanimous.

"Eight years are not enough for me," Javier Tebas, the Spanish league president, said, according to The Associated Press. "The penalty should be that they can never again form part of a sports institution."

In his news conference, held somewhat bizarrely at FIFA's former headquarters in Zurich, Mr. Blatter, who has worked for FIFA since 1975, was at times bold and defiant. But he also rambled frequently, stopping at one point to congratulate F.C. Barcelona on its recent victory in FIFA's Club World Cup. At another, he lamented the effect the investigation has had on his family, telling reporters that his granddaughter recently changed schools because she had been subjected to taunting.

Mr. Blatter declined to speak at length about his health — he was hospitalized last month for what a spokesman said was fatigue — but wore a bandage on his face after the recent removal of a mole. Sitting alongside his daughter, Corrine, Mr. Blatter described himself as a "punching ball" of world soccer.

Mr. Blatter became FIFA's president in 1998, and Mr. Platini worked for him as a special consultant from 1999 until 2002. The $2 million payment approved by Mr. Blatter in 2011 was, he said, simply a delayed salary payment.

"Suspended eight years for what?" he said, claiming that the payment to Mr. Platini was not recorded in FIFA's records because of an administrative error.

There was no written contract detailing the basis for the payment, however, and Mr. Platini has said in interviews that there was simply a "gentleman's agreement" between him and Mr. Blatter to cover the deferred money.

Investigators found the late payment suspicious in part because of its timing — a few months before Mr. Blatter began campaigning for re-election to a fourth term as FIFA president. UEFA, led by Mr. Platini, supported Mr. Blatter, who subsequently won the vote after the only other candidate in the race withdrew. On Friday, Mr. Blatter denied any link between the payment and the election.

"I'm a man of principles," he said. "I will fight for me and I will fight for FIFA."

Amid the continuing criminal investigations of FIFA in the United States, Switzerland and other countries, FIFA's ethics committee has been more public in its discipline recently, and Monday's bans were not out of context with previous decisions. Chung Mong-joon, an honorary FIFA vice president, recently received a six-year ban for ethics violations, and Harold Mayne-Nicholls, a Chilean who was involved in the evaluation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, received a seven-year ban.

Now, it is Mr. Blatter and Mr. Platini who have received similar suspensions, though Mr. Blatter vowed that this would not be the end to his career in soccer. At the conclusion of his news conference, which lasted nearly and an hour, he departed with a promise.

"I'll be back," he said.

[Source: By Sam Borden, The New York Times, 21Dec15]

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Corruption and Organized Crime
small logoThis document has been published on 22Dec15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.