POSTED: December 22nd 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: This must be the end for Blatter and Platini - or is it?

Sepp Blatter gave a press conference in the old FIFA house on Monday / Getty Images Sport Philipp Schmidli
Sepp Blatter gave a press conference in the old FIFA house on Monday / Getty Images Sport Philipp Schmidli

Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in better times / Getty Images Sport Philipp Schmidli
Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in better times / Getty Images Sport Philipp Schmidli

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The Ethics Committee of Fifa has spoken. Both Sepp Blatter, the president of the body overseeing the world's most popular sport, and his one-time heir apparent, Frenchman Michel Platini have been banned from football for eight years and given considerable fines.

Since Blatter, now 79, was resigning anyway as Fifa President, a post which has given the Swiss official membership of the International Olympic Committee, the punishment does not really matter, although it is a blow to his very high level of self-importance. For Platini, President of Uefa, the European governing body, it is more evidently serious because he wanted to be a candidate to succeed Blatter when the Fifa elections are held on February 26.

The Committee found that the $2.025 million that Blatter paid the Frenchman in 2011 had "no legal basis". The pair have stated that the money related to work that Platini did for Fifa between 1998 and 2002 and the payment was delayed because the world governing body did not have the money earlier. They had a verbal agreement, although not a written one. Hans-Joachim Eckert, a German judge, who chaired the Committee, said that the explanation "was not convincing."

The allegation is that the money was paid in 2011 to persuade Platini not to stand against Blatter for the Fifa Presidency. Both men vigorously deny that this was the reason.

Blatter, who has been President since 1998, insisted at a news conference in Zurich that the money to Platini "went through the finance committee and was done in good terms. This is a donation. This is a gift. We avoided the issue of corruption. The arrangement was in the Fifa books." And significantly, he emphasised that under Swiss law, a verbal agreement is legally binding.

Both men will now appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in Lausanne, the ultimate authority. The hearing should be heard in January, which will give Platini enough time to stand for the Fifa Presidency, although he faces some stern opposition from the other five candidates if he is to achieve his ambition. Many will believe that Platini has been so smeared by the allegations that his chances of success are slim.

Yet should Platini succeed in getting the ban overturned, he may get a number of sympathetic votes. The question is -will Cas clear Blatter and him?

Cas looks very carefully at whether proper procedures have been followed and that the evidence is watertight. It will be alerted by the lawyers of Blatter and Platini to the fact that in an interview two weeks ago with L'Equipe, the respected daily French sports newspaper, Andreas Mantel, the spokesman for the investigatory chamber of the Fifa ethics committee, said that "Platini will certainly be suspended for several years."

Yet, this was before the committee considered all the evidence, including any of that from Platini or his lawyer. How, Platini's legal team, will argue is that fair?

It should also be borne in mind that the Swiss legal authorities have not charged either Blatter or Platini with any criminal offence, although the pair have been under investigation for several months.

Following excellent investigatory work by The Sunday Times in London, Mohamed bin Hamman, a member of Fifa's Executive Committee from Qatar, was banned for life by the Fifa Ethics Committee for allegedly giving money to members of the Caribbean Football Union. Cas cleared him on appeal  -- although he was subsequently banned on a different charge.

We may well not have heard the last of Blatter or Platini -which is more the pity.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · FIFA · John Goodbody · Sepp Blatter · Michel Platini

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