UEFA takes Michel Platini off his job; he maintains his innocence
Sepp Blatter, Platini and Jerome Valcke handed 90-day provisional bans
FIFA presidential hopeful Chung Mong-joon was also banned for six years
NEW: CONMEBOL backs Platini
It’s like the end of a Shakespearean tragedy. Multiple bodies: the king, the two men who would be king and their lieutenants strewn across the stage.
Even the acting king is planning his exit.
There was blood letting aplenty Thursday at the headquarters of one of the world’s most popular sports as a number of FIFA top officials were sanctioned by the organization.
The disciplinary arm of world football’s governing body handed three of its leading officials – including President Sepp Blatter – provisional 90-day bans.
UEFA President Michel Platini, who heads up the body which runs European football and the world’s leading club competition – the Champions League – and FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke were also banned for 90 days.
Platini is a candidate to succeed Blatter as president of the organization, while another presidential hopeful South Korean Chung Mong-joon was also banned for six years and fined $103,000. Their bans arguably give both of them reputation problems in the race to succeed Blatter.
Platini, a Frenchman, also won’t “perform his official duties for the time being” at UEFA, that association announced, in light of the FIFA decision.
Vowing to appeal, Platini claimed the allegations against him “are based on mere semblances and are astonishingly vague” and refused to withdraw his bid to become FIFA’s next president.
“More than a sense of injustice or desire for revenge, I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance,” he said. “I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.”
Conmebol backs Platini
Platini received a boost Saturday when the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) gave him their backing, saying it believed his ban “untimely and disproportionate” and that the ban be reconsidered.
“It is imperative that sporting justice continues its course in order to clarify all of the facts as soon and definitely as possible. At the same time the presumption of innocence is a fundamental right that has to be considered,” said a statement.
“Mr. Platini has not been found guilty of any charge, therefore the provisional ban jeopardizes the integrity of the electoral process to the FIFA presidency, of which Mr. Platini is a candidate.
“These are trying times that demand an integral reform of FIFA. The CSF fully believes in Mr. Platini’s capacity to lead FIFA and the football world towards a brighter future,” it added.
Until the FIFA presidential election – or until there’s a change in Blatter’s status – Issa Hayatou is in charge as the world governing body appointed him acting president. Hayatou is FIFA vice-president and head of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the body that runs soccer on that continent.
A longtime soccer administrator, the 69-year-old Hayatou, who has been CAF’s head since 1988, has faced his own problems in the past.
In 2011, he was sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee over taking cash payments from a sports marketing firm.
“I will serve only on an interim basis,” said Hayatou in a statement. “A new president will be chosen by the Extraordinary Congress on 26 February 2016. I myself will not be a candidate for that position.”
Anti-bribery advocate: ‘The rot in the FIFA leadership is … extensive’
A tax-exempt nonprofit organization, FIFA nonetheless generated $2 billion in revenue in 2014, partly helped by the success of the World Cup in Brazil.
But the various crises surrounding FIFA – it’s already facing a U.S. Justice department probe and an investigation by the Swiss attorney general – arguably raises serious questions as to just how it can run a credible election process to choose Blatter’s successor, let alone conduct day-to-day business.
“The rot in the FIFA leadership is so extensive that there are no longer credible alternatives to choose from,” said lawyer Alexandra Wrage, who is the president and founder of the leading global anti-bribery business association Trace International.
“Those still standing, at a minimum, did nothing while their colleagues were involved in questionable – and possibly criminal – activity,” said Wrage. “Many, including Hayatou, remain under a cloud from past misconduct.
“FIFA needs an independent, emergency transition team with a brief mandate – not more than six months – complete transparency to the public on all decisions, authority to implement change and to oversee credible elections.”
Will there be an encore from Blatter?
Mark Pieth, a law professor who in the past had been tasked with looking at how FIFA ran itself, remembers one of his last conversations with the 79-year-old where the Swiss told him: “I want to leave through the front door – and leave with a clean house.”
Given Thursday’s decision and the various other probes looking at FIFA’s affairs, Blatter could be forgiven if he starts looking for other exit routes from the stage.
FIFA’s disciplinary body – the adjudicatory chamber of the Ethics Committee, which is chaired by judge Hans-Joachim Eckert – said the bans come into force immediately and could be extended by another 45 days.
“The proceedings against the South Korean football official Chung Mong-joon were opened in January 2015 based on findings in the report on the investigation into the bidding process for the 2018/2022 World Cup,” said the FIFA Ethics Committee statement.
The FIFA Ethics Committee decision is the latest blow for Blatter.
The Swiss authorities are looking into allegations believed to center on a 2005 TV rights deal between FIFA and Jack Warner, the former president of CONCACAF, the governing body of football in North and Central America and the Caribbean, as well as an alleged “disloyal payment” to Platini.
Blatter’s lawyers said the Ethics Committee had “based its decision on a misunderstanding of the actions of the attorney general in Switzerland, which has opened an investigation but brought no charge against the President.”
Players’ union: 2016 election in doubt
The world players union – FIFPro – said the suspensions “cast further doubt” on the FIFA presidential election on February 26 in 2016.
“A pattern has emerged that leaves FIFPro with little or no confidence in the ability of FIFA to reform from within,” said the statement from the world players union.
“In addition, with senior officials, the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process, and other issues still under investigation, FIFPro considers any decision regarding proposals to reform FIFA during this tumultuous period as lacking any credibility,” said the FIFPro statement.
“Only a complete governance overhaul involving key stakeholders such as the players and clubs will be sufficient. The new reform Task Force announced by FIFA recently does not meet this criteria.”
Platini wasn’t immediately available for comment, but billionaire Chung described FIFA “as like the sinking Titanic” as he promised to “mobilize all legal means available to expose the injustice of this decision by the Ethics Committee.”
CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.