Blat­ter’s blus­ter fails to con­vince re­al­ists

CityPress - - Voices - KAVITHA DAVID­SON voices@city­

The ethics com­mit­tee of soc­cer’s global body brought down the ham­mer on pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter, ban­ning him for eight years for mak­ing a $2 mil­lion (R30.5 mil­lion at the cur­rent ex­change rate) pay­ment that looked an aw­ful lot like a bribe. But don’t ex­pect Blat­ter to go gen­tly into the night, if his post-sus­pen­sion press con­fer­ence is any­thing to go by.

After the ban was an­nounced on Mon­day morn­ing, Blat­ter gave a blus­tery press con­fer­ence in which he vowed to fight back.

Show­ing no con­tri­tion, Blat­ter went on a bizarre rant in which he com­pared him­self to Nel­son Man­dela and likened the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion.

“I’m re­ally sorry,” he said – but not for abus­ing his power, or for over­see­ing decades of cor­rup­tion and bribery schemes.

He’s sorry: “I am still some­where a punch­ing ball ... I’m sorry for Fifa. I’m sorry for foot­ball. I’m also sorry about me. How I am treated in this world?” As if that didn’t make him enough of a car­toon vil­lain, he ended by promis­ing: “I’ll be back.”

The com­mit­tee banned Euro­pean soc­cer fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Michel Pla­tini for eight years over a 2011 pay­ment of $2 mil­lion that Blat­ter ap­proved to Pla­tini. The “dis­loyal pay­ment” – one that works against the in­ter­ests of the as­so­ci­a­tion – rep­re­sented a con­flict of in­ter­est and abuse of power.

Pla­tini had re­fused to co­op­er­ate with the ethics hear­ings, say­ing they were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, a pre­text for his likely ap­peal to the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport.

Blat­ter said at the press con­fer­ence that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pun­ish­ment were noth­ing more than sour grapes by the US over not be­ing se­lected to host the global tour­na­ment. “If we had awarded the World Cup in 2022 to the US, we would not be here,” he said.

When he was told that most of the ethics com­mit­tee mem­bers were Euro­peans with no ties to the US, he said some­one “in­side Fifa” had an agenda against him and Pla­tini.

Since May, the US and Switzer­land have con­ducted joint probes into wide­spread cor­rup­tion at Fifa, cen­tred on the con­tro­ver­sial award­ing of the 2018 tour­na­ment to Rus­sia and the 2022 one to Qatar. It’s al­leged Rus­sian and Qatari soc­cer of­fi­cials or­ches­trated a sys­tem of bribery to se­cure their suc­cess­ful host bids.

The US has more at stake in weed­ing out Fifa cor­rup­tion than sup­pos­edly ex­act­ing re­venge – namely, ex­pos­ing US banks and me­dia com­pa­nies be­lieved to have played a big role in the machi­na­tions. Swiss au­thor­i­ties have iden­ti­fied 53 trans­ac­tions at Swiss banks that are thought to be money laun­der­ing.

Nei­ther of the two men’s ap­peals is ex­pected to suc­ceed – they’re likely to end their long soc­cer ca­reers in dis­grace. The judg­ment will im­pact on the search for Blat­ter’s suc­ces­sor. Pla­tini was seen as the man to suc­ceed Blat­ter, but if his ban is up­held, he can­not stand for Fe­bru­ary’s elec­tion.

Blat­ter re­port­edly wants to fight the ban, partly so he can be named an hon­orary pres­i­dent, which would en­trench him in Fifa’s power struc­ture. This is counter to the move to have him step down in the first place.

This is a big step to end the cor­rup­tion that has plagued the sport for decades. But given how deeply the web of bribery runs, it cer­tainly doesn’t end with these two men.

The next scan­dal could come from the Swiss in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid­ding pro­cesses. Author­i­ties have ze­roed in on 133 in­stances of “sus­pi­cious fi­nan­cial ac­tiv­ity”.

Pla­tini was a ma­jor cham­pion for the Qatari bid. After cast­ing his vote, his son was given a job at Qatar Sports In­vest­ments, an arm of the Qatari gov­ern­ment. Now, amid al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, the Royal Dutch Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the failed joint bid be­tween the Nether­lands and Bel­gium for the 2018 World Cup.

– Bloomberg

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