Blatter’s bluster fails to convince realists
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.