Monday 26 September 2016

'Sepp Blatter won't go quietly, but this is the end of the road for disgraced Fifa chief'

Martyn Ziegler

Published 21/12/2015 | 15:49

Suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter listens to a question as he attends a news conference in Switzerland
Suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter listens to a question as he attends a news conference in Switzerland

There was one damning admission by Sepp Blatter in his rambling but defiant appearance at a news conference following the announcement of the eight-year bans for the 79-year-old FIFA president and UEFA president Michel Platini.

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That moment came when Blatter admitted it was "an error" that the notorious £1.3m payment to Platini was not accounted for in FIFA's books during the 13-year gap between when they say an oral agreement was struck in 1998 and when the money was actually paid.

So for all his bluster about "I will fight" and "I'll be back", there was no real answer to the secrecy that surrounded this strange payment for so many years, which became the main issue for the disciplinary proceedings against the pair by FIFA's ethics committee.

Blatter admitted: "They (the FIFA ethics committee) said, 'You should have put it somewhere in your books'. I agreed to that, but this is administrative and financial proceedings and this has nothing to do with ethics. This was an error, but this is nothing to do with the ethics regulations."

The inconvenient truth for Blatter is that this "gentleman's agreement" has everything to do with not just ethics regulations, but also the kind of transparent business practice that any large company or organisation would regard as the norm. For Blatter as FIFA president and Platini as UEFA president not to declare that they were aware of this apparent two million Swiss franc debt owed by the world governing body is an accounting offence.

They can argue to and fro about the timing of the payment and whether or not it was a sweetener to get Europe on board Blatter's 2011 presidential election campaign - both men have insisted it was not. What they cannot escape are the facts surrounding the payment, which mean that even if they win their appeals, and that does not look likely, their credibility has been crushed. This is the end of the line for their careers in football politics.

Blatter chose familiar surroundings to stage a histrionic news conference - the building that was FIFA's old headquarters, which can be hired out by anybody these days even though it still houses FIFA's marketing department upstairs. This was a clear statement by the 79-year-old that he will not go quietly.

Flanked by his daughter Corinne, Blatter emerged from a black limo to be confronted by a scrum of cameramen and reporters, looking unshaven and with a large plaster on his cheek where he has had a mole removed - prompting cynics among the press corps to joke that he had got rid of the wrong FIFA mole.

Blatter opened the conference by bleating about the fact FIFA's ethics committee had announced the eight-year bans to the media before informing him. For the next 51 minutes he entered old Blatter mode, invoking the names of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, making a veiled reference to the Nobel peace foundation and all the time expressing outrage that the FIFA ethics committee that he established should have the temerity to take action against him.

Some of the more outlandish conspiracy theories suggest that it was Blatter himself who exposed the £1.3million payment to Platini in order to stop the UEFA president succeeding him at the helm of FIFA.

Blatter appeared slightly stunned when it was put to him. "I would be a fool if I tried to damage the presidency of Platini as I was involved in it too," he said.

It was in many ways a virtuoso Blatter performance - occasionally incoherent and often self-promoting, but one in which he switched effortlessly between four languages to protest his innocence and attack his enemies, as well as drum up sympathy for his predicament, not least when he collapsed at the start of November and was by his own account close to death.

"They tried to kill me now. It was (a) near thing. But I was safe till the last minute," he told Sky News after the press conference, from which he had fired a dramatic last line as he made his exit.

"I'll be back," he said with a trademark twinkling smile, invoking the line from the Terminator movies - and aptly so too for this had been Blatter's Judgement Day.

Press Association

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