Saturday 18 November 2017

FIFA in meltdown as Sepp Blatter is suspended

Ben Rumsby in Zurich

World football was on the brink of all-out civil war last night after Sepp Blatter was finally suspended as Fifa president and his scandal-plagued 17-year reign drew towards a humiliating close.

On one of the most momentous days in the beleaguered governing body's 111-year history, Michel Platini was also hit with a provisional 90-day suspension, as was Jerome Valcke, while presidential hopeful Chung Mong-joon was banned for six years. But the quartet refused to go quietly and were last night preparing for a bitter fight against the ruling of an ethics committee, which was already moving to bring Blatter and Platini down for good.

It was not even lunchtime before FIFA's ethics committee announced its eagerly anticipated sanctions against Blatter and Platini, who were both suspended over a suspected €1.8m criminal payment made by the Swiss to his former protégé.

Valcke, who had already been placed on leave by Blatter after being linked to a ticket touting scheme last month, was also banned for 90 days. All three face further action, unlike South Korean billionaire Chung, who, after the end of proceedings was found guilty of five ethics breaches over the awarding of the next two World Cups.

It did not take long for the quartet to react to the verdicts, with Blatter's lawyers accusing the ethics committee of failing to "follow the code of ethics and disciplinary code" because he had not been heard in person.

They also claimed the committee had misunderstood the criminal proceedings against the 79-year-old, who they said had not been charged over allegations that also include claims about a television deal he agreed with disgraced former vice-president Jack Warner. They added: "President Blatter looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will demonstrate he did not engage in any misconduct."

Sepp Blatter
Sepp Blatter
A cameraman stands in front of FIFA's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland October 8, 2015. FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his possible successor, UEFA chief Michel Platini, have been provisionally suspended for 90 days by the global soccer body's ethics committee. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Michel Platini
Outgoing FIFA President Sepp Blatter sits in the back of a car as he leaves the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, Thursday, Oct 8, 2015, after he was provisionally banned for 90 days by FIFA ethics committee. (Dominic Steinmann/Keystone via AP)

Installed as acting president in Blatter's absence was Issa Hayatou, who has himself been embroiled in corruption allegations and who immediately ruled out standing for the presidency when the Swiss plans to step down for good on February 26. Despite that being only six days after the end of a suspension, which under FIFA rules could stretch to 135 days, Blatter remained steadfast in his refusal to resign.

Long-time adviser Klaus Stohlker said: "He has fought 40 years for FIFA. His heart is beating for FIFA. He will fight until the last day."

Platini came out fighting before his suspension was even confirmed, announcing he had submitted to FIFA the five nominations necessary for him to succeed Blatter. His ban would almost certainly render him ineligible to run unless he overturns it before a candidacy deadline of October 26.

Finally responding to his sanction last night, the Uefa president said: "I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance. I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies."

It took Uefa almost two hours to confirm that defiance would not extend to ignoring the ban imposed on him ahead of any appeal. That was after its executive committee issued a statement backing him and refusing to appoint Angel Maria Villar-Llona as acting president in his absence. It also announced emergency meetings of its executive committee and all 54 of its members for next Thursday.

Manchester United director David Gill, who is a member of that exco, led calls for a similar meeting of the exco of FIFA, of which he is vice-president. The Football Association, of which Gill is vice-chairman, refused to suspend its endorsement of Platini's candidacy, but chairman Greg Dyke admitted for the first time it would do so if the Frenchman was proven to have behaved "improperly".

The most dramatic intervention of the day came from the most powerful man in sport, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who said: "Enough is enough. We hope that now, finally, everyone at FIFA has at last understood that they cannot continue to remain passive."

Bach called for Fifa to look at choosing a new president "of high integrity" from outside of football.

Valcke's lawyer issued a statement which read: "He is confident that when all the facts come out, it will be clear that he did absolutely nothing wrong or improper in carrying out his duties for the good of FIFA and the sport."

Chung, the billionaire scion of the Hyundai dynasty, said: "FIFA is like the sinking Titanic." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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