KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH — The credibility of FIFA and its ability to save itself from self-immolation were cast further in question after the eight-year  suspensions of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were trimmed to six years apiece by the appeal committee.

The panel, headed by Bermuda FA president Larry Mussenden who is a candidate to lead CONCACAF, ruled that the respective presidents of the world federation and of European governing body UEFA were due mitigating credit for their services to the game down the years.

Platini and Blatter in their good old days

FIFA critics would insist that the opposite was the case: that their supreme positions of trust and responsibility rendered them liable, instead, to an increase in the bans imposed over the infamous ‘disloyal payment’ authorised by Blatter for the Frenchman in February 2011.

Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert, prosecutor and judge of the ethics committee, will not have been too pleased either that the appeal committee chose this particular moment in FIFA history – two days before a presidential election – to muddy the judicial waters.

Angry reactions

An appeal by the ethics chamber for the bans to be extended to life was rejected. A restrained statement said the chamber would “analyse the opinion of the court in detail.”

Platini and Blatter felt no such inhibitions. Both were angry at not having had their bans quashed and both promised to fight on at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

For Blatter the issue is trying to polish up his tarnished legacy; for Platini it represents more than mere ego and reputation but the chance of clinging on to his leadership of the European federation.

Blatter, whose publisher has delayed an autobiography of sorts pending legal clearance, said: “I’m deeply disappoined by the FIFA appeal chamber and the next step is going further to CAS in Lausanne.”

Platini was more effusive, reflecting a personal appreciation of the judicial mountain still confronting the former France captain, superstar, manager and World Cup organiser.

He said: “The reasons given against me are baseless, trumped up and surreal, given the facts and explanations that I gave during the hearing of the appeals board.

“This decision is in reality a political decision taken by the FIFA administration. I am the victim of a system that had only one goal: To prevent me from becoming FIFA president in order to protect certain interests that I was about to bring into question.”

Exco ambush

Blatter and Platini, who is also a FIFA vice-president, were ambushed by the Swiss Attorney-General’s investigators last year on emerging from a meeting of the executive committee at the organisation’s headquarters in Zurich.

Subsequently Blatter was placed under criminal investigation over two issues. One was the undervalued sale of World Cup TV rights in the Caribbean to the former CONCACAF president Jack Warner and the other was for authorising the SFr2m payment to Platini in February 2011. Platini was left in a no-man’s land status between witness and accused.

Both men were then suspended provisionally by the ethics committee pending a full investigation.

Both protested their innocence. Blatter said the payment was to honour a verbal agreement and Platini said it was due from work he had undertaken as Blatter’s ‘football councillor’ between 1999 and 2002.

Blatter has not offered a plausible excuse for the lack of formal accounting and Platini has been unable to offer a satisfactory reason for waiting nine years to be paid such a significant sum.

Concern over the payment was exacerbated by its timing at a delicate moment in the run-up to the 2011 FIFA presidential ballot at which Blatter was re-elected after Platini decided not to challenge him.

Just before last Christnas ethics judge Eckert announced verdicts of culpability and imposed suspensions of eight years on both men. Blatter was fined SFr 50,000 and Platini SFr 80,000. The fines were maintained by the appeal committee.

FIFA appeal committee statement:

The FIFA appeal committee, chaired by Larry Mussenden (Bermuda), has partially confirmed the decisions taken by the adjudicatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee on 17 and 18 December 2015 regarding Joseph S. Blatter and Michel Platini respectively, whose bans have been reduced from eight to six years.

Following the hearings of Mr Platini and Mr Blatter held in Zurich on 15 and 16 February 2016 respectively, the Appeal Committee has decided as follows:

Mr Platini’s and Mr Blatter’s appeals are dismissed in respect of infringements of art. 13 (General rules of conduct), art. 15 (Loyalty), art. 19 (Conflict of interests) and art. 20 (Offering and accepting gifts and other benefits) of the FIFA Code of Ethics, as established by the adjudicatory chamber. The Appeal Committee concurred with the findings of the adjudicatory chamber of the Ethics Committee in the sense that the evidence available in the present case is not sufficient to establish a breach of article 21 of the FIFA Code of Ethics (Bribery and corruption). Consequently, the appeal lodged by the investigatory chamber for a life ban from all football-related activity was also dismissed.

While agreeing with the principles and arguments presented by the adjudicatory chamber in its calculation of the sanction, the Appeal Committee determined that some strong mitigating factors for Mr Platini and Mr Blatter were not taken into account when establishing the sanction. In this sense, amongst others, the Appeal Committee considered that Mr Platini’s and Mr Blatter’s activities and the services they had rendered to FIFA, UEFA and football in general over the years should deserve appropriate recognition as a mitigating factor.

Thus, after carefully analysing and taking into consideration the exceptional mitigating circumstances of the cases, it was determined that a one-year reduction of the five-year ban for a breach of art. 20 of the FCE was proper, and similarly a one-year reduction of the three-year ban for the other breaches was also proper. In summary:

Michel Platini is banned from taking part in any football-related activity (administrative, sports or other) at national and international level for a period of six (6) years as from 8 October 2015, in accordance with art. 6 par. 1h) of the FIFA Code of Ethics in conjunction with art. 22 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code. Furthermore, Mr Platini shall pay a fine in the amount of CHF 80,000 within 30 days of notification of the present decision.

Joseph S. Blatter is banned from taking part in any football-related activity (administrative, sports or other) at national and international level for a period of six (6) years as from 8 October 2015, in accordance with art. 6 par. 1h) of the FIFA Code of Ethics in conjunction with art. 22 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code. Mr Blatter shall pay a fine in the amount of CHF 50,000 within 30 days of notification of the present decision.