Sepp Blatter was banned from world football for eight years on Monday, completing his downfall after 17 years at the pinnacle of the sport.
Fifa’s ethics committee said it could not conclusively prove that Mr Blatter was corrupt but banned him for unethical behaviour, a failure to respect “all the applicable laws”, and finally for abusing his position as Fifa president.
Michel Platini, the head of football in Europe, saw his hopes of succeeding Mr Blatter at Fifa dashed by his own eight-year ban.
The two men were banned after a Sfr2m payment from Fifa to Mr Platini in February 2011 came to light. While both men said the payment was for work carried out by Mr Platini for Fifa between 1998 and 2002, there was no contract and no record of the payment in Fifa’s accounts.
Payment made by Fifa to Michel Platini
Mr Blatter, who will turn 80 in March, has robustly denied any wrongdoing and challenged the power of the ethics committee to enforce a ban, insisting that only Fifa’s congress could elect to remove him.
Unshaven, flanked by his daughter Corinne, and with a plaster stuck to his right cheek, Mr Blatter gave a press conference in Fifa’s former headquarters.
“I am ashamed about the committees that they do not go through the evidence presented and this committee has no right to go against the president,” he said.
“Let me say that I’m really sorry. I’m sorry that I’m still somewhere a punching ball. I’m sorry for football,” he said, adding: “Something that is not true cannot be proven.”
Mr Blatter continues to insist that he should not be held responsible for Fifa’s problems, even as it faces the most serious corruption investigation in its history, with 41 people and organisations now indicted by US investigators.
Last week, he appeared before four judges, including Hans Joachim Eckert, the chairman of the ethics committee, for eight hours in an effort to avoid a ban.
But the ethics committee said that “neither in his written statement nor in his personal hearing was Mr Blatter able to demonstrate another legal basis for this payment [to Mr Platini]”. It added: “His assertion of an oral agreement was determined as not convincing and was rejected by the chamber.”
It accused Mr Blatter of a conflict of interest and of failing to disclose the payment to Mr Platini, which came shortly before the Frenchman dropped out as a candidate of a presidential campaign against Mr Blatter. Mr Blatter’s case was primarily judged by Robert Torres, the chief justice of the island of Guam, who also serves in the adjudicatory chamber of Fifa’s ethics committee.
The ethics committee reached a similar judgment on Mr Platini, saying that he was also conflicted and that he “failed to act with complete credibility and integrity”. Mr Platini’s ban means that Uefa, which runs football in Europe, will now need to call its own presidential election.
Mr Platini also said he would appeal against the ban, calling the judgment a “true mockery”. He added that he also intends to file a civil suit for damages. But any appeal will come too late for him to stand in Fifa’s presidential election, scheduled for February 26. Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa of Bahrain is now the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Mr Blatter.
Investigators working for Fifa’s ethics committee had previously recommended a lifetime ban for both men as they sent their evidence to Mr Eckert for judgment.
Mr Blatter’s spokesman said that he would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. While there was support for Mr Platini from Uefa and from the head of the French football association, at least one football official was angry at the levity of the sentence. “Eight years is not enough for me. The penalty should be that they can never again form part of a sports institution,” said Javier Tebas, the president of the Spanish league.