FIFA: Sepp & Michel – Two Sides of the Same Coin

by | Dec 21, 2015

So. Farewell, then. Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. Pending appeals.

The decision to effectively rid football of Blatter has a hint about it of prohibition-era American gangster Al Capone being imprisoned for tax evasion after seven years as an organised crime boss. It is welcome, as far as it goes. However, the real fun should emanate from the on-going criminal investigations into the Swiss gnome’s activities.

The findings of the Ethics Committee, previously viewed as a body designed by Blatter to rid him of his turbulent enemies and threats to his Fifa presidency, were heavily trailed and predictable, although most speculation fell a year short of the eight-year bans handed down to both men. Hence journalists such as the Guardian newspaper’s David Conn being able to file 2,400 words on Blatter’s ‘downfall’ within minutes of the official announcements.

The committee’s inability to prove corruption allegations against Blatter and Platini will have disappointed many, not least former Chilean FA president Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who was banned for one year less, through the same process, for doing two-tenths of five-eighths of f**k all…and whose hollow laughter that is in the background.

This inability was also heavily trailed…by Blatter himself. Some might view as his contempt (legally and emotionally) for the process. Indeed, Blatter and Platini have played heavily on the ethics committee investigatory chamber’s comments about them before their personal hearings in front of its adjudicatory chamber.

Meanwhile, Blatter’s response to the adjudicatory chamber’s ruling has attracted more media attention than the ruling itself. This is understandable when you compare the dry legalese of the ruling with Blatter’s tramp-like appearance and tramp-like answers to journalist’s questions.

The “proceedings primarily related” to the now-infamous two million Swiss francs payment, authorised by Blatter “in his position as president of Fifa,” which Platini received nine years after the work he’d done for it. What the proceedings “secondarily” related to was not addressed in the ethics committee’s statement.

The payment “had no legal basis in the agreement signed between both officials on 25th August 1999.” Blatter was unable to “demonstrate another legal basis” for it in either his “written statement” or his “personal hearing.” And Blatter’s “assertion of an oral agreement was determined as not convincing and was rejected by the chamber.”

The “evidence available” was not enough to establish a breach of the Fifa Code of Ethics article concerning “bribery and corruption,” as Blatter told the world with inappropriate triumphalism at the weekend. However, Blatter violated the articles of the code concerning “offering and accepting gifts and other benefits,” “loyalty” and “general rules of conduct.”

Blatter was in “a situation of conflict of interest, despite which he continued to perform his related duties.” He failed “to place Fifa’s interests first and abstain from doing anything which could be contrary to Fifa’s interests.” And he “violated his fiduciary duty” while not showing “commitment to an ethical attitude” and “demonstrating an abusive execution of his position as president of Fifa.” Woooh. To that last bit, especially.

Platini was adjudged to have done all the above plus “(failing) to act with complete credibility & integrity, showing unawareness of the importance of his duties & concomitant obligations & responsibilities,” including the “abusive execution” stuff. However, the credibility and integrity failures didn’t add any time to his ban.

Without sight of the full reasoning behind the decisions, which Blatter later said he would receive in “ten days,” it is difficult to either know the grounds for the various appeals both Blatter and Platini announced with predictable haste and indignation, or their chances of success.

Speculation on those chances, and reaction to the decisions, has followed observers’ already-held preconceptions. However, nothing in either man’s responses, or much of what they said before their hearings, will have helped.

Platini said the decision was “no surprise to me,” which was…well…no surprise. Calling the procedure “a pure masquerade” was a nice touch of Gallic flair but his suggestion that it was “rigged to tarnish my name by bodies I know well & who for me are bereft of all credibility or legitimacy,” wasn’t exactly news. Ask Harold Mayne-Nicholls.

Of course, Platini had already made his mind up that the ethics committee had already made their minds up, hence his attention-seeking/attracting but surely ill-advised boycott of his personal hearing before the adjudicatory chamber last Friday.

His lawyers objected to ethics committee spokesman Andreas Bantel telling French newspaper L’Equipe, a week before Platini’s scheduled hearing, that Platini would “certainly be suspended for several years.” They accused Bantel of “breaching the presumption of innocence” and the ethics committee of “pursuing a political objective.” Platini’s hearing would therefore “manifestly serve no purpose” as his “sanction seems to have been fixed before his explanations have been heard.”

They have a point. Bantel’s comments were more than just a prosecutor expressing hopes of success in a court case not under reporting restrictions. Bantel called most of the charges against Platini “offences” and stated, rather than opined, that “all this is sufficient to suspend Platini and Blatter for several years.” To a layman, that sounds like potential grounds for an appeal. Platini will be making one to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The conclusion of his case, at least, is not foregone.

Blatter, however, simply is a case. It is a wonder that journalists at his press conference in Fifa’s old headquarters could keep a straight face or stop out-and-out laughing while Blatter banged on about Barcelona and Nelson Mandela and momentarily morphed into Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It was difficult to believe a word, or picture, of it. More pathetic than his various justifications of his actions, even the highly-predictable “administrative error” nonsense, was his deliberately-dishevelled appearance (don’t tell me he just ‘forgot’ to shave). It resembled Rupert Murdoch’s “doddery old sod” act in front of a parliamentary select committee in 2011. It didn’t wash, whether or not Blatter had.

Blatter, like Platini, had prepared the ground for his verdict. As part of what World Soccer magazine’s Keir Radnedge wearily called an “almost daily campaign to proclaim his innocence to football and the wider world,” Blatter rehearsed his spiel in a series of interviews with European newspapers published a day before his hearing.

“What did we do?” he whinged. “Did we take all the money and escape from Fifa? Did we kill someone?” As per, he was “shocked.” He protested his suspension “without the ethics committee even listening to me,” as if they could avoid his words in the media, and complained about “experiencing something that looks like the inquisition,” which led to inevitable reports that he hadn’t been expecting it because no-one does.

Blatter also re-referenced the “anti-Blatter virus” which “started in Uefa and extends to the British,” accusing British Prime Minister David Cameron of “a political gesture” in telling “the EU that I should not be president.” The reasons for a populist such as Cameron taking such a stance were clearly beyond Blatter’s comprehension.

Blatter also used (abused?) his traditional annual Christmas letter to the 209 national association chiefs to protest his innocence, arguably a breach of his suspension from “football-related” activities which surely covered all his presidential work (things could get interesting if not).

The highlights here were the idea that current events were only “one of” the most serious Fifa crises, the “values passed on to me by my parents” (“never accept any money you have not earned” and “always pay your debts,” neither of which are allegations against him) and the administrative “correctness” of the Platini payment as “confirmed by all competent Fifa bodies” (which rather depends on your definition of “competent”).

His post-decision press conference was much of the same, without a newspaper sub-editor to salvage linguistic coherence from his ramblings (although Blatter has received almost universal praise for at least rambling in four languages).

Referencing Nelson Mandela was Blatter at traditional self-awareness levels (“the same Blatter who began talking ten seconds into a minute’s silence for Mandela at the World Cup draw,” tweeted wholly-disapproving Channel 4 journalist Alex Thomson). And passing the non-appearance of the payment in Fifa’s books as “an administrative” issue was forgetful (see “competent bodies,” above).

He regretted being the “punching ball of the organisation I have served with all my heart for 41 years.” He claimed that “inside Fifa, people could not understand why the president was suspended” (note the use of the third person). When asked if he was “ashamed” he…well…guess. And he rambled on about handshakes for peace, Fifa insiders wanting a president other than Platini and how he could not be “morally responsible” for the confederations (which, again, depends on your definition of lacking “moral responsibility”).

“He’s not making much sense here, just spouting a series of non-sequiturs,” noted a semi-despairing Gregg Bakowski in the Guardian. And by the end, he was nearly making more sense in Spanish to the English journalists present. “I’ll be back,” was his pay-off, which it is not thought he wrote himself. So much delusion in a man so small. Remarkable.

He repeated most of his mantras under admirably aggressive probing from Sky Sports’ Paul Kelso, adding a double chin to his face plaster and stubble (Blatter, that is, not Kelso).

“You have abused your position,” Kelso shouted. “You indulged a corrupt regime. You indulged Jack Warner, Mohamed Bin Hammam. They bought you votes to keep you in power so you turned a blind eye.” “Every World Cup in your time at Fifa has had a question mark of corruption.”

Blatter answered the corrupt regime charge with the usual denial of responsibility for people he didn’t “elect or select.” But he claimed “that’s why we’ve put in the ethics committee, to go against that.” No, really. Oblivious to that faux-pas, he committed another one. “I’m suspended by my own committee,” he said, in shocked tones, a Freudian slip Kelso leapt on. “It is not your committee, its Fifa’s committee.”

“All World Cups can have a bad smell,” Blatter claimed, blaming undefined “political intervention.” Kelso cried: “The most powerful man in world football and the World Cup smells. That’s awful.” But it was only as awful as Blatter’s suggestion that “World Cups are not bought and sold, they are given on merit,” a theory which would not survive a cursory glance at the technical reports into the bidders for the 2022 World Cup, which placed Qatar bottom on just about every “merit.”

Kelso made one faux-pas, proclaiming that “the payment to Platini was a bribe so that Michel Platini supported you in the presidential election which you were going to lose.” The ethics committee, remember, was unable to establish this. But Blatter was so stuck in denial mode that he said he would appeal to “the board of appeal of Fifa and then to CAS” to change a ruling that hadn’t been made.

As remarkably, he claimed “there was no help from Europe in my election in 2011” as “documents” and “the history of the election” would show, despite Uefa “strongly recommending” that its 53 FAs back Blatter’s candidacy (help he didn’t need, thanks to action taken against his only opponent, Bin Hammam, by the…ethics committee – ah, those were the days, eh Sepp?).

The interview was, possibly intentionally, summed up by the closing freeze-frame of Blatter’s face. Eyes closed, as they continue to be to all criticisms. Nose in the air, like any “president of everybody” who considers himself above the law and a facial expression which suggests he could smell what he had just said.

The key to Blatter and Platini’s bans still resides in the changed minds of what the Guardian’s Owen Gibson called the “suddenly-invigorated Ethics Committee” and in whatever suddenly invigorated them. However, that is one to ponder in quieter times. And whatever anyone thinks of the events of 2015’s shortest day, they will surely make for a gripping sequel to the Fifa-funded flop United Passions, a film which surely has to be made. Doesn’t it?

I wonder if Andrew Jennings has ever tried his hand at film directing…

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