The race to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president has not officially started but two candidates were as good as knocked out of contention Thursday after the FIFA ethics committee suspended Michel Platini for 90 days and banned Chung Mong-joon for six years from all football activity. The same committee also suspended Blatter, and general secretary Jerome Valcke, for 90 days.
The Blatter news may dominate the headlines but the Swiss leader was on his way out–albeit on his own terms, not those of an ethics committee he set up–early next year anyway.
All four men, as you might expect, have denied any wrongdoing. Valcke’s attorney issued a statement saying “it will be clear he did nothing wrong”. Blatter’s lawyer claimed the committee forgot to give him the right to a hearing and that it will be a different story once it hears his side of the story.
Platini issued a statement just before the suspension was announced, claiming it was “essentially an attempt to damage my reputation.” Mong-joon said FIFA was “profoundly irresponsible and unethical” in his sanctions, which he claims were for nothing more than “ethical attitude.”
Blatter stands accused of making a $2.1 million "disloyal payment" from FIFA to Platini in 2011, even though the Frenchman stopped working for him in 2002. Platini said the nine-year delay was because FIFA didn't have the money to pay him. The payment was made shortly before Platini chose not to stand against Blatter in the 2011 presidential election. A Swiss investigator described Platini “somewhere between a suspect and a witness.”
The latest allegations means that, of the 22 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the voting for hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, seven have been proven as corrupt and a further nine–three of Thursday’s key figures among them–now accused of wrongdoing.
So where does this leave the presidential election, which is slated for February 26, 2016, and with candidates needing to formally register in just over two weeks, on Oct. 26? Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan is the only realistic candidate still standing at the moment. He lost the election to Blatter last May and may not be guaranteed a win next year. Blatter may not be standing against him, but those who voted overwhelmingly for Blatter will still be voting.
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Platini and Mong-joon have not given up hope of standing. The South Korean claims he will be vindicated and has accused Blatter of playing a long game that sees him knock out all presidential candidates and rely on an emergency FIFA Congress that is unable to elect a new president and so restores him to power. It’s a move straight out of the Frank Underwood House of Cards playbook, and the first time anyone connected to the saga has publicly suggested such a thing.
For Platini, the favorite who reportedly already had over 100 association votes for the February decision, this is a bleak moment. He can appeal against his suspension to FIFA’s Appeal Committee, and if necessary take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The problem: it is 18 days before the presidential application deadline. He can hardly rely on these regulatory bodies to expedite his case.
Would the electoral commission accept his nomination if he registered on Oct. 26? The commission would need to ask another body if this is valid. Which one? The FIFA ethics committee, who originally suspended Platini, would rule on his nomination. You couldn't make it up.
There are few beacons of hope amid this mess, and they certainly don’t come from the interim presidents of FIFA (Issa Hayatou), or UEFA (Angel Villar Lona), as the longest-serving respective executive committee members. Hayatou has been accused of accepting bribes in supporting the 2022 Qatar World Cup bid, while Villar Lona is also under investigation for vote collusion in the World Cup bidding.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach also intervened Thursday, adding to the pressure that FIFA reforms with an external candidate and no internal voting process.
“FIFA must realize that this is now about more than just a list of candidates. This is also a structural problem and will not be solved simply by the election of a new president," he wrote. "They must do two things immediately: they must accelerate and deepen the reform process in order to comply with accountability, transparency and all the principles of good governance, as expressed in our reform program, Olympic Agenda 2020. They should also be open for a credible external presidential candidate of high integrity, to accomplish the necessary reforms and bring back stability and credibility to FIFA.”
He may be right, but the likelihood of that is very slim. As it is, an executive committee meeting is scheduled for December, and as it stands, Blatter and Platini will miss it. That ExCo could potentially postpone the February Congress, when the election is slated. Prince Ali may find another presidential candidate emerges from Asia, or Europe, in the next few weeks.
The story is now moving quickly and the bodies are falling fast. If Blatter is going to go, he seems determined to take as many with him as possible.