Outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA boss Michel Platini- until recently the favorite to succeed Blatter in football’s top job- have both been banned from any football activities for eight years by a FIFA ethics investigation. The lengthy bans come after a $2 million payment in 2011 from Blatter to Platini- described by the investigation as a “disloyal” payment- was uncovered. Both men have strenuously denied any wrongdoing with the payment, claiming it was part of an agreement for work carried out by Platini on Blatter’s behalf for work he undertook as a presidential adviser from 1999-2002. The timing of the payment, coming shortly after Platini agreed not to stand against Blatter in the 2011 FIFA presidential election had raised some eyebrows.
Though both men are expected to appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, it is difficult to see a short term way back into the sport for either Blatter or Platini. The 79-year-old Blatter has been FIFA president since 1998. He had already stated that he would not be standing for re-election in the upcoming FIFA presidential election in February next year. The embattled- and now disgraced- Blatter was defiant in a press statement made shortly the announcement of the verdict. “I am not ashamed,” said Blatter. “Even if I am suspended, I am still President. The committee cannot go against the President.”
While Blatter had long been associated with some of FIFA’s more unsavory business practises, Platini had initially put himself forward as football’s great white knight, and was until recently favorite to win FIFA’s presidential election in February. One of the modern game’s greatest players, Platini captained France as European champions in 1984 and was also named European footballer of the year three times in an illustrious career. The FIFA committee was damning, however, in its assessment of his conduct.
“Mr Platini failed to act with complete credibility and integrity, showing unawareness of the importance of his duties and concomitant obligations and responsibilities,” read the findings.
“His actions did not show commitment to an ethical attitude, failing to respect all applicable laws and regulations as well as FIFA’s regulatory framework to the extent applicable to him and demonstrating an abusive execution of his position as Vice-President of FIFA and member of the FIFA Executive Committee.”
In addition to their bans, both men have been fined: Blatter $50,000 and Platini $80,000.
Football’s top body was thrown into disarray earlier this May when a number of top officials were arrested after a joint U.S.-Swiss taskforce descended early on one morning on a five-star Swiss hotel as part of an anti-corruption investigation. Since then the world’s favorite sport has been mired in months of accusations of graft, corporate impropriety and, in the case of the controversial decisions to award Russia and Qatar the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, eye-catching allegations of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, bribery and kickbacks.
The World Cup is big business. Even though football (or soccer) still lags behind the likes of the NFL and NBA in the U.S., America represents FIFA’s most valuable single territory. In October 2011, Murdoch’s Fox outbid Disney’s ESPN and Comcast’s NBC for the English-speaking rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups for a guaranteed $425 million. NBCUniversal’s Telemundo Spanish networks paid $600 million for the U.S.-based Spanish-language TV rights. In February this year, FIFA announced it had extended those deals to cover the 2026 tournament.
Somewhat controversially — a bit of a motif with FIFA this year — the rights were extended to Fox and Telemundo without being opened to tender to third-party bids. That led to speculation the extension was to compensate Fox and Telemundo for the planned shifting of the 2022 World Cup. Traditionally the tournament takes place in the summer months of June and July — a quiet time for U.S. sports with no NBA or NFL as competition. FIFA announced, again controversially, it wanted to shift the 2022 event to the winter to accommodate the searing heat in host country Qatar. The decision to award the tiny gas-rich desert state the World Cup in 2022, along with Russia the tournament in 2018, is being investigated by Swiss authorities and the FBI in their anti-corruption crackdown that has seen several senior FIFA officials arrested, extradited and questioned.
The World Cup is on a combination of free-to-air and pay TV platforms across the world, depending on the territory. In the UK, for example, the tournament is part of the protected “crown jewels” along with Wimbledon and the FA Cup that must be shown on free to air. In the Arab world, the tournament is only viewable via Qatari-owned beIN Sports’ encrypted pay platform. In 2014, the French arm of beIN Sports March acquired the French rights to the tournament in a sub-licensing deal with TF1 that saw, for the first time, the tournament broadcast on a pay TV channel in the country.