By Andrew Warshaw
May 8 – European football is looking for a new leader after Michel Platini announced he was stepping down as UEFA president, albeit under protest, after losing his fight to clear his name for breaching FIFA’s ethics rules.
Whilst agreeing to cut Platini’s ban from six years to four, the Court of Arbitration for Sport still found him guilty and said his behaviour “was not ethical or loyal”.
Platini had originally been suspended for eight years from all football activities by FIFA’s ethics committee last December over his acceptance of SFr2 million from FIFA, on the authority of then president Sepp Blatter who was also banned.
The two most powerful men in world football both had their sentences trimmed to six years by the FIFA appeals committee but went to CAS to prove their innocence. Blatter’s case, whilst likely to receive a similar judgement, has not yet been heard but having already been replaced at FIFA by Gianni Infantino after 18 years at the helm, he is mainly fighting reputational damage.
For Platini, the CAS judgement, while imposing half the original sanction and cutting his fine from SFr80,000 to SFr60,000, is a far more devastating blow and spells the end of a political career which not so long ago had the FIFA presidency in its sights but which now lies in tatters.
Blatter and Platini have always insisted that the payment made in 2011 was legitimate following a gentleman’s agreement for consultancy work Platini had carried out for Blatter between 1998 and 2002.
But CAS said they were “not convinced by the legitimacy” of the oral deal “which was only recognised by Mr. Platini and Mr. Blatter.”
A four-year ban was further justified, said CAS, “in view of the superior functions carried out by Mr. Platini (FIFA vice-president and UEFA president), the absence of any repentance and the impact that this matter has had on FIFA’s reputation.”
CAS added its three-man panel had “unanimously determined” that while six years was too severe, Platini had obtained an “undue advantage” and that there had been “a conflict of interest” in breach of two FIFA Code of Ethics articles.
Tellingly, CAS noted that the money was not paid until 1 February 2011 “four months prior to the FIFA presidential elections and at a moment when Sepp Blatter and Mohamed Bin Hammam were both still candidates to the election.” Platini had at one point considered standing himself but agreed not to. Instead, UEFA pledged its support to Blatter before Bin Hammam’s candidacy was ended by bribery allegations and Blatter stood unopposed.
After CAS returned its judgement, a statement from Platini’s lawyers said: “Michel Platini announces that he will resign as president of UEFA at the organisation’s next congress.” It added the Frenchman, who has been in charge of European football since 2007, was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling which effectively removes Platini, whose UEFA mandate would have expired two months before the next FIFA election in May 2019, from the game by ensuring his ban “corresponds to the duration of a presidential term”.
Platini could not disguise his fury, describing the ruling as a “profound injustice”.
“This decision is inflicting me a suspension whose length will de facto prevent me – as if by chance – from bidding for the next FIFA presidential election,” he said in a statement, confirming he was now planning to take the unusual step of going all the way to the Swiss federal courts.
“I am resigning from my duties as UEFA president to pursue my battle in front of the Swiss courts to prove my innocence in this case.”
UEFA’s executive committee now meet on May 18 to decide on procedures for replacing Platini, with a presidential election likely in September in order to give prospective candidates enough time to campaign.
“UEFA has taken note of the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport to suspend UEFA President Michel Platini from any football-related activity for four years,” a UEFA statement said. “We have also taken note of Michel Platini’s statement announcing his intention to resign as UEFA President. The UEFA Executive Committee will meet on the morning of 18 May in Basel to discuss next steps, including the scheduling of an elective congress.”
Platini’s disappointment will be compounded by the fact the CAS verdict came one month before the start of the expanded European Championship in his native France, a tournament he considered his pet project in which he was looking forward to playing a figurehead role.
Even before the CAS hearing, Platini was invited as a guest by organisers in case his ban was upheld. It now remains to be seen when and where he shows up.
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The full CAS text reads as follows:
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has rendered its decision in the arbitration procedure between Michel Platini and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
The suspension of Mr. Platini has been lowered from 6 to 4 years and the CHF 80’000 fine to CHF 60’000.
On 26 February 2016, Michel Platini filed an appeal at the CAS to request the annulment of the decisions issued by the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee and by the FIFA Appeal Committee suspending him for six years from any football-related activity at a national and international level and imposing upon him a fine of CHF 80’000.
The CAS arbitration procedure was submitted to an arbitral Panel composed of Prof. Luigi Fumagalli, President (Italy), Prof. Jan Paulsson (France) and Prof. Bernard Hanotiau (Belgium).
A hearing took place at the CAS headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland on 29 April 2016.
The arbitral Panel noted the existence of a valid employment contract between Michal Platini and FIFA, signed in 1999 and including an annual salary of CHF 300’000. Such contract was performed by the parties and terminated in 2002 when Mr. Platini became a member of the FIFA Executive Committee.
It was not until 1 February 2011 – 4 months prior to the FIFA presidential elections and at a moment when Sepp Blatter and Mohamed Bin Hammam were both still candidates to the election – that FIFA paid the amount of CHF 2’000’000 in favour of Mr. Platini.
Mr. Platini justified such payment as back pay, explaining that he had orally agreed with Mr. Blatter in 1998, when the future FIFA President was negotiating with him, to an annual salary of CHF 1’000’000.
The Panel, however, was not convinced by the legitimacy of the CHF 2,000,000 payment, which was only recognized by Mr. Platini and Mr. Blatter, and which occurred more than eight years after the end of his work relations, was not based on any document established at the time of the contractual relations and did not correlate with the alleged unpaid part of his salary (CHF 700’000 x 4 = CHF 2’800’000).
Moreover, the Panel took note that Mr. Platini benefited from the extension of a pension plan to which he was not entitled.
Consequently, the CAS arbitrators unanimously determined that Mr. Platini obtained an undue advantage in breach of Article 20 of the FIFA Code of Ethics.
Furthermore, the Panel also found Mr. Platini guilty of a conflict of interest in breach of Article 19 of the FIFA Code of Ethics.
Based on such findings, the CAS Panel considered that the suspension imposed by FIFA on Mr. Platini was nevertheless too severe and therefore decided to reduce such suspension to four years, which corresponds to the duration of a presidential term.
The CAS Panel was of the opinion that a severe sanction could be justified in view of the superior functions carried out by Mr. Platini (FIFA VicePresident and UEFA President), the absence of any repentance and the impact that this matter has had on FIFA’s reputation.
Contrary to the decisions challenged, the Panel considered that Mr. Platini could not be sanctioned for the violation of Articles 13 (general rules of conduct) and 15 (loyalty) of the FIFA Code of Ethics as the application of Articles 19 and 20 of the FIFA Code of Ethics (special rules) excluded the application of Articles 13 and 15 (general rules) irrespective of the Panel’s findings that
Mr. Platini’s behaviour was not ethical or loyal. In addition, the Panel noted that FIFA knew of the CHF 2,000,000 payment in 2011 but initiated an investigation into Mr. Platini’s behaviour with the FIFA Ethics Committee in September 2015 only.
Finally, the Panel also reduced the fine imposed on Mr. Platini in a similar proportion and set it at CHF 60’000.
The arbitral award with the grounds will be notified to the parties concerned in a few weeks.