SPORTS LAW AT THE CROSSROADS

What ban? Platini cleared to address UEFA’s elective Congress

By Andrew Warshaw

September 12 – In a staggering ruling that will only serve to undermine its credibility and fuel accusations of double standards, FIFA’s ethics committee today gave Michel Platini permission to make a farewell speech at Wednesday’s election to replace him as UEFA president.

Despite serving a four-ban from “all football-related activity”, the ethics committee somehow took the view that addressing UEFA’s 55 federations in Athens did not in any way violate the terms of the ban.

Last week, it was reported that Platini had been personally invited to Athens by Angel Maria Villar, UEFA’s senior vice-president who has been holding the fort for the last 11 months and is chairing Wednesday’s extraordinary congress.

A member of Platini’s entourage was quoted as saying the Frenchman would “travel by his own means and will not give a press conference”, the assumption being that he would meet former colleagues privately away from the official business of the election.

But in a remarkable departure from past behaviour by the ethics committee, Uefa said in a statement that it had been “informed  that Michel Platini will be allowed to address the 12th Extraordinary UEFA Congress in Athens on 14 September.”

“A request for Mr. Platini’s attendance had been recently made by UEFA and we welcome this decision.”

The surprise ruling seems certain to prompt legitimate questions about whether ethics officials were acting independently or whether they had been influenced – some might say not for the first time – by FIFA president Gianni Infantino who is attending the Congress. Questions also need to be asked about UEFA only making their request so close to election day.

Infantino, himself recently cleared of any wrongdoing by the same ethics committee, was previously Platini’s number two at UEFA and only seized his opportunity to lead FIFA once the candidacy of his old boss was ruled out. But now they have a chance to stretch out a mutual hand of peace in front of the entire UEFA electorate.

When Platini, UEFA president since 2007, was banned over that infamous “disloyal payment” of CHF 2 million he insists was a “gentleman’s agreement”  for consultancy work carried out on behalf of Sepp Blatter between 1998 and 2002, the ethics committee, tellingly, took the view that the pair had demonstrated an “abusive execution” of their positions.

The original eight-year ban was later reduced to six on appeal to FIFA, then four years in a further appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but at no time during his 11 months out of the game has Platini been seen in public in any official capacity.

Even at Euro 2016 in his homeland, the ethics committee made it clear he had to abide by the terms of the ban. A letter signed by ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert told UEFA at the time that Platini could be invited “in a personal capacity as long as he doesn’t perform any official function.”

Reasserting the terms of the ban, Eckert’s adjudicatory chamber re-iterated that Platini was “currently banned from all football-related activities (sport, business and other).”

Yet now it would appear they have softened their stance, giving Platini an unexpected chance to make a dignified and triumphant departure from UEFA before handing over to either Michael van Praag or Aleksander Ceferin.

Indeed, in an emailed statement to Insideworldfootball, an ethics committee spokesman admitted they had made an exception for humanitarian reasons.

“UEFA formally asked the adjudicatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee for an exception for M. Platini to be able to make a short farewell address to its congress in Athens. The chairman of the adjudicatory chamber, Mr. Hans-Joachim Eckert, granted this exception as a gesture of humanity,” the statement said.

While such a humanitarian gesture might be construed in some circles as a laudable act of compassion, the ruling nevertheless appears completely arbitrary, throwing up the issue of double standards and whether Eckert’s body has compromised its principles and independence.

Allowing Platini to gain the moral high ground and  leave with his head held high whilst attending an official function (technically a violation of his ban) also sets an alarming precedent . What, one wonders, will Sepp Blatter be thinking having apparently been denied the same right when he, too, was forced to step down?

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