The fallen head of European football, Michel Platini, faced a FIFA appeals committee on Monday in a bit to clear his name and overturn an eight-year ban from the sport for ethics violations.
“I am not fighting for my future, but against injustice,” the former French star told journalists outside the Zurich headquarters of world football’s governing body.
While most football power-brokers typically enter FIFA’s compound in luxury sedans with tinted windows, the 60-year-old Platini walked the final 100 metres (330 feet) to FIFA’s gate, smiling and looking upbeat as reporters peppered him with questions.
“If I had anything to feel guilty about, I would be in Siberia, hiding in shame,” said Platini, also a former FIFA vice president. “I’m very well. There are worse things in life.”
In December, FIFA judges ruled that a mysterious 2 million Swiss franc ($2 million, 1.8 million euros) Platini received from Sepp Blatter in 2011 violated the world body’s ethics guidelines and that both men had abused their positions.
Blatter, FIFA’s disgraced president who turns 80 in March, was also hit with an eight-year ban over the payment. His appeal hearing is set for Tuesday.
Both men, once the most powerful figures in world football, have insisted that the payment was part of a legitimate oral contract reportedly for consulting work performed by Platini a decade earlier.
If the appeals panel rules against them, both are expected to take their case the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.
The notorious 2011 payment is also part of a criminal probe by Swiss prosecutors targeting Blatter, in which Platini has been questioned in a capacity that falls between a witness and an accused person.
– ‘Eye-to-eye’ –
Platini boycotted his December hearing at FIFA’s ethics tribunal, claiming that a judgement against him had been pre-determined.
But on Monday he said he would face the appeals committee “eye-to-eye.”
“I have done nothing and I am afraid of nothing,” he said. “We’ll see what happens… Maybe this is not over.”
Platini had been the favourite to win FIFA’s February 26 presidential vote but the December ruling levelled the final blow to his hopes of succeeding Blatter.
He withdrew from the race, leading the European confederation (UEFA) to back Gianni Infantino, Platini’s long-serving deputy at Europe’s governing body.
But UEFA has said it will not elect a new president until Platini’s appeals have been exhausted, meaning the Frenchman could reclaim his post at the top of European football if his ban is overturned.
– Not blaming Blatter –
Platini and Blatter have been the most high-profile casualties in the unprecedented, wide-ranging scandal that has seen senior football executives suspended or fired, with 39 people indicted for corruption by the United States.
The saga has provoked endless discussion about the complicated relationship between Blatter and Platini, who previously were allies before the relationship turned publicly sour.
Platini on Monday seemed to dismiss suggestions that Blatter was responsible for his troubles.
“Is it Blatter who put me in this situation? Not at all, because he is in the same situation as me, but someone pushed the button (against me) and I will try to find out who,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the two men fight to preserve their football careers, the campaign to replace Blatter is heating up with the vote 11 days away.
Infantino and the head of the Asian Football Confederation Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa are widely seen as frontrunners, ahead of Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al Hussein, South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale and France’s Jerome Champagne