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  • Blatter Awaits FIFA Judges Verdict, Receives Putin Support


    Blatter and Putin at the Russia 2018 World Cup draw in July (Getty)
    (ATR) After an eight-hour FIFA ethics hearing over allegations concerning a “disloyal payment”, Sepp Blatter’s legal team say he “looks forward to a decision in his favor, because the evidence requires it”.

    Blatter answered questions from a panel of FIFA judges headed by Hans-Joachim Eckert about the $2 million payment he made to Michel Platini in 2011 in the Thursday hearing. Platini decided not to attend his own hearing today, putting his faith in his lawyers to get him off the hook over the alleged illegal payment, which could be in violation of conflict of interest and non-disclosure rules.

    U.S. lawyer Richard Cullen released a statement on behalf of Blatter soon after the 79-year-old’s hearing was completed, in what may be the outgoing FIFA president’s last visit to the headquarters of world football’s governing body.

    “President Blatter looks forward to a decision in his favor, because the evidence requires it,” Cullen said. “The evidence demonstrates that president Blatter behaved properly and certainly did not violate FIFA’s Code of Ethics. This investigation should be closed and the suspension lifted.”

    Blatter and Platini will hear on Monday morning whether their suspensions have been lifted. More likely is a ban of possibly five to seven years.

    Putin Backs Blatter

    Russian president Vladimir Putin made a ludicrous attempt to help restore Blatter’s battered reputation late Thursday in his annual briefing covering a multitude of topics.

    Despite the corruption scandal that has engulfed FIFA, Putin branded Blatter “a very respected person”, adding that “he should be given the Nobel Peace Prize”.

    Putin said Russia’s victory in the scandal-hit 2018 World Cup bidding race was “a result of fair competition”.

    “FIFA listened to us and made this decision on holding 2018 World Cup in Russia with the aim of developing world football and not for any corruption considerations," Putin said in the news conference, according to TASS, claiming Russia "could not have exerted any pressure."

    Hayatou on FIFA Crisis

    Late Thursday, acting FIFA president Issa Hayatou and acting secretary general Markus Kattner wrote about the biggest crisis in FIFA’s history in an open letter. They pointed to new reforms to be voted on at the elective congress on Feb. 26 as a pathway to helping restore the governing body’s tarnished reputation.

    “FIFA has faced unprecedented difficulties this year in a crisis that has shaken global football
    governance to its core. We are now moving through a period of necessary change to protect the future of our organization,” Hayatou and Kattner said.

    “We maintain that the majority of those working in football governance do so in the right way and for the right reasons, but it has become clear that root-and-branch reform is the only way to deter future wrongdoing and to restore faith in FIFA.”

    They said 2016 “and the immediate years to come will be among the most important for FIFA since it was founded in 1904”.

    “A new FIFA president will be elected at the congress in February, offering the opportunity to start a new chapter. It is vital to recognise that this will be only the beginning,” they said in the letter.

    “We will need to work hard together over the coming years to win back the trust and respect of fans, players, commercial affiliates and all the many millions of participants who make football the world’s most popular sport.”

    Following fresh indictments in the U.S. investigation into FIFA corruption in the past two weeks – 41 individuals and entities have so far been charged with corruption – Hayatou and Kattner expressed confidence in the package of reforms drawn up by Francois Carrard’s committee.

    Together with the separate actions of the Swiss and US authorities, reforms “will lay the foundations for a stronger, more transparent and more accountable and more ethical governing body of football”.

    “We call on all of FIFA’s member associations to fully support, implement and abide by the new reforms,” FIFA’s interim leaders said in the letter.

    The reforms are subject to a vote at the February congress and include formation of a FIFA Council, tighter financial controls, term limits for FIFA officials of three four-year terms and a commitment in the federation's statutes to develop women’s football.

    “There may be further challenges ahead, and it will take time for these reforms to take effect, but our resolve to rebuild FIFA for the better remains steadfast,” they added. “Our aim is to establish a secure, professional and fully accountable sports organisation by the time of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

    "We are confident that this is a realistic target.”

    Reported by Mark Bisson

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