GENEVA: Sepp Blatter will mount his final challenge against his six-year FIFA ban on Thursday, following more than a year of scandal that saw him thrown out of football in disgrace.
The former FIFA boss has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) seeking to overturn a suspension imposed by world football’s governing body.
“I’m very confident,” the 80-year-old Blatter told AFP last week, although his prospects for an outright victory would appear to be remote.
The now infamous, endlessly debated case first emerged in September of last year, when Swiss prosecutors said they were investigating Blatter over a suspect 2 million Swiss franc payment ($2 million, 1.8 million euros) he authorised in 2011 to his one-time heir apparent, Michel Platini.
Those revelations initially triggered a provisional suspension by FIFA’s ethics committee.
A full investigation and trial by FIFA’s in-house court found Blatter and Platini both guilty of ethics violations. They were banned from football for eight years in December.
A FIFA appeals committee cut those penalties to six years in February, just before Blatter’s successor and fellow Swiss national, Gianni Infantino, was elected as FIFA’s new president.
Blatter’s hopes for redemption at CAS are likely hampered by Platini’s failed appeal at the Lausanne-based court.
In a May ruling CAS judges said they were “not convinced” that the $2 million payment was legitimate.
They did however reduce the suspension against the former French star and European football chief from six years to four, judging FIFA’s penalty “too severe.”
Throughout the protracted saga, both Blatter and Platini have insisted the payment was part of a legitimate oral contract.
Platini had been hired by FIFA as a consultant from 1999 to 2002 and had apparently not received his full compensation.
The two men claimed the $2 million was authorised in 2011 as an honest effort to settle that account.
Judges at FIFA and CAS have so far found that argument unpersuasive.
Blatter has maintained his innocence as his four decade FIFA career unravelled over the last 13 months, and continued that trend in the interview last week.
“FIFA made the contract with Platini, and this was an oral contract,” he told AFP at a plush restaurant in Zurich.
“So far in the FIFA committees, in the ethics committee and in the appeal committee, they were saying: we don’t believe that. But we are not all liars. So I think there is a good chance that this panel will believe that there was a contract.”
Arguments at CAS are expected to last just one day, although a decision may take several weeks.
The hearing marks the latest legal battle in a series of intertwined scandals that began in May of last year, when the US Justice Department unsealed a raft of corruption indictments against top FIFA officials.
Prosecutors in New York have since indicted 40 football and sports marketing executives over allegedly receiving tens of millions of bribes and kickbacks.
Some of the most powerful people in the game have fallen, including FIFA’s long-serving secretary general Jerome Valcke who like Blatter is facing a criminal investigation in Switzerland. AFP