Blatter reiterates innocence, rules out endorsing FIFA candidate

Banned FIFA president Sepp Blatter has again protested his innocence as he awaits to hear whether his suspension will stand.

Blatter claims both he and Michel Platini have done nothing ethically wrong over the $2 million "disloyal payment" that led to the pair being banned from all football-related activity for eight years. Blatter has spoken out after attending a hearing of the world governing body’s appeals committee in Zurich this week. UEFA president Platini also had his case heard and a verdict will be announced in due course.

In an interview with French radio station RMC, Blatter said: "Platini is innocent. Like me. There’s nothing in there. This is an accounting case, not an ethical matter."

Blatter sanctioned a $2million FIFA payment to Platini in 2011 for work conducted between 1998 and 2002. It was the timing of the payment, some years after the work, that aroused suspicion and ultimately led to the bans. Blatter claims an oral agreement existed between the pair which he says is "also a contract" under Swiss law and FIFA’s code.

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"We must honor it," he said. "That is my philosophy."

If Blatter and Platini fail in their appeals they are expected to take their cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Blatter had already announced his decision to stand down prior to his ban and an election to determine his successor will be held next week.

The 79-year-old will not publicly back any of the five candidates — Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Gianni Infantino, Prince Ali, Tokyo Sexwale or Jerome Champagne. "I cannot take sides," he said. "It is not possible."

Blatter is dismayed his 41 years at FIFA, 18 of them as president, are ending as they are. He said: "I am sad for my departure from the presidency of FIFA. You have to see what we did for football. Football has never been better than now. It is played everywhere. The departure for me is a sadness."

Meanwhile, the Asian Football Confederation has urged its member nations to back its president Sheikh Salman in next week’s FIFA election. Asia has another candidate, Prince Ali of Jordan, but the AFC made clear its preference for Sheikh Salman at a meeting of member associations to discuss proposed FIFA reforms in Kuala Lumpur.

Richard Lai, the AFC marketing committee chairman, said: ”Our vision is ‘One Asia, One Goal.’ Our goal is a united Asia and to demonstrate that we must unite behind our president in the FIFA election.

”At present Asia has two candidates for the FIFA presidency. We must unite behind the one who will deliver these reforms and that is the AFC president. The AFC should not just support the reform process but be a part of it.”

Sheikh Salman, of Bahrain, is widely considered to be the front-runner but Infantino, general secretary of European governing body UEFA, is likely to be a strong rival. The Football Association has said it will be voting for Infantino.