UEFA members back suspended Platini in fight to clear name
NYON, Switzerland — All 54 European soccer nations on Thursday backed UEFA President Michel Platini’s fight to clear his name and overturn FIFA’s suspension.
The support, which was announced through a UEFA statement, did not follow a vote in the meeting of UEFA members at its headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland and offered no view on the case itself.
Platini and FIFA President Sepp Blatter were suspended for 90 days last week by the FIFA ethics committee following an investigation into a payment from soccer’s world governing body.
While Blatter has been replaced at FIFA by acting president Issa Hayatou, Platini retains the UEFA presidency and salary despite officially being banned.
"Currently the president of UEFA is only suspended by FIFA," UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said. "For the time being he does receive his salary as he does continue being UEFA president."
Platini also still hopes to stand in the Feb. 26 FIFA presidential election, even though it seems hard for him to be declared eligible once the candidate integrity checks are conducted after Oct. 26.
"Why should Mr. Platini withdraw his candidacy if he is convinced he has done nothing wrong and he can clear his name?" Infantino said. "Let’s give him the chance to defend himself, to clear his name."
But UEFA members of FIFA’s executive committee will use the meeting in Zurich next week to discuss options for a potential alternative European candidate to Platini.
The ethics case centers on 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) Platini received from FIFA in 2011. He says the money was unpaid additional salary from his job as Blatter’s adviser between 1998 and 2002.
Before Thursday’s meeting, several European associations said they wanted more details on why Platini waited nine years to collect the money, which was not covered by a written contract. It was unclear if they received the answers they wanted.
Platini’s lawyer took questions at Thursday’s meeting of the UEFA members and the executive committee, where it was decided not to withdraw backing for its leader of eight years.
"We support Michel Platini’s right to a due process and a fair trial and to the opportunity to clear his name," UEFA said in a statement it said was agreed to by the executive committee and 54 members.
Austrian federation president Leo Windtner confirmed that "all nations give all support to Mr. Platini" in a unified position.
Platini is appealing against the interim suspension, but even if that is lifted he would still be facing the full verdict on the case by FIFA’s ethics judge.
"We strongly call on all instances involved in the current process: FIFA’s Ethics Committee, FIFA’s Appeal Committee and ultimately the Court of Arbitration for Sport to work very rapidly to ensure that there is a final decision on the merits of the case by, at the latest, mid-November 2015," the UEFA statement said.
FIFA investigators have not yet been convinced there was even an oral agreement between Platini and Blatter for the unpaid debt called in at the start of 2011. Platini said he did not receive his full salary by 2002 because FIFA could not afford to pay him.
Platini has not produced a written contract to show the money was owed to him. Because of his ban from any role in soccer, Platini was not allowed to attend Thursday’s meeting. The payment is also being investigated by the Swiss attorney general.
Hours before being suspended last week, Platini submitted his election paperwork to FIFA.
"Michel Platini is already a candidate for the FIFA presidency," Infantino said, overlooking the fact that status is only declared by FIFA’s election committee.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan is the only other hopeful to formally submit his candidacy to FIFA, which includes nominations from five federations.
UEFA executives are still discussing whether another candidate should be put forward as a backup in case Platini is ineligible.
As UEFA members met Thursday, Hayatou spent his first day at FIFA headquarters in Zurich as acting president and addressed the staff.
"It’s certainly an unprecedented situation for FIFA," Hayatou said in comments provided by FIFA. "But we remain focused on the necessary reform process, the presidential election and on supporting the current investigations. To restore public trust is a crucial objective. It is essential that FIFA carries on its mission of developing the game and staging international tournaments."