Lausanne (AFP): Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter began his final appeal Thursday against his six-year ban from football, in a long-shot quest for redemption after his career ended in scandal.
Blatter entered the world’s top sports court for a one-day hearing seeking to overturn a suspension imposed by FIFA over ethics violations.
“I will accept the verdict,” Blatter, 80, told journalists outside the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“I do hope it will be positive for me, but we are footballers. We learn to win but also we learn to lose,” he added.
The case that triggered Blatter’s downfall first emerged in September of last year, when Swiss prosecutors said they were investigating Blatter over a suspect two million Swiss franc payment ($2 million, 1.8 million euros) he authorised in 2011 to his one-time heir apparent, Michel Platini.
Platini, the former head of European football, was also sanctioned by FIFA over the funds.
The Frenchman lost his CAS appeal in May in a verdict that likely diminishes Blatter’s hopes of victory.
Arguments are expected to last one day, but a decision may take several weeks.
Settling a debt?
Blatter entered CAS shortly past 8:00 (0600 GMT), pulling up to the leafy court house in a black Mercedes sedan and flanked by his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni.
Restating a justification for the infamous Platini payment he has made repeatedly over the last year, Blatter insisted FIFA owned money to the ex-Juventus star.
Platini had been hired by FIFA as a consultant from 1999 to 2002 and had apparently not received his full compensation.
“I am sure, at the end… that the panel will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had” with him, Blatter said Thursday.
“This is a principle: if you have debts you pay them.”
FIFA’s ethics committee was not convinced by the explanation, banning both Blatter and Platini for eight years in December. Those suspensions were however cut to six years on appeal in February.
CAS however judged FIFA’s sanctions against Platini “too severe” and trimmed his suspension to four years.
That outcome would likely offer little comfort to the ageing Blatter, whose four-decade career as a football broker is likely over.
Separate from Thursday’s appeal, Blatter is also the target of a criminal investigation by Swiss prosecutors over the Platini payment and alleged mismanagement during his 17-year tenure as FIFA president.
He has been replaced in that job by fellow Swiss national and former UEFA number two Gianni Infantino in February.
An investigation commissioned by Infantino’s administration also accused Blatter and two top deputies — Jerome Valcke and Markus Kattner — of awarding themselves nearly $80 million worth of improper salary increases and bonuses during their final five years in office.
Both Valcke and Kattner have been sacked by FIFA. Valcke is also the subject of a Swiss criminal probe.
Blatter and Platini were the most prominent casualties during more than a year unprecedented scandal that upended world football, but many others have fallen.
Prosecutors in New York have indicted 40 football and sports marketing executives over allegedly receiving tens of millions of bribes and kickbacks.