GENEVA: A week after receiving the resounding backing of his UEFA colleagues, Michel Platini could discover that support for him has cooled after European soccer leaders discuss the suspended president’s ethics case on Thursday.
The UEFA president is battling to salvage his reputation after being provisionally banned for at least 90 days last week by FIFA’s ethics judge, along with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, pending the outcome of an investigation into a 2011 payment to the former France captain. Both Blatter and Platini deny any wrongdoing.
Platini still hopes he can clear his name in time to stand in the emergency FIFA presidential election in February, even though he is expected to be declared ineligible once the candidate integrity checks are conducted after Oct. 26.
A delay to the election, which could be agreed by FIFA’s executive committee on Tuesday, could assist Platini. But rival contender Prince Ali bin al-Hussein warned on Wednesday that delaying the election would further discredit scandal-hit FIFA and deepen the instability.
The high-profile suspensions last week were imposed because FIFA ethics investigators are yet to be convinced that the payment of 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) from Blatter to Platini was legitimate.
No written contract exists for the transaction, which Platini claims was salary owed to him from his work as Blatter’s adviser between 1998 and 2002, but was only requested in 2011. The payment is also the subject of a Swiss criminal investigation in which Blatter is a suspect.
“This case is like a backpack that could force (Platini) to his knees,” German federation president Wolfgang Niersbach was quoted as telling German publication “Die Zeit.”
Niersbach is a member of the UEFA executive committee, which said last week that it “stands fully behind” Platini and has “full confidence” in him.
Allan Hansen was the first member of UEFA’s ruling board to break ranks on Monday by telling Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet that if there was no written contract for the disputed payment “we can no longer support him.”
Hansen also sits on FIFA’s audit and compliance panel so is likely to have deep knowledge of the case when UEFA meets on Thursday and Platini’s position is scrutinized.
UEFA senior vice president Angel Maria Villar is set to chair the meetings on Thursday – firstly of the executives and then all 54 member nations.
But Villar, the head of the Spanish federation, remains at risk of sanctions himself from a separate investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
UEFA has resisted appointing Villar as acting president as required by the statues, with Platini unable to carry out his duties. FIFA, however, is under the temporary leadership of Issa Hayatou, who is due to arrive this week at the Zurich headquarters for the first time since becoming acting president.
Hayatou, the head of African soccer, has already ruled out standing in the election, which is scheduled for Feb. 26.
If UEFA members do start to waver in their support for Platini, Thursday’s meeting could be the turning point – and lead to the endorsement of another European candidate.
A possible contender is Dutch federation head Michael van Praag, who was a candidate for the May election but withdrew ahead of the ballot to ensure it was a head-to-head between Blatter and Prince Ali.
The 79-year-old Blatter was returned for a fifth term but revealed resignation plans four days later as the severity of the US criminal investigations into FIFA officials magnified and sponsors stepped up criticism.
Now Prince Ali is warning that FIFA’s executive committee “should not interfere with an ongoing process that was put in place by the ad hoc electoral committee” by postponing the February ballot of 209 nations.
“Delaying the scheduled election would only postpone needed change and create further instability,” he said in a statement from Amman. “It would tell the world that lessons haven’t been learned, that the same backroom deals that have discredited FIFA in the first place continue.”
An accountable, elected president is required quickly, rather than an interim leader due to the crisis, according to the prince.
“The election date of February 26 was set three months ago with a clear procedure that meets all of FIFA’s statutory requirements,” the Jordanian Football Association president said. “Candidates have had plenty of time to declare and still do. The rules should not be changed after the game has started.”