FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini, the man once heavily favored to succeed him, were handed eight-year bans from all soccer activities on Monday morning as the result of a corruption investigation into a $2 million FIFA payment to Platini in 2011.
Blatter maintains that he approved the payment to Platini, a FIFA vice president, to pay a previous bill for contract services provided to FIFA. But the transfer arrived at a time when Platini (pictured above, at center) had elected not to challenge Blatter (pictured above, at left) in the FIFA presidential election, and the organization's ethics committee found that it violated rules on conflict of interest, loyalty and offering gifts.
"I regret I am a punching ball and for my organization I have served with my heart and conscience for 41 years," Blatter said during his opening statement. "Specifically, I regret for all the team members working in FIFA."
The ruling extends a provisional suspension already in place and represents a stunning fall from grace for Blatter, a longtime FIFA executive who has presided over the governing body since 1998.
On Monday, the 79-year-old – who had already announced his resignation from his post, pending the election to name his successor – implicitly blamed the sweeping corruption investigation being conducted by the US Department of Justice.
“If we had awarded the World Cup in 2022 to the USA, we would not be here,” a defiant Blatter said in Italian at a Zurich news conference following the ethics committee's decision, referring to the controversial decision to grant the tournament's hosting rights to Qatar.
“I am not ashamed. I regret, but I am not ashamed,” he added. “First of all, I was sad, but now I’m not sad. I am combative.”
The committee also fined Blatter $50,250. Platini, who was the frontrunner to win the FIFA presidential election currently scheduled for Feb. 26, 2016, was docked $80,400.
"I believe in God, but I also believe in myself. I will fight to restore myself. To suspend the president of FIFA, it is wrong," said Blatter. "I'll be back."