Leading figures in soccer hit out at FIFA officials Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini after they were handed eight-year bans from the sport on Monday.
World soccer body president Blatter and vice president Platini, who is also UEFA president, have been banned from all soccer-related activities after the FIFA ethics committee said they had abused their positions over a suspect US$2 million payment.
Dutch Football Association (KNVB) president Michael van Praag, a UEFA vice-president, said that the verdict on Platini was extremely damaging for the governing body of the European game.
“It is extremely scandalous for football as a whole and for its administrators in particular,” Van Praag said in a statement published on the KNVB Web site.
“It is a new low point in the activities and the perception of FIFA in particular, but also UEFA, because of Platini’s personal involvement,” he said.
Van Praag, who had been a candidate to stand against Blatter in the FIFA presidential elections in May before withdrawing, added that the ruling was nevertheless proof of the “growing capacity” of FIFA to clean itself up.
Blatter and Platini have said they will appeal, but English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke described Blatter’s reaction to his ban as “rather sad.”
“He just doesn’t separate himself from FIFA. He thinks he is the same thing, and that’s rather sad. I don’t think he will recover from this,” Dyke said.
Dyke had initially backed Platini to replace Blatter at the head of soccer’s world governing body in February’s elections and admitted his “disappointment” at subsequent developments.
“We took an early decision to support Mr Platini. We thought he had done a very good job with UEFA and we were clearly all very disappointed when all this came out. We didn’t know,” he said. “I presume that he will now ... appeal as well, but I would think it is the end for both him and Blatter.”
Former UEFA president Lennart Johansson described the ruling as “punishment enough” and said the eight-year suspensions could effectively be seen as life bans.
“I think this is punishment enough, because it means they can never come back,” Johansson, who was in charge of UEFA for 17 years before Platini took over in 2007, told the Swedish daily Expressen.
Johansson had previously stood as a candidate and lost against both Blatter and Platini in elections, and he said he felt he had finally been proven right.
“I feel no sense of victory, but I think I have been proven right in hindsight. All I remarked on, all I fought for, I have not done in vain. The truth will always come out eventually — and it has done so now. Otherwise, I feel no satisfaction,” Johansson told the newspaper.
Former Asian Football Confederation general secretary Peter Velappan, who occupied that position when Asia hosted its first ever World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002, said the length of the bans was like a “death sentence.”
“This is very harsh, especially for Blatter, because he dedicated his life to football and FIFA,” Velappan said. “It’s unfortunate that the bribery scandal happened and you can’t take away the blame from him either but still, eight years is too harsh. Eight years is like a death sentence.”
Velappan backed the pair’s record in boosting soccer in Asia and said that should have been taken into consideration.
“Blatter and Platini are football personalities and you have to look at the contributions they have made to the game,” he said.
English soccer icon David Beckham said the episode should be used as an opportunity to implement vital reforms in the game.
“I’m sure at some point there will be a huge amount of change at FIFA,” Beckham said. “No matter what corruption is going on at the highest level, it will never be as big as the game itself.”
Prolific athletes from outside the sport also began to weigh in on Monday.
NBA legend Kobe Bryant said the bans were an “important first step” in cleaning up global soccer.
“With life being as brutal as it is, we come to sport as an escape. When something like this happens, it damages the emotional Shangri-La you get from sport,” Bryant said.
The American, a 20-year veteran with the Los Angeles Lakers, spent several years as a young man in Italy playing soccer and supporting AC Milan.
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