Zurich, Reuters – He was introduced as ‘the elected president of FIFA’ but the Sepp Blatter who sat in front of reporters shortly after receiving an eight-year ban from soccer appeared very different to the confident man who had led the sport’s global governing body for 17 years.
Blatter looked pale and frail on Monday, unusually unshaven and with a plaster below his right eye; the tribulations of the past months, which had seen him suspended pending a FIFA ethics investigation and placed under criminal investigation in his homeland, seemed to have taken their toll on the 79-year-old Swiss.
His message contained some defiance: he vowed to fight the ban, insisted he had done no wrong and hit out at those who had questioned his integrity and honesty.
He even ended the press conference, held symbolically at FIFA’s old headquarters, with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old line: ‘I’ll be back.’
But, that touch of toughness aside, his tone was more one of hurt, self-pity and incomprehension.
After a rambling introduction, with a reference to late South African leader Nelson Mandela, he began a statement that sounded initially like an apology but ended as something very different.
‘I’m really sorry. I’m sorry. I am sorry that I am still somewhere a punching ball. I’m sorry that I’m, as president of FIFA, this punching ball. I’m sorry for football,’ he said.
‘I am sorry for the 400-plus FIFA members who work there. I’m sorry. I am sorry about how I am treated in this world of humanitarian qualities. I’m sorry for the Federation Internationale de Football Association.
‘But I’m also sorry about me, how I’m treated in this world.’
Blatter, who spent a week in hospital in November, after which he said he had been close to death, sat with his daughter Corinne throughout the media conference. His spokesman said the sticking plaster covered the scar of a minor cosmetic operation.
Blatter said the Ethics Committee had also overstepped their remit.
‘This committee has no right to go against the president,’ he said, even though FIFA’s Ethics Code makes no exemption for its leader.
‘The president of FIFA can only be released from his activities by the congress … otherwise you cannot elect another president,’ he said.
FIFA’s members will, however, elect another president on February 26 at a congress that Blatter noted he will not even be able to attend, unless his appeal succeeds.
Under Blatter, FIFA took disciplinary action against officials and national federations who took action in civil courts to resolve disputes, but he said he was ready to use the Swiss legal system to win his battle.
‘With my lawyer, I will use sporting justice to go forward immediately to the (FIFA) Appeal Committee, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, also to the Swiss court for my rights as a Swiss citizen,’ he said.
‘I will fight for me and I will fight for FIFA.’
Blatter was found guilty of ethics violations for a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($A2.79 million) from FIFA to European soccer chief President Michel Platini, who was also banned for eight years.
Blatter said the money pertained to a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ made with Platini in 1998.
He conceded that it had been an error not to have registered it properly in the books, but said this was no justification for his ban.
Platini also vowed to appeal against his ban.