ZURICH (AFP) - Fifa’s ethics watchdog on Thursday suspended the two most powerful men in football, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, for 90 days in a sensational new blow to the sport’s scandal-tainted governing body.
Secretary-general Jerome Valcke was also suspended for 90 days while South Korean tycoon Chung Mong-Joon, a candidate for the Fifa presidency along with Platini, was banned outright for six years.
While Fifa said the suspensions were “provisional", the action almost certainly signals the end of the reign of Fifa president Blatter and deals a major blow to Uefa leader Platini’s hopes of taking over.
Issa Hayatou head of the Confederation of African Football, a Blatter ally, was put in charge of the multi-billion dollar body.
Fifa said Blatter, who has been its president since 1998, had been “relieved of all his duties” during the 90 days.
Blatter, 79, is under investigation by Swiss prosecutors for criminal mismanagement.
The four football powerbrokers “are banned from all football activities on a national and international level. The bans come into force immediately", a statement said.
Lawyers for Blatter said he was “disappointed” the ethics watchdog had failed to follow its own rules by not letting him give evidence.
“President Blatter looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will demonstrate that he did not engage in any misconduct, criminal or otherwise,” said a statement by Zurich lawyers Lorenz Erni, Erni Brun Forrer and US-based Richard Cullen.
Blatter and French football legend Platini have faced mounting pressure since Swiss prosecutors started their investigation on Sept 25.
Platini has been named in the investigation because of a US$2 million payment he received in 2011.
Platini, 60, registered his candidacy on Thursday for the Feb 26 vote to find a successor to Blatter.
He slammed as “farcical” the Fifa ban and signalled he would pursue his campaign for the leadership of the world body.
“I reject all the allegations that have been made against me,” he said.
The 54-member European body will meet at its Nyon headquarters next Thursday to discuss the crisis.
The suspensions handed out on Thursday can be renewed for another 45 days when they run out in January, which would take the exclusion until just before the Fifa election to be held on Feb 26.
Chung, who was also fined 100,000 Swiss francs (S$145,000) would be automatically ruled out of the presidential race.
The scion of the Hyundai family was found to have contravened rules while lobbying for South Korea’s bid for the 2022 World Cup which was awarded to Qatar in a controversial 2010 vote.
Chung said he will “mobilise all legal means” to fight his six-year ban.
“Fifa is like the sinking Titanic,” the billionaire former Fifa vice-president said, accusing Blatter of having “morally bankrupted Fifa”.
Fifa’s crisis has been mounting since May when US authorities issued charges against 14 Fifa officials and sports marketing executives over more than US$150 million (S$210 million) in bribes given for broadcasting and marketing contracts.
Seven Fifa officials were detained at a Zurich hotel two days before Blatter was reelected for a fifth term on May 29.
As the storm grew, Blatter announced that he would stand down, but only when the election is held.
Blatter said in an interview with a German magazine this week that he was determined to stay until Feb 26.
“I am convinced that evil will come into the light and good will triumph,” he said.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach entered the controversy on Thursday, calling on Fifa to consider a “credible external candidate” as president.
Platini said he had still registered his official papers to be a candidate in the Fifa race. The deadline is Oct 26.
Prince Ali bin al Hussein, a former Fifa vice-president from Jordan, and Zico, a former Brazilian footballer and sports minister, are also in the running.
Observers have predicted that the crisis could bring forward another candidate, with Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa widely touted.
Sexwale, a former associate of the late Nelson Mandela, is head of a Fifa commission trying to bring peace between the Israeli and Palestinian football associations.