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FIFA president Sepp Blatter is banned from soccer for 8 years

Sepp Blatter, who is stepping down in February, reacts to news that he's been banned.
Sepp Blatter, who is stepping down in February, reacts to news that he's been banned.
Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been banned from soccer for eight years, effective immediately, the latest consequence in a year when FIFA's widespread corruption came home to roost.

The FIFA ethics committee banned Blatter for making an illicit $2.1 million payment to the head of the governing body of European soccer, UEFA. But this isn't the first time Blatter's been caught up in scandal.

Blatter and the head of UEFA, Michel Platini, who was also banned, had already been suspended for 90 days.

Blatter, who had already announced he would step down in February, insists he's innocent and plans to appeal: "I regret that I am the punching ball for this organization that I have served, with all my heart, for 41 years," he said, defiantly, at a press conference Monday, according to the Guardian.

Blatter's 17-year presidency has been a long string of scandals

Until this year, Blatter looked bulletproof. Even after top FIFA officials were arrested for corruption in May, he managed to win a fifth term leading soccer's international governing body — a term he's now not going to serve.

Blatter was the right-hand man of João Havelange, the Brazilian who led FIFA into the modern era between 1974 and 1998. Havelange, who made FIFA more welcoming to developing countries, built a base of support outside Europe, taking $23 million in bribes in exchange for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Allegations of similar corruption followed Blatter from his first day in office. A 2002 book, How They Stole the Game, alleged that Blatter bought votes with envelopes of cash in order to engineer a victory in his first election. Blatter allegedly paid $50,000 to African countries to vote in his favor. He doesn't deny that money changed hands, but said it was an advance on development money that the countries were supposed to get anyway.

During Blatter's tenure, bribes have allegedly changed hands during the World Cup bidding process and in exchange for broadcast rights. FIFA's corruption, though, goes far beyond its president.

Blatter made a "disloyal payment" to Platini

In 2011, FIFA paid Platini 2 million Swiss francs, worth about the same amount in dollars, although Platini had no contract with the organization. Blatter claims he was paying Platini for work he performed as a consultant for FIFA between 1999 and 2002.

But Platini received the payment, the Guardian notes, "shortly before he decided not to stand as a rival candidate in the May 2011 presidential election and instead supported Blatter" — suggesting that something else might have been going on besides payment made for services rendered nine years earlier.

Platini said he never planned to run for the presidency in the first place, and that the payment was the result of an unwritten handshake agreement he and Blatter made years earlier.

The Swiss attorney general opened an investigation into Blatter in September. FIFA's ethics committee, which conducted its own investigation into the $2 million payment, suspended Blatter and Platini for 90 days in October over the "disloyal payment," a Swiss French legal term that denotes a payment made by an employee that isn't in the best interests of the organization.

This is just the latest in FIFA's corruption scandal

FIFA's corruption is so vast that a $2 million payment starts to seem like small potatoes.

  • In May, the US Department of Justice arrested and indicted 14 FIFA officials and soccer executives, saying they took bribes in exchange for broadcast rights to the World Cup.
  • Swiss authorities are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar — which includes 121 possible instances of "suspicious financial activity."
  • Blatter's top deputy allegedly handled $10 million in bribes paid during the 2010 World Cup bidding process.

FIFA has been accused of large-scale bribery and corruption since at least the 1970s; Blatter, who was first elected president in 1998, has been plagued with scandal from the start. He announced in June that he would resign. FIFA will elect its next president from among five candidates on February 26, 2016.