While American football fans and legal analysts have fixated their attention on events pertaining to the numerous lawsuits entered against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson and his former team in recent weeks, global football fans are observing with a hopeful optimism the events that have just recently concluded in Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court. After years of an exasperating lack of transparency and accountability, the two men who formerly sat atop of the world of soccer are at risk of conviction for crimes they allegedly committed as a collaborative tandem.
On June 21st, closing arguments were held in Bellinzona, Switzerland for what has been characterized by local media officials as the sports trial of the century – the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland against Sepp Blatter, former president of FIFA, and Michel Platini, former president of the European football federation (UEFA). Blatter and Platini are currently facing charges of fraud, misappropriation of FIFA funds, criminal mismanagement & forgery of a document, with the case brought forth by the Swiss authorities centering around a mysterious payment of 2m Swiss francs made out to Platini by Blatter in 2011. An investigation by the Swiss Attorney General’s Office uncovered a contract agreement between the two men whereby Platini would serve as a FIFA consultant between 1998-2002 in exchange for an annual salary of 300,000 Swiss francs. Over eight years after the conclusion of Platini’s contract, FIFA obliged the demands of the thrice-voted Ballon D’Or (the award given to the player voted best in the world from the previous year) winner by making out to him the mysterious payment. According to Platini, the payment was made as part of a verbal agreement between himself and FIFA under “conditions of the utmost legality.” Blatter’s perspective on the payment was consistent with that of Platini, emphasizing that the payment was merely an “administrative matter” as a “salary payment that was owed.” Nevertheless, Swiss prosecutors maintain that the payment in question was made without a legal basis, ultimately damaging FIFA’s financial assets and unlawfully enriching Platini.
Metaphorically speaking, the allegations lodged against Blatter and Platini are the cherry on top of a corruption-flavored sundae that aptly characterizes their unpopular reign atop soccer’s governing bodies. Whether it be sexist comments against the advancement of the women’s game or making a comparison between transfers and slavery, Blatter has displayed a knack for offending numerous groups of supporters with his misguided statements. Platini is also culpable for such statements, recently emphasizing that Lionel Messi – arguably the greatest player in the history of the game and an invaluable ambassador for its global development – deserved to be booed by his own fans during a game in which his team won by 3 goals.
Nevertheless, the crown jewel of their infamous tenures must certainly be the role Blatter and Platini both played in 2010 to award the right to host the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup to Qatar – a nation with inhospitable summer temperatures and an egregious record of human rights atrocities. If you are wondering why the World Cup – a summer tournament – is not currently being played, it is because Qatari summers are so hot that FIFA was forced to move the tournament to November, thereby forcing many countries to temporarily suspend their domestic seasons. And if you are wondering how Qatar has prepared to host the World Cup, many of the stadiums have been constructed by the hands of migrant workers trapped in a sponsorship-based employment system. This system forces workers to endure employer abuse and dangerous working conditions in order to avoid the risk of immediate deportation. Needless to say, while the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup was not the primary reason for the charges presented at trial, it is consistent with the notion that Blatter and Platini have utilized their resources to expand the scope of their control over the game.
The verdict for Blatter and Platini’s trial will be released on July 8th. If convicted, the two would likely face suspended 20-month sentences. For soccer fans around the world, the severity of their sentence is not the most important issue. What matters most is that the figureheads responsible for years of corrupting the integrity of the beautiful game would finally be brought to justice for their actions. Conviction would bring an ignominious end to Blatter and Platini’s presence within the sport of soccer. And frankly, it might be deserved.
Bryce Goodwyn is an incoming 1L at Regent University School of Law. While at Regent, he will be a member of the Honors Program and will work as a Dean’s Fellow during his 1L year completing research and administrative work. He also formed part of the recently established National Sports Legal and Business Society as the Regent University Chair. He can be found on Twitter @BryceGoodwyn and on LinkedIn as Bryce Goodwyn.