By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) – Banned European soccer boss Michel Platini has withdrawn his candidacy from the race for the presidency of soccer’s scandal-plagued governing body FIFA, he told French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday.
Platini, the head of European soccer body UEFA, was handed an eight-year ban from the game along with outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter by the federation’s independent Ethics Committee on Dec. 21.
Both have been engulfed by the worst corruption scandal in FIFA’s history as the sport faces criminal investigations in Switzerland and the United States, where 41 soccer officials and sports entities have been indicted on corruption-related charges.
Former French international Platini has insisted he has done nothing wrong and was still hoping to win an appeal in time to have been allowed back in time for the election on Feb. 26., but said he had changed his mind.
“I withdraw my candidacy. I can no longer (go through with it). I have neither the time, nor the means to go and see the voters, to meet people, and to fight with others,” he said in an interview which L’Equipe published on its website.
“By withdrawing, I chose to fully focus on my defence on a case where there’s no talk of corruption, falsification anymore, in which there’s nothing left.
“It’s a matter of schedule, but it’s not just that. How do you win an election when you’re prevented from campaigning?”
Blatter and Platini were both banned over a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) made to the Frenchman by FIFA with Blatter’s approval in 2011 for work done a decade earlier.
The committee said the payment, made at a time when Blatter was seeking re-election, lacked transparency and presented conflicts of interest, though both men denied wrongdoing.
Platini had initially been seen as the favourite to replace Blatter in the Feb. 26 election where each of 209 national football associations who are members of FIFA hold one vote.
“I had… about hundred of official letters of support from federations and about 50 pledges, in two days,” Platini said.
Five candidates, none of them clear favourites, will take part in the election and a chance for the job of rebuilding the sport’s beleaguered governing body.
They are Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne of France, UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino of Switzerland and South Africa businessman Tokyo Sexwale.
Infantino has been Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA and announced his candidacy after the Frenchman had been initially suspended in October.
Champagne, although a compatriot of Platini, is known to be a critic, has no connections with UEFA and says that FIFA’s priority must be to spread the game’s riches more evenly around the world.
(Reporting by Toby Davis in London and Julien Pretot in Paris; Writing by Brian Homewood in Zurich; Editing by Alison Williams and Justin Palmer)