By Simon Evans and Brian Homewood
NYON, Switzerland (Reuters) – European football’s governing body UEFA called for a rapid decision in the case of its suspended president Michel Platini on Thursday and said the FIFA presidential election, which he is contesting, should go ahead in February as planned.
However, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said there had been “different opinions” among UEFA’s 54 member associations and he did not rule out another European candidate entering the FIFA presidential race.
Platini and FIFA president Sepp Blatter were banned for 90 days by the FIFA Ethics Committee last week pending a full investigation into both men’s activities, in the latest twist to a scandal which has engulfed FIFA and international football.
The bans came after Switzerland’s attorney general’s office initiated criminal proceedings against Blatter over a two million Swiss francs ($2.1 million) payment from FIFA to Platini in 2011 for work carried out by the Frenchman between 1998 and 2002. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.
Platini is standing in the FIFA presidential election due to be held on Feb. 26, and was considered a frontrunner until recently. The ban could severely hamper his chances of passing an integrity test which is part of the electoral process.
He has already registered as a candidate and appealed against the suspension. This process goes first to FIFA’s own Appeal Committee and then to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
“We strongly call on all instances in the current process…to work very rapidly to ensure that there is a final decision on the merits of the case by, at the latest, mid-November 2015,” UEFA said in a statement.
Infantino said he was optimistic the whole process could be completed within one month, although Platini would still have to face the full ethics investigation after that.
“It should perfectly be possible for the FIFA bodies and independent bodies like CAS to consider everything and take a final decision,” he told a news conference.
Infantino stressed that Platini, who has been UEFA president since 2007 and twice been re-elected unopposed, had not given up on the FIFA presidency.
“Michel Platini is a candidate for the FIFA presidency, although obviously he cannot campaign,” Infantino said.
“Why should Mr. Platini withdraw his candidacy if he is convinced he has done nothing wrong? Let us give him the chance to defend himself, to clear his name and everyone can make up his own opionion.”
However, he ruled out the possibility that UEFA would press for a delay in the FIFA election, a move which could potentially benefit Platini as is would give him more time to try and prove his innocence.
Platini’s ban has left the FIFA presidential race without a clear favourite and only Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan has also confirmed that he has registered.
There are several other hopefuls, including former Brazil international Zico, but they have struggled to gather support among the 209 assocations who each hold one vote.
It was not clear whether UEFA would back another candidate in case Platini failed to get the ban overturned.
“If football is not capable of finding a viable president of FIFA, then there really is a big problem in football,” he said.
He admitted there had been some dissenting voices.
“Of course there were some different opinions expressed but what everyone agreed on is that everyone supported Mr Platini as a person for all that he has done as UEFA president for European football in his career.”
FIFA was hit by the biggest scandal in its 111-year history in May when U.S. prosecutors indicted 14 football and marketing officials in a corruption inquiry. Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General is conducting a parallel investigation.
Blatter, first elected FIFA president in 1998 and now in his fifth mandate, was re-elected on May 29 as the scandal broke. He announced four days later that he would lay down his mandate at an extraordinary Congress and use his remaining months in power to push through reforms.
(Writing by Brian Homewood, Editing by Angus MacSwan)