Platini "optimistic" of having six-year ban overturned by CAS
"Today the match begins, a new match, the final...I'm optimistic, we're going to win,"said Michel Platini as his appeal process began in Lausanne.
UEFA's fallen president Michel Platini mounted a final challenge against his six-year ban from football on Friday in an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with a verdict due by May 9.
The stakes could not be higher for the 60-year-old former French international, who led Europe's powerful football confederation and was favoured to take charge of world governing body FIFA before his dramatic downfall last year.
Among the witnesses at the day-long hearing was Platini's former ally-turned-foe, FIFA's disgraced ex-president Sepp Blatter.
If CAS overturns the ethics violation verdict imposed by FIFA judges, then Platini could be at the Stade de France for the Euro 2016 opener between hosts France and Romania on June 10. A negative verdict will see his glittering career in the sport brought to an ignominious halt.
"Today the match begins, a new match, the final...I'm optimistic, we're going to win," Platini told reporters before entering the court in the Swiss city of Lausanne. Exiting the court after the hearing, Platini said his confidence had grown and restated his claim that the verdict from FIFA judges was unjust.
The Frenchman has been sanctioned over an infamous two million Swiss franc ($2 million, 1.8 million euro) payment he received in 2011 from then-FIFA president Blatter. FIFA's ethics committee in December banned both men from all football activities for eight years. The suspensions were cut to six years in February.
Both men insist they did nothing wrong and that the payment was part of a legitimate oral contract tied to consulting work that Platini did for FIFA between 1999 and 2002. CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb said that May 9 verdict would include "simply a decision and the reasoning will come a little later".
Before entering the court, Blatter told reporters he was "happy" to honour a request from FIFA that he testify and that he was looking forward to greeting Platini again.
"It has been a while since I've seen him," the 80-year-old Blatter said. He later described the process as "fair [and] very proper".
"I hope that my participation has helped to find a solution to this problem," Blatter said, declining to discuss specifics of his testimony. Blatter has also appealed to CAS and is awaiting a date for his hearing.
In a further twist, Blatter remains the target of a Swiss criminal investigation partly focused on the dubious transaction. Blatter and Platini were the highest profile casualties in the massive scandal that has engulfed FIFA over the last 11 months.
Previously the most powerful figures in world football, the pair were once considered strong allies but their relationship publicly frayed as Blatter repeatedly refused to cede the FIFA presidency and graft allegations widened.
The murky two million Swiss franc payment ultimately destroyed Platini's chances of replacing Blatter as the Frenchman was forced to pull out of the race to become FIFA president in an election won by his number two at UEFA, Gianni Infantino.
UEFA has said it will not replace Platini until all his appeals are exhausted, so if the former French star is successful at CAS he could reclaim his job in time to preside over Euro 2016.
The May 9 verdict date means UEFA will almost certainly not elect his replacement at the body's congress in Budapest next week, as it would have done if CAS had ruled against the Frenchman.
Platini's lawyer Thibaud D'Ales conceded to AFP that the sport tribunal was his client's "last avenue of appeal".
The CAS hearing included three legal experts, one each representing Platini and FIFA and a president. Platini chose Yale and Harvard educated Swedish lawyer Jan Paulsson, with world football's ruling body selecting Bernard Hanotiau of Switzerland.
The hearing was chaired by Luigi Fumagalli, a University of Milan-educated Italian international law expert. The hearing was closed to the public, but Platini's legal team was expected to have produced an invoice for the suspect payment in an attempt to prove there was nothing untoward about the transaction.
"Five people from the offices of FIFA were involved in this payment, which was processed by the Finance Committee and reported to the Executive Committee. It is far from a hidden payment," said D'Ales.
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