DAVID GREENE, HOST:
You know, while soccer remains the world's most popular game, the organization that runs the sport is about as unpopular as a governing body can be. It is called FIFA, and it has been mired in an ongoing corruption investigation since May. And now its controversial president, Sepp Blatter, is facing a humiliating end to his long tenure. NPR's Tom Goldman is here to talk about Blatter's eight-year suspension by a FIFA ethics committee, and what this might mean. Tom, good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So not a good day for Sepp Blatter and not a good day for the European football head, Michel Platini, right? Both suspended for eight years - I mean, can you remind us why?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, it stems from a $2 million fee FIFA payment to Platini in 2011. It was a payment OK'd by Blatter. Now, although the ethics committee which handed down the suspensions didn't use the word bribe, critics allege the payment was just that as a way for Blatter to gain Platini's support in Blatter's bid for reelection in 2011.
GREENE: Wasn't Blatter ready to leave office in February anyway?
GOLDMAN: He is. He is, definitely. And, you know, so you may wonder who cares - why is this suspension significant? Blatter has been the dominant figure in world soccer since he first became president in 1998. And this would mean he finishes his tenure in disgrace. Practically speaking, the suspension hurts Platini more. He was considered a front-runner in the February presidential election. And if the suspension is not reversed by then, it'll have a dramatic impact on what has been considered his bright future in FIFA leadership.
GREENE: Well, both these guys say they're going to fight these bans. I mean, could they pull something off and avoid them?
GOLDMAN: Well, they say they'll appeal their cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. That's an international body that resolves legal disputes in sport through arbitration. Now, earlier this month, CAS, as it's called, rejected Platini's appeal of his provisional suspension for this alleged ethics violations. But I don't think you can take that and predict how CAS will rule on the eight-year ban. So Platini and Blatter hope the process happens quickly, in time for the February elections. So if there's a reversal, Blatter could preside over his final FIFA Congress, and Platini could run.
GREENE: You know, I mean, as we mentioned, soccer is such a popular sport. But, I mean, so many charges of corruption and all these kinds of backroom deals. There's an investigation ongoing - the U.S. Department of Justice - in FIFA and allegations of corruption. Swiss authorities are involved. I mean, is this related to the suspensions at all?
GOLDMAN: Well, it's all kind of related, but the keyword here, David - ongoing. The investigations already have led to numerous arrests and indictments of FIFA officials - more are expected. When you consider police seized nine terabytes of data at FIFA headquarters earlier this year, that's a ton of inside information officials are sifting through. The investigations are starting to reveal this whole culture of alleged corruption, including alleged payments over where to host past and future World Cups. And it's why many believe it's the investigations, not the February election, that lead to real reform. The frontrunners in the election are all considered FIFA insiders so critics say it could be more of the same.
GREENE: All right, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks as always, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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