ATHENS, Greece — Michel Platini insisted his conscience was clear and he would continue the fight to overturn a FIFA ban in a farewell speech on Wednesday to European soccer leaders before his successor as UEFA president was elected.
Platini was allowed by FIFA’s ethics judge to deliver the UEFA congress address as a “gesture of humanity,” despite serving a four-year suspension from any role in soccer over an improper payment.
Emerging from his FIFA-enforced exile, Platini used the platform in Athens to highlight his achievements since assuming the UEFA presidency in 2007 and issue advice to the next head of European soccer.
There was applause from UEFA delegates but no standing ovation after Platini completed his address by declaring: “Friends of football, farewell.”
Before then, without detailing the specifics of the wrongdoing, Platini insisted there was nothing improper about taking a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) from FIFA in 2011.
“Be assured that I have a clear conscience, that I’m convinced I did not make the slightest mistake, and that I’m continuing the legal battle,” Platini told an audience which included FIFA President Gianni Infantino. “I want to thank everyone in this room who had the courage and loyalty to support me during the past months.”
The 61-year-old Platini expected to have vacated the presidency by now to be serving as FIFA leader. But the ethics ban allowed Infantino, his former UEFA administrator, to assume Platini’s self-proclaimed destiny to run world soccer.
This is a juddering end to a decades-long career in soccer, with Platini going from winning titles with Juventus and France to becoming one of the sport’s most powerful leaders before being brought down in disgrace last year.
Platini’s four-year term through 2019 will be completed by Slovenian federation leader Aleksander Ceferin, who won the election later Wednesday in the Greek capital.
Platini told the candidates that “football is a game before a product, a sport before a market, a show before a market.”
“For millions of people around the world, football is … a flame,” Platini said. “We have done much together for nine years to develop and preserve this flame.”
After expressing confidence that football is “on the right track,” Platini warned that “serious abuses” are still undermining the sport.
“Continue to balance sports realities and economic interests,” he said.