France's sports minister publicly questioned the legitimacy of FIFA's ethics committee after it imposed an eight-year ban that seriously endangers fellow-Frenchman Michel Platini's prospects of becoming the next head of the world football body.
Patrick Kanner said he still backed Platini, head of the powerful European soccer body UEFA, and questioned whether he had been given a fair hearing by a committee he said was close to the old guard of the FIFA world soccer body.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter and would-be successor Platini were both banned from the sport for eight years on Monday for ethics violations. Both are under scrutiny over a 2011 payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) made to Platini with Blatter's approval, for work done 10 years earlier.
"We know very well that FIFA's ethics committee has been very close to the former managers, notably Sepp Blatter... who is perhaps dragging down with him the man he expected to be his successor but who was not always the man he wanted to see take his place," Kanner told Europe 1 radio.
"I regret this because Michel Platini is in a sense being hounded. Was he able to defend himself under fair conditions? I'm not convinced."
Platini has vowed to fight the eight-year ban in the world sports tribunal and even civil proceedings to claim damages over a decision that he has denounced as a "masquerade".
FIFA said on Monday it "acknowledges the decisions of the independent Ethics Committee and has no further comment". The committee operates independently of FIFA; its members are appointed by the FIFA Congress and cannot be members of any standing committees.
For Blatter, the ban brings 17 years at the helm of world soccer, already tarnished by controversies over the awarding of several World Cup tournaments and a host of corruption cases against senior soccer officials, to an end in disgrace.
For Platini, it appears to have killed his chances of being picked to replace the 79-year-old Swiss at a FIFA Congress in February.
Soccer officials in France, which will host the UEFA European finals in June, have defended Platini. On Monday the French Football Federation (FFF) maintained its support, with FFF president Noel Le Graet saying that he had been saddened and shocked by the former France midfielder's suspension.