By Mike Collett
ZURICH (Reuters) - Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once the two most powerful men in world soccer, had their bans for ethics violations upheld on Wednesday, although they were reduced from eight years to six.
The 79-year-old Blatter, who served for 17 years as FIFA president, and Platini, 60, one of the greatest players of all time and UEFA president since 2007, had appealed against the bans imposed last October.
The ruling came two days before FIFA holds a special elective Congress to appoint a successor to Blatter, who was President of the ruling body from 1998 before standing down four days after winning his final term of office last May.
Neither man will be at Friday's Congress following the decision and Platini could hardly contain his wrath.
"The decision is insulting, shameful and is a violation of rights," he said in a statement.
"The charges against me are baseless, built from the ground up and surreal in view of the facts and the explanations I gave during the hearing.
"I will go to the end of my fight to show that I’m innocent, to restore my rights and identify who is responsible for this plot."
There was no immediate response from Blatter.
The pair will now turn to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for the last chance to restore their reputations and roles in the game.
The final verdict from FIFA's headquarters, though, came on a rainy evening in Zurich.
The statement issued by the Appeal Panel, while upholding the ban, did determine that "some strong mitigating factors for Mr Platini and Mr Blatter were not taken into account when establishing the sanction."
One of the factors for reducing the ban was the pair's lifetime service to soccer.
Blatter and Platini were banned over a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2.03 million) made to the Frenchman in 2011 by FIFA with Blatter's approval for work done a decade earlier.
They said the payment honored a verbal or gentleman's agreement made in 1998 for work carried out by the Frenchman when he was a technical adviser to Blatter.
The decision not to overturn the bans followed the 12-year suspension imposed on Jerome Valcke, who was sacked as FIFA's secretary general last month.
Valcke, the man responsible for running FIFA's day-to-day administration, was found guilty of misconduct over the sale of World Cup tickets, abuse of travel expenses, attempting to sell TV rights below their market value and destruction of evidence.
Platini was European Footballer of the Year three times while Blatter worked at FIFA for 41 years after originally joining as Technical Director in 1975. He served as Secretary General from 1981 until he succeeded Joao Havelange as president in 1998.
Blatter's reign was mired in controversy and the announcement that he was resigning came in June, less than a week after American and Swiss authorities arrested FIFA and other officials at a Zurich hotel on corruption charges, two days before the Congress and election took place.
Platini was, for many years, regarded as Blatter's natural successor and they worked harmoniously before rifts occurred in their relationship.
Platini was openly critical of Blatter in the run-up to last year's election, but both have been united again in being brought down by the scandal that has rocked their sport.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mitch Phillips and Ed Osmond)