Fifa today admitted its image had suffered "very great damage" after it banned one of its most senior figures for three years for bribery and punished five other senior officials in the wake of corruption allegations.
But even as its ethics committee banned Nigeria's Amos Adamu for three years and fellow executive committee member Reynald Temarii for one year, its chairman still hit out at the "sensationalist" Sunday Times for "twisting the facts".
Four more officials, all former executive committee members, also received bans of between two and four years. The suspensions from "all football-related activity" were more severe than many expected and mean the votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will now go ahead on 2 December with just 22 executive committee members.
Adamu was found guilty of breaching bribery rules by Fifa's ethics committee, chaired by Claudio Sulser, while Temarii was found to have breached rules on loyalty and confidentiality. Both were caught on camera as part of a Sunday Times investigation into corruption during the World Cup bidding process.
Sulser, however, criticised the Sunday Times as "sensationalist" – despite basing the investigation on the paper's revelations and evidence. "What I cannot tolerate is the fact that they changed the sentences, they changed the way they presented the truth," he said. "If footage is taken out of context, that's twisting the facts. They showed footage that lasted four minutes, we have looked at audio and video footage of several hours."
The Fifa president Sepp Blatter promised to drive the "devils" from football when the investigation was launched last month in the wake of the Sunday Times allegations but later cast doubt on the newspaper's methods. He will speak tomorrow following an emergency executive committee meeting.
Although the sanctions will partly help England's case – neutralise some of the backlash against the British media that they believe has harmed their chances – the removal of Adamu and Temarii from the committee also disposes of two votes they were hopeful of securing.
Sulser said the committee could find no evidence to support claims of collusion between Qatar's bid for the 2022 World Cup and Spain/Portugal's 2018 bid. It was alleged that a bloc of seven votes had been sewn up by the two bidders through an exchange, which is forbidden under the bidding rules despite the fact that both contests are being held in parallel.
"We didn't find sufficient grounds to reach the conclusion there was any collusion, therefore we didn't move forward on that case," said Sulser. "Obviously, it's harder to prove collusion even though doubts may always arise. As the ethics committee, we are bound by the facts. If we can't establish anything, it's clear no offence has been committed."
Fifa's general secretary, Jérôme Valcke, said the sanctions stood as a warning to anyone tempted to break the rules, but admitted that he could not guarantee the World Cup bidding process is free of collusion. Valcke said: "Am I sure that 2018 and 2022 are free of any collusion? I can't answer this question – I don't vote and I have no idea what the discussions are between various members.
"As the Fifa president [Blatter] said before, having two World Cups being bid for at the same time opened the door to such conversations between executive committee members – particularly as you have eight bids involved who have executive members in the room. I hope that what's happened here in the last three days shows people should be careful of entering into any situation which is forbidden."
Adamu has insisted he will appeal but this will not be heard before the 2 December vote. He said in a statement: "I am profoundly disappointed with the ethics committee's findings and had honestly believed I would be exonerated of any charges by now. I completely refute the decision they have made. I will be lodging a full appeal against it with immediate effect."
The other officials sanctioned were Ismael Bhamjee of Botswana, who was handed a four-year ban, Amadou Diakite of Mali and Ahongalu Fusimalohi of Tonga, who were suspended for three years, and the Tunisian chair of Fifa's dispute resolution committee Slim Aloulou, banned for two. All four were also fined 10,000 Swiss francs (£6,300).
Sulser admitted that the allegations had further damaged the image of the world ruling body. "The damage caused to Fifa as regards its image is very great," he said. "When one talks of Fifa there is generally a negative attitude out there, there is talk of corruption.
"This is rather curious but on the other hand it's no joke because Fifa is a big organisation with many interests, and where there are many interests things can go awry. Now, we are trying to work in complete transparency."
Both Adamu and Temarii will appeal, firstly to Fifa's appeal chamber, then potentially to the court of arbitration for sport in Lausanne. Temarii's lawyer, Geraldine Lesieur, said her client was cleared of corruption but banned over confidentiality rules. "We have trouble understanding" the decision, she said, and acknowledged his appeal would not be completed before 2 December.
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