Global Soccer Bosses Replace Ethics Cops Who Took Down Blatter

  • FIFA executive committee has new power over investigators
  • Colombian magistrate and Greek judge picked as replacements

The leaders of global soccer decided Tuesday to replace the organization’s independent ethics officers, Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert, who were responsible for the ouster of longtime FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter.

The FIFA Council made the change at a meeting in Manama, Bahrain, Tuesday ahead of the broader group’s annual congress. It also announced that it won’t fast-track the joint U.S.-Mexico-Canada bid for the 2026 World Cup, as the U.S. had wanted, giving other prospective hosts three months to declare their intent to bid.

As part of the agenda, Borbely and Eckert were seeking reappointment. They were in the middle of several investigations, some of which involve officials linked to the 2015 corruption crisis spurred by a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. FIFA replaced the two with Colombian magistrate Maria Claudia Rojas and former European Court of Justice judge Vassilios Skouris.

The decision risked “several hundred” ongoing cases, Borbely told reporters in Bahrain, adding that there’s no transition plan in place to help the new team.

“It appears that the heads of FIFA have attached greater weight to their own and political interests than to the long-term interests of FIFA,” the ousted duo said earlier in a joint statement. “They have accepted jeopardizing FIFA’s integrity and, hence, the future of the game.”

Strained Relationship

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has had a strained relationship with the ethics committee since it investigated a complaint made about his expenses in the early months of his presidency. The committee said Infantino hadn’t done anything wrong.

Until recently, ethics investigators were appointed by the full FIFA Congress and had to be removed in the same way. Infantino put that power in the hands of the much-smaller executive committee about a year ago, prompting the resignation of then-audit and compliance head Domenico Scala. At the time, Scala said the changes put oversight officials at risk of “becoming auxiliary agents of those whom they should actually supervise.”

Under Infantino’s leadership FIFA has removed almost all of the executives who served for Blatter, including the heads of finance, communication, marketing and television rights. The new regime has still struggled to restore FIFA’s battered reputation, with the new head of African soccer facing questions about soliciting cash from a disgraced former head of the sport in Asia and a member of FIFA’s audit committee pleading guilty to soccer corruption charges in the U.S. last week.

FIFA earlier this year announced its losses had tripled to more than $300 million as legal fees continue to mount and sponsors from western nations remain reluctant to spend money with the organization. FIFA’s income has been boosted by new agreements with companies from Qatar and Russia, which will host the next two World Cups, and from China, a country that wants to stage the tournament in the future.

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