FIFA Said to Fire Governance Official Amid Russian Pressure

Updated on
  • Governance head Maduro blocked Russia’s Mutko from FIFA seat
  • Maduro blocked Mutko over conflict with Russian politics role

Miguel Maduro, a Portuguese politician and corporate governance expert hired by FIFA to boost the soccer body’s image following a corruption scandal, was fired amid increasing internal pressure, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Maduro, who was hired by FIFA President Gianni Infantino at last year’s annual congress, was told of his dismissal Tuesday, hours before he was scheduled to attend this year’s meeting in Manama, Bahrain, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to discuss the subject. Maduro’s ouster was linked to his role in blocking Russian World Cup official Vitaly Mutko from retaining his seat on FIFA’s ruling council.

Russia won the right in 2010 to host next year’s World Cup in a disputed vote that eventually led to the downfall of long-time FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter after allegations of improprieties. Russia and Qatar, which won the rights to the 2022 event at the same meeting, denied any wrongdoing. Resulting investigations in the U.S. and Europe have brought indictments against more than 30 officials and executives from the sport, and helped cause the eventual departure of Blatter, his top deputy and FIFA’s chief finance officer.

Maduro’s committee barred Mutko because his role as Russia’s deputy prime minister conflicted with FIFA’s rules on political neutrality. Maduro was told by high-ranking FIFA officials that his decision to block Mutko from standing for re-selection to the governing council would lead to serious difficulties with Russia, the people said.

Maduro declined to comment. FIFA and Russia’s World Cup organizing committee couldn’t be immediately reached to comment. Mutko told Russia’s Tass news agency in March that the decision to remove him from the ruling council wouldn’t have an effect on the 2018 event.

FIFA Changes

Maduro’s ouster Tuesday, the same day that FIFA removed its top ethics officials, investigator Cornel Borbely and adjudicatory judge Hans-Joachim Eckert. The two men traveled to Bahrain to denounce FIFA’s decision, saying there were hundreds of pending cases and their departures effectively ended FIFA’s efforts to reform itself following the scandal that erupted in May 2015 when U.S. authorities indicted several officials on corruption charges.

A QuickTake explainer on soccer’s corruption woes

Infantino hailed Maduro a year ago, saying the hiring proved FIFA was serious about reform. Eckert and Borbely had been hired by Infantino’s predecessor Blatter.

Other decisions taken by Maduro also led to internal opposition. Last month Sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah, for more than a decade one of the most influential figures in sports politics, quit his roles, including his seat on FIFA’s ruling council. That came a day after Maduro’s eight-person governance and review committee asked him to resubmit for checks following a former FIFA officials guilty plea in the U.S. Ahmad, who was identified as a co-conspirator in that bribery and vote-buying case, has vowed to clear his name.

Top FIFA officials warned Maduro against blocking Mutko, saying the Russians had told them that it could cause difficulties for the 2018 World Cup. With a year to go, Russian broadcasters haven’t signed a television contract for the tournament.

Another FIFA committee member, New York University law professor Joseph Weiler, confirmed he quit the panel in protest at Maduro’s ouster.

The fallout from the departures of FIFA’s key governance officials has overshadowed its annual meeting, where officials were expected to hear how the organization had been moving on from institutional and reputational crises and hear about plans for the enlarged 2026 World Cup, a 48-team event that a joint offer from the U.S., Mexico and Canada is strong favorite to stage.

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