FIFA President Says Ousted Ethics Officials Were Failures

  • Heads of soccer body’s ethics committee removed this week
  • Axed officials said their removal ruins FIFA’s reform goals

FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended the controversial decision to replace the soccer body’s former ethics leaders, saying the ousted duo had failed in their task of identifying those responsible for the biggest corruption scandal in the organization’s history.

Chief investigator Cornel Borbely and adjudicatory chamber head Hans-Joachim Eckert were told on Wednesday their contracts wouldn’t be renewed, two years after they helped bring down longtime FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter. They responded by saying they still had hundreds of corruption cases ongoing that would now take years to deal with, leading to mounting criticism of Infantino, who replaced Blatter last year.

Borbely and Eckert were helming investigations into wrongdoing behind the scandal that saw almost all of FIFA’s top management removed for crimes dating back more than two decades. Probes by authorities in the U.S. and Europe are still ongoing. Without naming Eckert and Borbely, Infantino said it took outside agencies, not FIFA’s “highly paid experts”, to find the culprits.

“Where were all these self-proclaimed good governance and compliance gurus?” Infantino told FIFA’s annual meeting in Manama, Bahrain, on Thursday. “We will not accept any good governance lesson from any of these individuals who’ve miserably failed.”

Borbely and Eckert dispute that they overcharged for their work, saying they were paid less than 20 times what FIFA compensates outside law firms in the U.S. and Switzerland. They also said they took down major figures, including the ex-head of Asian soccer, for wrongdoing years before the U.S. indictments were published.

Some members of FIFA’s ruling council said they had no idea that its main governance officials were to be dismissed. “This is certainly not how we should make such sensitive decisions," Germany’s soccer head, Reinhard Grindel, said at a press conference.

Infantino, whose rise to soccer’s top job was unthinkable before the scandal removed several top leaders, has led a major purge of the organization he inherited. He’s removed about 20 percent of staff at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, including the heads of all major departments, with the exception of chief lawyer Marco Villiger. He also cut short the term of former Portuguese politician Miguel Maduro, who he hired to great fanfare to lead the group that does background checks on soccer officials, just eight months after hiring him.

Prior to Infantino’s arrival, FIFA had hired other governance experts to help bolster its image. They include Domenico Scala, a Swiss executive, who quit last year, claiming statute changes by Infantino’s executive compromised his independence.

Maduro was removed after resisting internal pressure from senior officials to clear Russia’s deputy prime minister for a seat on FIFA’s governing council, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday. Infantino said after the Congress the decision was to promote diversity on FIFA’s committees. Maduro’s replacement is his former deputy, Indian judge Mukul Mudgal.

FIFA Said to Fire Governance Official Amid Russian Pressure

In a passionate speech delivered in four languages, Infantino drew parallels to U.S. President Donald Trump when he labeled some media reports about ongoing tensions and wrongdoing at FIFA as “fake news” and “alternative facts”.

“FIFA bashing has become a sport in some countries,” he said.

The Swiss national said corruption would no longer be tolerated in soccer, telling delegates from more than 200 countries “to get out now” if they wanted to continue to abuse soccer.

There was very little dissent at FIFA’s Congress, with decisions voted through with sweeping majorities. That suggested very little had changed from the Blatter era, said Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein, the Jordanian prince who was a reform-minded challenger to Infantino at the last election.

"Bear in mind the majority of the congress are totally dependent on FIFA, so it is very hard to take an opposing view to a president," Ali told reporters.

Infantino said the group’s finances are more transparent than previously, when millions of dollars were lost in false expense claims and lucrative television contracts given to friends of FIFA’s executive members. By the end of the four-year cycle through next year’s World Cup, an extra $1 billion will be paid out to the 211 member nations in development funds.

FIFA has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the last two years. Infantino said this was largely due to new accounting policies, where the bulk of FIFA’s revenues will be accounted in the final year of its four-year cycle. FIFA anticipates $100 million in net income following the Russia 2018 tournament.

“FIFA’s financial position in 2016 is robust,” said FIFA’s Chief Financial Officer Thomas Peyer.

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