Photographer: Alessandro Della Bella/Bloomberg

Axed FIFA Official Says Removal Came After Internal Pressure

  • Miguel Maduro departed less than a year after being hired
  • Soccer community ‘unfriendly to rule of law,’ Maduro says

Miguel Maduro, the corporate governance expert removed by FIFA just eight months after being hired to lead an oversight group, said he resisted internal pressure at the beleaguered soccer body before his ouster.

A former advocate general of the European Court of Justice, Maduro was hired by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and used as an example of his commitment to change following a crisis created by a sweeping 2015 U.S. indictment, accusing several senior officials of engaging in decades-long corrupt practices.

Yet, just a day before he was due to depart for FIFA’s annual meeting in Bahrain, Maduro was told he was being fired.

"When you have someone in an independent position that is replaced after a few months that sends a negative message regarding the independence of that office," Maduro said in a telephone interview.

Maduro, a former Portuguese government minister, said he had proposed changes, such as suggesting that FIFA’s main governance positions should be for fixed terms and not subject to elections as is currently the case. His ouster sends "systematically a wrong message," he said.

Unpopular Decisions

FIFA declined to comment. A spokesman said Infantino addressed the issue at Thursday’s press conference. 

At the conference, Infantino told reporters that Maduro wasn’t retained because FIFA needed a greater international mix on its judiciary committees, and that his role would undoubtedly be subject to some internal pressure.

Maduro’s departure came after he made several unpopular decisions. For instance, Maduro blocked Russia’s deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, from retaining his seat on FIFA’s governing council. He also asked influential Kuwaiti sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah to resubmit for an integrity check after being identified as a co-conspirator in a separate U.S. soccer corruption case, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

Maduro declined to outline all the ways in which he was allegedly pressured. In one instance, he said he was pressured while trying to get one of one of soccer’s six regional bodies to increase female participation in FIFA’s ruling council. The regional body, which he didn’t name, had been limiting the number of women who could compete for seats.

Maduro was axed on the same day as Infantino convinced FIFA’s council to remove the heads of the investigatory and adjudicatory chambers of its ethics committee, Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert. Those men were responsible for banning officials including longtime FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter and his chief lieutenant, Jerome Valcke, among other officials. Afterward, Borbely and Eckert told reporters that FIFA’s reforms were dead.

Reject Overtures

While Maduro has been linked in media reports to a role with European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, he said he’d reject any overtures because there could be a perception that his silence could be brought. Instead, he said he will push for reforms in soccer from the outside and look for ways external bodies can help change game’s insular culture.

In an institution like FIFA which isn’t used to independent oversight, "it’s not that surprising to be subject to be many attempts to influence or to try to make us see certain issues in particular ways than the ways we saw them," Maduro said.

A member of Maduro’s governance and review panel, New York University law professor Joseph Weiler, said he quit because of Maduro’s ouster.

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, Bloomberg reported.

Unfinished Work

Maduro said much of the work he started remained unfinished, including campaign financing rules for elections and conflict-of-interest regulations for committee members. Maduro also said he was trying to require that members of FIFA’s development committee provide more disclosure about having investments in soccer academies.

It took highly publicized raids by the FBI and Swiss police and criminal charges to force FIFA into any commitment to changing its behavior. Maduro’s eight months at FIFA have convinced him its culture "is not one that is conducive to affective reform without outside pressure."

"Even if you replace the top, if they are basically dependent and have to be responsive to same community of people whose culture is embedded in the same vices and unfriendly to the rule of law, they will end up falling to same vices too," he said.

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