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FIFA Watchdogs Quit in Protest, Sparking New Soccer Crisis

Updated on
  • Six ethics and governance officials have left in last week
  • Global soccer is trying to restore credibility after scandal

The latest ethics crisis shaking global soccer intensified Wednesday as two members of FIFA’s governance committee resigned over the firing of their chairman. Between the ethics committee and the governance committee, six officials have now been ousted or quit in protest in the last week.

Two international human rights advocates, Navi Pillay and Ron Popper, resigned following the replacement of Miguel Maduro, a former advocate general of the EU Court of Justice, after just eight months leading FIFA’s governance and review committee. Maduro said last week in an interview that he resisted pressure from senior officials before his firing.

Another committee member, New York University School of Law professor Joseph Weiler, also quit last week. FIFA’s independent ethics officers were fired last week.

“We accept their decision,” a FIFA spokeswoman said of Pillay and Popper. Their departures hurt the functioning of the governance committee, which by FIFA statutes is required to have half its members be independent of soccer’s governing body. Of the nine remaining officials, only four are classified as independent. New members can only be added by a vote at FIFA’s annual congress, which isn’t due for 12 months.

The departures are a challenge to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who rose to power after many of soccer’s senior leaders were caught in a global corruption scandal. Infantino has pledged he will restore the organization’s credibility, but his efforts to present a new FIFA at last week’s congress were overshadowed by his moves to replace the organization’s ethics leaders. 

FIFA has been unable to attract any new major sponsors from Europe or the U.S. since the corruption scandal broke. The only partners it’s signed since then have come from aspiring World Cup host China and 2022 tournament host Qatar.

Maduro learned he was being removed a day before he was due to fly to Bahrain for FIFA’s meeting. A year earlier Infantino had cited the hiring of the former Portuguese government minister as a sign of his commitment to good governance; last week, he said Maduro had to go to make room for greater international diversity on its committees.

Several of Maduro’s recent decisions had been unpopular within FIFA’s establishment. He blocked Russia’s deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, from retaining his seat on FIFA’s governing council because his role as Russia’s deputy prime minister conflicted with FIFA’s rules on political neutrality. High-ranking FIFA officials told Maduro that his decision to block Mutko’s re-selection bid would lead to serious difficulties with Russia.

Maduro 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.

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