FIFA’s administration, led by Swiss President Gianni Infantino, is trying to get on with business as usual. Alexandra Wrage breaks down the professional and personal issues plaguing football’s governing body.
In a quote widely attributed to Albert Einstein, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Welcome to the football world’s insanity.
Newly elected president Gianni Infantino announced with a flourish at the May Congress in Mexico that “FIFA is back on track … the crisis is over.” He meant, presumably, that we should no longer fear a new scandal around every corner. We should expect to see FIFA’s reputation pull out of its recent death spiral. We should allow ourselves to hope that things have changed.
Any optimism inspired by Infantino’s pronouncement lasted fewer than 24 hours.
The next day, Domenico Scala, chairman of FIFA’s Audit and Compliance Committee, resigned in protest at a stealth maneuver by the Council (formerly the ExCo) to undermine substantially the independence of its Audit and Compliance and Governance Committees. The new provision rushed through late in the Congress with no debate gave the Council the power to remove the “independent” (now in quotations, of necessity) heads of these committees. This power had previously rested with the Congress.
To be clear, the heads of committees designed to police the conduct of FIFA’s Council, amongst others, can now be “swiftly” removed by FIFA’s Council. This is not what robust controls and good governance look like.
Infantino’s response? Basically, trust us. “Focus should be on our actions and deeds, rather than on premature conclusions and speculation.” FIFA’s official statement asserted that Scala has “misinterpreted the purpose of the decision.”
FIFA’s public relations team did not argue that Scala had misunderstood the authority the Council had just grabbed for itself, but rather that he misunderstood their honorable intentions.
FIFA headquarters is swarming with lawyers these days. Infantino is himself a lawyer. He understands how to draft tightly tailored language to achieve his desired end. The provision could have provided for emergency powers of Congress based on a credible suspicion of misconduct. But it didn’t. The public can reasonably conclude that Infantino got exactly the language he wanted.
FIFA had introduced a slate of reforms just three months earlier to great fanfare. A need for this particular provision appears to have arisen more recently.
In May, Infantino indicated that he found the salary he had been offered “insulting.” Scala was in charge of those negotiations. Whether for this or other reasons, Infantino wanted Scala gone.
A recording of a meeting prior to Scala’s departure appears to capture Infantino engaged in detailed discussions with his inner circle about how and when to push Scala out. Concern was expressed that a vote at the Congress would send the wrong message. There was also concern that waiting until a couple weeks after the Congress would look furtive. But there was no question that Scala had to go – the debate was simply over how and when, not whether, he must be shown the door.
An email from FIFA’s chief lawyer, Marco Villiger and deputy secretary general, if genuine, states that Infantino instructed deletion of the recording in question. FIFA later clarified that Infantino was referring to deletion of a copy of the recording, and not the original. But in what organization with the staff and revenue of FIFA does a president personally instruct his chief lawyer to delete a copy of a recording? Infantino took a close and careful interest in the fate of that recording.
And so back to the insanity. Mr. Infantino was the candidate for the presidency that stood at the podium, on live television, and promised each of the 209 football associations $5 million. Even in his heyday, Blatter restrained himself to million dollar handouts. Infantino’s billion dollar promise out-Blattered Blatter and yet we find ourselves surprised by what came next in Mexico City.
Does FIFA have the ability to reform itself? Of course it does. Organizations are essentially collections of rules and responsibilities, backed up by procedures, whether implemented effectively, ineffectively or flat-out cynically. But does FIFA have the desire to reform itself? Does the leadership have any incentive to reform itself? Clearly not. It really is time to recognize that anyone with sufficient insider status to run for and win an election at FIFA has been there long enough to understand that things are really very good – just the way they are.