Fifa un­der In­fantino slip­ping back into murky Blat­ter days

New Straits Times - - Sport -

RE­GARD­LESS of his in­ten­tions, Gianni In­fantino’s rhetoric and ac­tions at his se­cond congress lead­ing world foot­ball did lit­tle to sig­nal a clean break from the dis­cred­ited Sepp Blat­ter era.

And that’s af­ter hav­ing more than a year to re-shape the tainted Fifa pres­i­dency in his im­age and the chance to banish Blat­ter’s acolytes.

Crit­ics con­test that, the ap­pear­ance at least, is of a gov­ern­ing body slip­ping back into the murky traits of the Blat­ter regime, with opaque back­room deal­ings, de­ci­sions taken within closed cir­cles, and de­bate ap­pear­ing to be sup­pressed.

The Fifa ethics pros­e­cu­tor ousted by In­fantino this week was ex­plicit when asked how the past and present pres­i­dents dif­fer: Only their Swiss birth­places.

“One comes from Brig,” in­ves­ti­ga­tor Cor­nel Bor­bely said. “The other from Visp.”

There is a clear dif­fer­ence. In­fantino is not ac­cused of fi­nan­cial wrong­do­ing like Blat­ter, who ruled the game for 17 years be­fore be­ing ban­ished from power in dis­grace af­ter it be­came clear how he en­riched him­self through lead­ing Fifa.

Their thirst for power seems com­pa­ra­ble at times, though, in the clan­des­tine way de­ci­sions are made.

The man­ner in which In­fantino has ac­cu­mu­lated power is at odds with the rec­om­men­da­tions of the re­forms he helped to craft af­ter the 2015 scan­dal.

The pres­i­dency, crafted into an ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion by Blat­ter, was in­tended to be­come more am­bas­sado­rial in the new era with the sec­re­tary gen­eral gain­ing the au­thor­ity of a CEO.

At the Fifa Congress in Bahrain, Fatma Samoura marked her first year as sec­re­tary gen­eral by be­ing rel­e­gated to a bit-part role.

The ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, so dis­cred­ited un­der Blat­ter as mem­bers were led away in hand­cuffs and top­pled on Fifa ethics vi­o­la­tions, mor­phed into the coun­cil last year with a mem­ber­ship swelling to al­most 40.

And far from the body be­com­ing more trans­par­ent, mem­bers were warned about speak­ing pub­licly about the de­ci­sions im­me­di­ately af­ter Tues­day’s meet­ing in Manama.

The need for clar­ity was height­ened by the un­cer­tainty over why Bor­bely was jet­ti­soned along with ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eck­ert.

Fifa’s hi­er­ar­chy sidestepped re­quests for de­tail, tak­ing al­most 24 hours to for­mu­late a par­tial re­sponse.

“(Fifa) has al­ready lost the bat­tle of pub­lic opin­ion, we had a good chance to re­build that and we need to,” for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Prince Ali said.

“Things can­not be con­ducted be­hind closed doors. Ev­ery­one wants to know what is go­ing on.”

Fifa of­fi­cials evaded ques­tions for weeks about whether ru­mors Eck­ert and Bor­bely were be­ing ditched were ac­cu­rate, with the Ger­man coun­cil mem­ber in­di­cat­ing that he was mis­led by Fatma on the eve of Tues­day’s meet­ing. Reinhard Grindel de­manded a “more trans­par­ent” process.

Then there’s the cu­ri­ous case of Miguel Maduro, who was re­moved as head of the gov­er­nance com­mit­tee less than a year af­ter be­ing ap­pointed at a time when In­fantino was al­ready on a mis­sion to bring a wider ge­o­graphic spread.

The 211 foot­ball fed­er­a­tions have the fi­nal say ap­prov­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers in the congress and could have re­buffed In­fantino.

It’s rare, how­ever, to find any de­bate in the open par­lia­ment of soc­cer.

Dis­sent isn’t en­cour­aged.

“The way busi­ness is con­ducted is the same,” Prince Ali, the Jor­da­nian fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent, said as he com­pared the Blat­ter and In­fantino ad­min­is­tra­tions.

“I don’t see the re­fresh­ing change, the open­ness, the trans­parency that ev­ery­body talks about re­ally tak­ing ef­fect on the ground.”

Af­ter a se­cond congress was over­shad­owed by crit­i­cism of his use of pres­i­den­tial power, In­fantino has two years re­main­ing of his man­date to truly lead Fifa into the new, open era promised. AP

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