SAME OLD SAME OLD
Fifa under Infantino slipping back into murky Blatter days
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