KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Fatma Soumara began work officially today as new FIFA secretary-general to find the world football federation – hardly to her surprise – in a fragile state after a bruising first half of what was supposed to be a happier new year.
The now-former United Nations co-ordinator has already undertaken a number of meetings with department heads and impressed them with her command of a wide range of strategic issues to be addressed over the coming months and years.
In practical terms – and as has been proved over the past politically chaotic year since the police swoop on the Zurich Seven – the FIFA machine ticks over smoothly in terms of development work and competitions whether anyone is at the political helm or not.
Almost unnoticed by the wider world amid the feeding frenzy since Sepp Blatter’s last re-election and resignation, FIFA conducted finals tournaments of the U-17 World Cup, Club World Cup, Beach Soccer World Cup plus a Women’s World Cup.
Later this year its staff will oversee the usual smooth running of two women’s age group World Cups, a Futsal World Cup and the Club World Cup again – not to mention central involvement in the Olympic football in Rio de Janeiro and the ongoing 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
The mischief, as ever, is not in the day-to-day work which also includes an ever-expanding demand for transfer dispute resolution but in the speculation which swirls around what may or may not have occurred before and after the accession of Gianni Infantino to the presidency in February.
Infantino’s hyperactive start, when a low-key approach would have served both FIFA and himself far more reasonably, has served only to fuel the agenda of critics who believe that FIFA’s credibility and integrity is beyond reprieve.
These include Mark Pieth, the Basel criminology professor who was the original reform guru brought in by Blatter after the 2010-11 crises.
Pieth was disappointed that key proposals were either ignored or quashed or subjected to unnecessarily delayed implementation. The last straw for him was Infantino’s explosive parting of the ways with Domenico Scala, Pieth’s choice for audit and compliance chair.
Now he is suggesting state intervention, though by which government?
Infantino’s placing of a self-justifying interview in the German-language press was demeaning and unworthy of a FIFA president – particularly coming so soon after the sacking of German finance chief Markus Kattner. The latter now has his own agenda, access to chosen media outlets and a wealth of historic and recent inside knowledge on which to draw.
The great unknown concerns rumour and speculation about whether the trappings surrounding Infantino’s high-profile power grab will bring him, like an administrative Aeschylus, too close in orbit to the ethics committee whose independent comfort blanket he tore away at congress in Mexico last month.
Maybe even more damaging in the legal long-term was the decision of KPMG to quit as FIFA’s auditor.
KPMG came in for criticism from FIFA’s American lawyers at Quinn Emanuel when they published details of how Blatter, ex-secretary-general Jerome Valcke and Kattner had enriched themselves to the tune of $80m over the last five years (Remember, that was ‘only’ the last five years).
Sources close to KPMG have suggested that its departure had been in the offing for some time, partly because of image damage through association with FIFA, and partly out of concerns at improper internal financial trends which it had pointed up.
If any of the KPMG allegations go further then, allied to revelations about how the Blatter gang raided the accounts, they could drive a coach and horses through FIFA’s crucial attempt to maintain its ‘victim status’ as far as both the United States Department of Justice and Swiss Attorney-General are concerned.
Then, even more than today, Fatma Soumara really would have her work cut out.
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