KEIR RADNEDGE in PARIS: Gianni Infantino finds himself trapped between a leak and a hard place as he prepares to come to Paris later this week for the European Championship Final.
The leak concerns the repetitively regurgitated attacks on his personal expenses since he was elected president of world federation FIFA in February; the hard place is the simple fact that he has still not signed his employment contract.
Infantino’s arrival at FIFA was not to everyone’s taste, of course. He won the election to succeed Sepp Blatter in February with the support of little more than half of the worldwide membership of 209 national associations (Infantino polled 115 votes in the second round compared with 88 for Asia’s Sheikh Salman).
The energetic manner in which he then attacked his new role created more enmity and envy. Virulent criticism from outside is standard for the head of any major sports federation. Insistent leaked criticism from within is something new for FIFA.
At the weekend came the latest salvo, in the Swiss newspaper Sonntagszeitung. It published what it claimed to be a lengthy memorandum allegedly sent by a FIFA employee to Sindisiwe Mabaso-Koyana, acting chair of the audit and compliance committee.
The memo* is an odd document. Its 11 formal pages have clearly been extensively legalled, yet they are addressed informally and familiarly to ‘Dear Sindi’ and signed off above the FIFA logo.
Dated May 23, the memo sets out a long list of complaints about Infantino’s expenses in performing his duties (including cars, chauffeurs, travel expenditure, flights). These allegations were not new. They have been burbling out, week by week, for some time now from Infantino critics.
What is of extra significance is that they have been drip-fed not to one-day wonder, sensationalist tabloids but to middle-market publications whose particular audience includes notably businessmen and politicians (for example Sonntagszeitung, Handelszeitung and Tages Anzeiger in Switzerland as well as Die Welt and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany).
The relentless leaking of these same allegations week by week has created its own ennui which may be running directly contrary to the interests of whoever has an anti-Infantino agenda (According to the memo and Sonntagszeitung, sackings by the Infantino regime have included not only the German finance director and interim secretary-general Markus Kattner but three other senior officers including the head of the travel department).
Along the way Infantino’s reversal of the reform process at the Mexico City congress provoked – as intended – the resignation of Swiss businessman Domenico Scala from the role of audit and compliance chairman.
Infantino complained in an interview distributed to the German and Swiss media that Scala “thinks football is governed with the same management principles as a pharmaceutical company.” This is ironic considering that the cv of Fatma Samoura, Infantino’s choice as new FIFA secretary-general, includes “eight years working in the fertiliser trading sector for Senchim, a subsidiary of Industries Chimiques du Senegal” [FIFA press release, May 13].
Infantino would have been under no illusion that bringing in his own choices for a ‘kitchen cabinet’ would have created not only concern among FIFA staff but increased their unease over job security after tough enough times for them already.
New bosses – whether in politics, business or sport (from national association boards to team management) – have a perfectly understandable need to bring in co-workers whom they know and trust.
An obvious recent example is at the world athetics federation, the IAAF, where Sebastian Coe followed up his election as president last year by enlisted the help of (fellow Lord) Paul Deighton, who had been his highly-effective ceo in running the London Olympics.
The trouble is, as long as Infantino refuses to sign his contract as FIFA president the legitimacy, authority and tenure of all his appointments (including that of Samoura) will remain compromised.
That is not good for the credibility and stablity of FIFA at a time when the exit of KPMG as auditor and an extension of the power and reach of RICO** legislation in the United States raises further issues over the world federation’s ability to maintain its crucial ‘victim’ status in the criminal investigations being run by both US and Swiss authorities.
Infantino told the FIFA Council that the remuneration package proposed by Scala was “insulting”. It is reported to be a gross SFr 1.9m, rather less than the two-thirds Blatter was paid (or, perhaps, over-paid); Blatter also had a bonus provision which Infantino’s offer does not.
While Infantino has delayed signing, two members of the three-man remuneration committee have left: Scala being one and Geneva-based corporate specialist Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini being the other.
So now there is no-one to negotiate something which Infantino says he cannot sign.
This is all plainly ridiculous. The interests of FIFA, the world game and the national associations who depend on its financial patronage, demand a president (like him or not, agree with his strategy or not) who is fully in command.
As long as Infantino refuses to sign then the credibility of his presidency remains vulnerable to all sorts of leaks . . . or worse.
* Published by Sonntagszeitung at http://soz.li/qted
** The US Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law providing for extended criminal penalties against bodies suject to criminal organisation allegations.