KEIR RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO: Right in the middle of the Olympic Games, controversial Brazilian football supremo Marco Polo Del Nero is facing the first stage of what is, in effect, a FIFA move to remove him from office.

Late last year Del Nero was indicted by the United States Department of Justice in the $200m money-laundering and bribery FIFAGate conspiracy case. However he has evaded arrest at the behest of the US because Brazilian citizens are protected from extradition by a clause in the national constitution.

Del Nero & Infantino: Genuine smiles - or just for the camera?

Del Nero has not dared venture outside of Brazil since he fled Zurich in May last year for fear of being detained along with the then CBF president, Jose Maria Marin. The latter had been arrested in the police raid on Zurich’s Baur au Lac hotel on the eve of the annual congress of world federation FIFA.

Twice since then Del Nero has stepped aside temporarily twice as president of the CBF “to prepare my defence”.

Back in charge

However he not only reclaimed full control this past April but staged a photo opportunity last week in presenting a No10 Brazilian shirt to Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president.

Infantino was in Rio to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. While CBF officials said the meeting between the two men had helped shore up Del Nero’s position, FIFA sources described it as nothing more than a normal courtesy call.

Del Nero invited Infantino to attend Brazil’s opening Olympic match in Brasilia against the South Africans but the FIFA president excused himself on the basis of other commitments.

Del Nero’s leadership of the CBF came in for heavy criticism in the wake of Brazil’s poor performances in their opening two games at the Olympic football tournament. A team led by Barcelona superstar Neymar have been held goalless by both South Africa and Iraq and risk being eliminated in the group stage if they do not beat Denmark in Salvador on Wednesday.

Already this is the worst start by Brazil to an Olympics tournament since Munich in 1972, some 44 years ago.

In a pre-Olympics message to visitors, officials and fans, Del Nero boasted of how the CBF had never invested so heavily in the pursuit of Olympic football gold. The only bright spot has been the performances of Brazil’s women’s team who have already qualified for the quarter-finals of their own Olympic tournament.

Proceedings confirmed

The men’s team remain the main, disappointing focus of attention, however. They failed to make any impression at either the 2015 Copa America in Chile or the Copa America Centenario this past June in the United States.

Now a spokesman for the investigatory chamber of the ethics committee has confirmed that “formal proceedings are being undertaken” .

If Del Nero were to be suspended by the ethics committee he could remain in office pending the outcome of appeals to FIFA itself and to the Court of Arbitration of Sport.

This would leave Brazilian football without leadership and might be all the excuse FIFA and South American confederation CONMEBOL would need to appoint a ‘normalisation committee’ as has happened already in neighbouring Argentina.