KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Three items stand out on the agenda of FIFA Congress in Bahrain next month – concerning the future of the ethics chamber, the 2026 World Cup and the Palestine/Israel saga.
Originally the world football federation was due to hold its annual conference in Kuala Lumpur until the Malaysian government stated it would not permit Israeli delegates to enter the country.
This forced the late, embarrassing switch by the hosting Asian confederation to Bahrain, home to AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
This will be the first congress since all six regional confederations had the opportunity to fill their extra slots on the expanded FIFA Council, formerly the discredited and scandal-hit executive committee.
Item 13 – of all unfortunate numbers – concerns the ethics chamber.
Last year new president Gianni Infantino smuggled through congress a clause removing the guaranteed independence of the judicial committees.
Speculation remains rife, despite a denial from secretary-general Fatma Samoura, that Infantino will seek to replace investigator Cornel Borbely and judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.
Both are among the few senior survivors from the disgraced Sepp Blatter era, not that they have done the ‘old guard’ any favours: it was the Borbely/Eckert duo who oversaw life bans on many of the FIFAGate indictees.
German judge Eckert was also the man who banned Blatter and former FIFA vice-president Michel Platini and thus opened the route for Infantino to attain the presidency in February last year.
Further down the agenda item 14.1 concerns a joint proposal from the federations of Canada, Mexico and the United States that FIFA speed up the 2026 bidding schedule.
On Monday the trio confirmed a historic three-way bid for the 48-team finals but there is thought to be concern that the longer the race remains open the more the risk from other unspecified bids.
A vote by congress on recommendations from the council is currently scheduled for May 2020. The central/north Americans are hoping to persuade congress to approve a decision at least a year earlier.
This may meet opposition from federations who object to being railroaded into an award ahead of schedule.
Finally, the bland wording of item 14.3 on the agenda masks the increased tension between the federations of Palestine and Israel over the settlement clubs.
Six teams from Israeli settlements declared illegal by the United Nations are playing in Israeli competition. Palestine has objected that this contravenes FIFA statutes about the sovereignty of a national association.
Rather than forcing a direct congress confrontation this time around the PFA is playing the long game by first seeking a vote which would establish its right to govern all football on what it considers its own territory. It believes this would strengthen its hand in further negotiations – and, if necessary, back at congress next year.
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