KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Relations between FIFA and UEFA risk heading back into the ice age by Europe’s anger at being kept in the dark over the latest controversies to assail international football.
Aleksander Ceferin, president of the European federation, is writing a formal letter of concern to Gianni Infantino, head of the world governing body, after complaints raised by his executive committee on the eve of Saturday’s Champions League Final in Cardiff.
Ceferin & Co had been upset by last-minute revelations of Infantino’s intention to sack the heads of the FIFA ethics chamber and other senior independent judicial appointees at the world game’s congress in Bahrain three weeks ago.
This had only exacerbated irritation at FIFA’s earlier attempt to keep secret its discovery of the poor conditions being endured by North Korean labourers at the time-troubled new stadium in St Petersburg which hosts the Confederations Cup Opening Match later this month.
Ceferin, who described UEFA/FIFA relations as merely ‘correct’ in a press conference after the exco meeting, enlarged on the communications chasm opening up in an interview with the BBC.
Stadium workers issue
He said: “Gianni Infantino wrote to some of the Nordic FA presidents to say that this evidence [about the North Korean workers] had been uncovered . . . What also disturbs me is that we had to read about that through leaks in the media before we knew anything about it.
“We didn’t know about any inspections, we didn’t know about any letters, we didn’t know about anything. It was the first time we knew about it, from the media. The first time! Which is strange. We are the biggest confederation, not just the biggest, but we are a confederation, and we should be informed.
“It was a big discussion at our executive committee, because the members of the UEFA exco and especially our members on the FIFA Council, are not satisfied, because we don’t get information soon enough.
“It’s hard to decide anything if you get information two days before the council or you read about some facts in the media.”
Ceferin insisted that his criticism was not directly personally towards Infantino, the former general secretary of UEFA, but at FIFA’s organisational failings.
He said: “This is not a criticism towards the president of FIFA, it’s a criticism against an organisation which is the world governing body of football and doesn’t give us very important information.
“In football communication is a big problem sometimes. You simply cannot work if you don’t have information . . . we will simply not decide if we are not informed properly – and we are not informed properly.”
This complaint referred not only to the issue of the North Korean construction workers but to the wholesale removal of ethics and governance bosses such as Hans-Joachim Eckert, Cornel Borbely and Miguel Maduro.
Reinhard Grindel, the German federation president who is one of UEFA’s new FIFA delegates, had complained at the council’s meeting about the changes and the abrupt manner in which they were being rushed through.
Ceferin, who is a FIFA vice-president through his role as head of UEFA, said: “We were informed too late – I mentioned that at the last council and I hope and I expect that FIFA will change that attitude.
Letter in the post
“We agreed at the executive committee that we send a letter as UEFA to FIFA, that we want different procedures or we simply cannot work. We want information far before the council meeting because otherwise it’s impossible to decide.
“I don’t know what is the problem, exactly. Maybe they don’t know that that’s a problem. But they will know when they receive our letter.”
One of Ceferin’s concerns is that the image of UEFA risks being damaged by the fall-out of FIFA failure to demonstrate that meaningful reforms are being accomplished.
He said: “We know what’s happened in the past at FIFA: there’s been a lot of upheaval, a lot of people leaving the organisation, and the public image has been severely damaged. It’s recovering slowly. But you know, with those ‘FIFA matters’, even our UEFA image was damaged.
“I’m sure it’s not easy, there are many internal interests, there are many, many people that were involved in FIFA and want to stay there.”
Finally Ceferin warned: “At the end, FIFA will have to change completely, or it will hurt all the football organisations around the world.”