KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —-FIFA has survived an upheaval which could have shredded its already-battered reputation after a move to remove not only ethics chief Michael Garcia but his entire role.
A plot against Garcia was rebuffed during late-night exchanges last Thursday between sessions of the two-day executive committee meeting of the world football federation in Zurich.
Members of the exco, under condition of anonymity, have confirmed behind-the-scenes manoeuvres by certain colleagues. Several, including British vice-president Jim Boyce, indicated that this would have been a resignation issue.
In those circumstances FIFA’s ability to govern the world game would have been called into serious question – little over two months before the start of the World Cup finals.
Only Congress, not the exco, empowers Garcia and his role as FIFA’s first independent ethics investigator/prosecutor.
The position was voted into existence in a crucial first step of the reform process launched after scandals surrounding both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awards as well as the 2011 presidential campaign.
However . . . the exco and its leaders of the six regional confederations possess major influence over decisions in Congress.
Last week’s latest twist in the FIFA reform process was put to Northern Irishman Boyce who is not only a vice-president but head of the important referees’ committee.
He responded: “There was a bit of informal chat about the possibility that some people wanted to see Garcia removed from the inquiry and that it might be raised at the exco meeting but it wasn’t.
”As someone who has been brought up with honesty and integrity – and it was a great honour for me to be asked to be vice-president – if this had been proposed at the exco meeting or I thought for one moment Garcia would be removed in any fashion from carrying out his full investigation I and others would be aghast and would have to consider our positions because things at FIFA have been improving greatly.”
Prince Ali of Jordan, the Asian vice-president of FIFA, said he was “very happy” that Garcia would continue in post.
He added: “There were some questions raised about the necessity of having an independent ethics committee but, to be honest, I think that idea was stopped. There were certain people like myself who could not accept that this could happen.
“[Michael Garcia] was supported by our Congress and given a mandate and I am very happy he will continue with his work.”
Similarly supportive of Garcia was European federation president Michel Platini. He said: “I would condemn any possible attempt de-rail the investigation and I want the process to continue to the very end.”
Garcia, a US attorney and former Interpol vice-president, was appointed in July 2012 by the unanimous vote of an extraordinary meeting of the exco.
He was not the first choice of reform consultant Mark Pieth but has proved relentless in pursuing corruption and matchfix allegations and – among other projects – is currently investigating the 2018/2022 World Cup awards to Russia and Qatar.
Garcia’s commitment has disturbed the old guard within FIFA who had believed an outsider could be smothered easily within the ‘football family.’
It remains to be seen how Garcia will respond to a realisation that he no longer enjoys the unanimous support of his exco employers. His office preferred not to comment on last week’s events.
The mere fact of moves against Garcia is highly damaging in itself. Any repeat would be seized on by critics of FIFA as proof that nothing had changed and the reform work had been merely cosmetic.
FIFA did not respond directly to a request for a comment but noted via Twitter: “After some media reports today, FIFA would like to reiterate that the work of the Investigatory Chamber continues independently. The creation of a two chamber independent Ethics Committee has been a key step in governance reform process.”