KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA is teetering on the brink of further chaos after the presidency of Gianni Infantino careered bizarrely into yet another totally unnecessary crisis.
When the Swiss-Italian lawyer was elected three months ago the world game wanted a steady hand on the tiller. Now, like scandal-battered Sepp Blatter before him, Infantino could find himself facing ethics committee action.
In around 100 days the 46-year-old Infantino has charged from the shock appointment of Soumara Fatma as secretary-general to a reversal of the reform process and now a crisis over an audio recording of a council meeting.
This, according to reports in Switzerland and Germany, has risked landing Infantino with a 90-day provisional suspension pending an inquiry.
FIFA and its ethics chamber have insisted that no formal proceedings are under way while not commenting either way on whether inquiries are being undertaken.
But the mere fact that such reports are current in Zurich indicates the remarkable level of confusion swirling so soon around Infantino and his already-embattled regime.
Infantino won the presidency after only being promoted as a stand-in candidate by UEFA while its own chief, Michel Platini, sought in vain to clear his name over a financial misconduct suspension.
Previously Infantino had been general secretary of the European federation but his administrative capabilities were forgotten as he embarked on a political power grab. Immediately he fell out with audit chairman Domenico Scala over a proposal for a lower salary at $2m than Blatter’s $3m.
Then, on the eve of congress in Mexico City last month Infantino startled the newly-expanded FIFA Council by springing his own choice of Fatma – a United Nations coordinator with no sports experience – in the key role of secretary-general in succession to the sacked, high-profile Frenchman Jerome Valcke.
Soumara, said FIFA, had undergone an “eligibility check.” However she did not undergo the integrity check which has been imposed as standard for everyone else taking up a senior role with the organisation. She is due to start work on June 20 though even that is now in question while Infantino continues to nose-dive towards personal and presidential disaster.
Infantino also engaged FIFA Council, petulantly, in a tawdry debate over his salary and his demand that Scala be forced out.
United States federation president Sunil Gulati was revealed to have tried to ‘buy out’ Scala, an offer the Swiss businessman rejected. Infantino, with the help of legal chief Marco Villiger, then came up with the formula for a regulation change designed to provoke Scala’s resignation.
According to an audio recording of the meeting, England’s David Gill was the only council member to object.
The regulation change was ‘smuggled’ – Scala’s word – through congress and achieved Infantino’s desired effect. Infantino and FIFA were then forced on the defensive by criticism that, along the way, he had undermined the reform process by scrapping the judicial bodies’ independence.
Audio recording of all meetings is standard practice at FIFA and access to the file was gained by Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which revealed the unseemly nature of the debate. Now a further leak of FIFA internal emails appears to suggest that Infantino ordered Villiger to ensure that the recording be deleted and that no minutes of the meeting be drafted.
This development erupted in and around the surprise sacking of long-serving Markus Kattner who had been financial director and interim secretary-general. Simultaneously Villiger was promoted to a new role as deputy secretary general.
FIFA has claimed that the deletion referred only to a rogue copy of the audio.
A spokesman said: “In accordance with standard practice all official FIFA meetngs – including council meetings – are recorded and archived. This was the case for the meeting in Mexico City in question.
“The email exchange that makes mention of the deletion of audio files refers to a copy of the original audio file of the meeting that was improperly saved on a local drive. This mention does not refer to the officially archived audio file. That file exists and is properly saved at FIFA.”
Given that FIFA originally described the orginal FAZ report as “ludicrous” the latest denial will also be viewed scepticism. The only way to resolve the doubts will be proven production of the audio recording to an independent analyst.
Of course, by a vote in the Mexico City congress, no independent appointee now exists in and around FIFA.
Infantino’s future now appears to hang in the balance though he may draw temporary reassurance from the latest ethics chamber statement.
A spokesman said: “We are not in a position to indicate if we have or have not undertaken preliminary investigatory proceedings against an individual. We would however like to point out that there are no formal proceedings going on against Mr Infantino.”