MUNICH: Sacked FIFA ethics boss Hans-Joachim Eckert has delivered a damning verdict on the clumsy, graceless manner of his dismissal writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
German judge Eckert and investigating chairman Cornel Borbely were not given any advance notice of their imminent replacement when they flew last week to Bahrain to attend the world football federation’s congress.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and secretary-general Fatma Samoura offered no hint of what they must, for several months, have known was in the offing.
Clearly new judge Vassilis Skouris from Greece and investigator Maria Claudia Rojas from Colombia had been approached in good time in advance, had accepted the new roles and had their professional status cleared.
The manner of the changeover, on a congress vote set up by Infantino with the approval of a large majority of the FIFA Council, meant there was little prospect of any meaningful handover of information and powers.
Eckert, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, indicated he never had any illusions about the challenging task he took on.
He said: “It was clear from the beginning that it would be a very difficult job. Today I see it with a certain degree of disappointment, especially when it comes to the lack of respect with which I and also my work have been treated.
“When I hear at the Congress that we had done too little and been working too slowly, I can only point to the milestones that we achieved and how many cases we dealt with in during this time.”
More than 70 senior officials of world football, almost all of them linked to the upper echelons of FIFA, were banned by Eckert during his tenure. Eckert acknowledged that at no time had Infantino or predecessor Sepp Blatter ever sought to interfere in the world of the ethics chamber.
Nor was there are warning of what was to come, apart from speculation in the media of which Eckert and Borbely were aware.
Eckert said: “The secretary general publicly stated a few weeks ago that she supported the ethics committee and that we should be nominated again. Infantino said nothing to the contrary . . . there was no indication that he was about to get rid of us.”
Infantino said after congress that the changes had been undertaken to bring greater diversity to the judicial committees.
Eckert found it “almost amusing . . . to replace a German with a Greek. The last time I checked, Greece was still part of Europe but I must have a different view of the map.”
He did not question the qualifications of the new ethics leaders but warned that they would need time to understand their new roles and the practicalities.
He said: “It is also not all that easy due to the languages involved. Take the case related to the 2006 World Cup, which was hosted by Germany, for example. All of documents and files are in German. We are not just talking about a couple of hundred pages, but thousands.
“With all of the new people it will take months, and that is a conservative estimate, until the chamber will be able to work efficiently.”
Eckert noted that highly respected governance chairman Luis Miguel Poiares Maduro had also been replaced – in his case after only eight months.
He added: “It is hard not to think that there was some connection between this and his ruling that Vitaly Mutko [former Russian sports minister, head of the organizing committee for the 2018 World Cup] was not eligible to be elected to the FIFA Council.”
His regrets about last week’s events was not an issue of wounded pride.
He said: “Just to be clear, it is not about me personally. I didn’t have any right of extension or anything. What bothers me the most – and this hurts me personally – is the lack of respect that the FIFA officials have shown us, that they couldn’t be bothered to inform us about the decision or have a conversation.
“FIFA is a global organization. I was part of the FIFA Ethics Committee for five years. I have tried to regain the integrity of sports, of football.
“We wanted to give FIFA the opportunity to show to the outside; yes, we are capable of cleaning things up ourselves. I think it is a shame.”