KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA president Gianni Infantino delivered a strong defence of his own leadership of the world football which has come under scrutiny from the Swiss judicial authorities.
In a year which has seen the Covid-19 pandemic bring football around the world to a juddering halt, the last issue Infantino needed was high-profile legal trouble in the world governing body’s own back yard.
He has previously dismissed as “absurd” the criminal investigation into a number of unrecorded meetings with the now-departed Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber.
But, clearly, he could not ignore the issue in the 70th FIFA Congress organised online out Zurich.
Infantino’s presidential address focused initially on the $1.5bn relief support made available to football associations struggling to cope with the financial impact of coronavirus; he also hailed the success of the Women’s World Cup last year and the promise of greater investment to come.
Then Infantino reeled off a list of inter-governmental organisations with which FIFA was working – as a platform to firm up his own status as a man deternmined to consign a toxic, corruption-scarred image to the past.
It was in this context, said Infantino, that his meetings with Lauber should be viewed.
A new world
Infantino said: “[These were] meetings that were meant to definitively make it clear that the new FIFA was worlds away from the old FIFA.
“Don’t forget that FIFA had become victim to corrupt officials. That’s what courts say all over the world. In 2015 FIFA was toxic, was pronounced dead, an organisation that had severed itself from football.
“So why was I meeting the Swiss Attorney-General? Because it was my duty as FIFA president. I had to do my due diligence because I wanted wanted to liberate FIFA from those old toxic values.
“No organisation can be led into the future if you don’t resolve the past. I thought I could do it but it was not possible.
“That’s precisely why even two days ago I was meeting the US Attorney-General in [Washington] DC to prove that we don’t want to go back to our past, to prove that FIFA has been reformed and to express our gratitude – to say ‘thankyou’ that the Department of Justice at the time saved FIFA from itself while others were just standing on the sidelines, watching.”
Infantino promised: “We will continue to fight against corruption in football and we will continue to cooperate with all the authorities all over the world that will help us save and reform football [and] clean it up.”