Gianni Infantino attempted to interfere with an independent decision to bar Russia’s deputy prime minister from the Fifa council because he feared for his own survival as the president of world football, the ousted chair of the organisation’s governance committee has claimed.
Miguel Maduro, sacked as Fifa’s governance committee chair in May after only eight months, said that Fatma Samoura, Fifa’s secretary-general, had argued with him that barring Vitaly Mutko from the council could jeopardise next year’s World Cup in Russia and Infantino’s own presidency.
In an outspoken appearance at parliament’s culture, media and sport committee Maduro said that Infantino failed to firmly uphold the independent reforms against resistance from powerful figures inside Fifa. “He chose to politically survive,” Maduro said. “I think he made the wrong choice.”
Fifa, he argued, is incapable of abiding by its own new anti-corruption structures and needs “outside pressure” to reform.
The governance committee’s decision to bar Mutko, made in March this year, was the key confrontation, Maduro said, in his short tenure as governance committee chair. The committee was implementing Fifa’s own rule that it must be politically neutral and that national associations remain free from government interference.
Maduro said that Infantino personally argued with him that the rule should not apply to Mutko, then that Samoura flew to see him in Brussels, accompanied by Tomaz Vesel, chair of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee. Maduro said Vesel called him from the airport to say he felt “very uncomfortable” but that Infantino had asked him to go.
“The secretary-general made it clear [the Mutko decision] was extremely problematic and we needed to find a solution to declare Mr Mutko eligible,” Maduro told the parliamentary committee. “She said that the World Cup would be a disaster and that as a consequence the continued presidency [of Infantino] would be in question.”
Maduro said he was “very clear” in his response that his governance committee was following Fifa’s rules on political neutrality and exercising its judgment independently as required. He said Infantino himself then responded by email to the committee upholding its conclusion. “The president expressed great concern with that decision,” Maduro said.
Infantino argued that they were misapplying Fifa’s rules, Maduro told the committee, but said that he held firm and maintained that the decision was correct.
Asked about Infantino’s attitude to him and the reforms, and whether Maduro believed his firm stance on Mutko led to the decision to end his tenure at the Fifa congress in Bahrain, Maduro said that he and Infantino had stopped talking after the Mutko decision. “I never talked to him again,” said Maduro, director of the global governance programme at the European University Institute in Florence. He told the MPs that Fifa has a “deeply embedded” culture which is “extremely resistant to independent scrutiny, transparency and accountability”.‚
He argued that it derived from self-interest and a lack of good governance at national associations and the regional confederations, and is “systemic” so that it would be difficult to challenge even if a president were determined to do so.
Maduro cited other instances in which he faced resistance, including over the appointment of more women to senior positions at the Asian Football Confederation, and over complaints his committee was investigating alleged irregularities in an election to the Confederation of African Football council.
“The way we exercised our independence created a lot of opposition from the main stakeholders of the presidency,” he said. “[Infantino] had to choose between the independent bodies and preserving his own presidency. The problem is that it – opposition to independent scrutiny – is so deeply embedded in their culture that in practice they do not accept the consequences of reform.”
The reforms were introduced following an unprecedented series of corruption scandals involving longstanding senior executives, but Fifa’s commitment to them has been seriously questioned following the ending of Maduro’s tenure, and that of the two independent committee chairmen, Cornel Borbély and Hans-Joachim Eckert in Bahrain.
They protested that Fifa had “incapacitated” the ethics committee, which they said had hundreds of investigations ongoing. It has since emerged that Infantino was the subject of two preliminary investigations, into alleged interference in the election of a new CAF president, and into his declaration of a €500,000 election budget when in fact Uefa had authorised €1m for his campaign.
Fifa has argued that as the chairmen’s terms were up and due for renewal, they were not officially dismissed, only replaced, and that correct procedures were followed. David Gill the FA’s and Uefa’s representative on the Fifa council, voted in favour of Maduro’s and the other chairmen’s replacements, saying at the time that he had raised no objections to the process.