By Andrew Warshaw
May 20 – In a trouble-shooting exercise to offset the resignation of one of his most important anti-corruption watchdogs, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has sought to claim the moral high ground by denouncing what he described as “premature conclusions and speculation”.
In an article on FIFA’s website in the wake of a media storm generated by the resignation of Domenico Scala because of a controversial Infantino-backed law approved at last week’s Congress that seriously undermines the independence of judicial officials, Infantino insisted FIFA had taken “huge strides towards rehabilitation.”
“I have used my 80 days in office to listen to all those who care about the game of football, from players and coaches to FIFA’s member associations, our commercial partners, fans, legislators, and nongovernmental organisation representatives who monitor our stewardship of the game,” writes Infantino.
“ I was encouraged by much of what I heard; that we are following a credible strategy. It includes the implementation of a responsible and firm leadership of the organisation, more investment in football development and supporting diversity in football and its administration.”
Infantino has been accused of a opportunistic power grab that jeopardises the entire reform process in which Scala, who was head of the audit and compliance committee, played a leading role. But he claims exactly the opposite is the case.
Justifying the controversial regulation that gives FIFA’s new-look Council powers to hire and fire members of the judicial bodies, Infantino says the move is necessary “in order to swiftly remove people who have abused their powers and are the subjects of investigation from these bodies” and insists it would only take place “in exceptional cases.”
“Without this decree, a legally convicted member could not have been removed from a committee, which would surely not have been in the spirit of the reforms,” Infantino states without explaining why it was added to the agenda in Mexico at the 11th hour.
Infantino’s critics would argue that members of independent ethics bodies, so crucial to FIFA’s credibility, cannot and should not be removed by elected FIFA personnel.
But Infantino counters: “ Without this emergency measure no changes could have taken place until the next Congress in May 2017. That is too long for reform to wait. This new authority is temporary and lasts only until the next Congress.”
“The qualifications of the independent persons elected at the Congress speak for themselves. They include a former Advocate General at the Court of Justice of the European Community and a former judge of India’s Federal Supreme Court. They will lead the independent committees that will carry out all integrity checks. These are well-founded nominations of people within FIFA who know exactly what must be done. We will not allow FIFA’s future to be endangered again. FIFA is embracing meaningful reform and is actively leaving its past behind. FIFA is embracing meaningful reform and is actively leaving its past behind.”
Infantino said FIFA would be conducting “a comprehensive financial audit to identify any deficiencies in financial controls and to establish a foundation for a wholesale restructuring of the financial unction at FIFA.”
Informed sources have made it clear that Infantino and Scala not only clashed over giving power to the Infantino-led ruling council to hire and fire members of independent oversight committees, which Scala says was “smuggled” into Congress with warning, but also over Infantino’s salary.
Before Infantino was elected, a FIFA compensation panel, also led by Scala, set salaries for key personnel including the president.
Infantino is understood to be holding out for far more than the $2 million he has apparently been offered and demanding parity with his predecessor Sepp Blatter who earned half as much again. But in his article, Infantino says his salary “should not be a central issue” and denied he was demanding more than the sum on the table.
“From the start, I made clear that my salary will be a matter of public record and that it should be lower than the salaries of the previous FIFA president and Secretary General,” Infantino insisted. “ I will announce it as soon as it has been confirmed.”
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