By Paul Nicholson and Andrew Warshaw
May 31 – The truth around the latest controversy to hit FIFA president Gianni Infantino has taken another intriguing twist with the release of taped transcripts that appear to confirm he had pushed for the removal of FIFA’s Audit and Compliance chief Domenico Scala.
Prior to the tapes being published, FIFA had released a statement describing as “ludicrous” an article in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) that a plot had been hatched by Infantino to get rid of Scala.
“It is truly regrettable that a few individuals continue to pursue their own agendas and make baseless allegations in the media about the proceedings in Mexico City,” said FIFA, pointing the finger of blame firmly at the media.
Effectively accused of fabrication, the FAZ hit back by publishing the taped transcripts which expose FIFA, not for the first time under Infantino, for unfairly blaming the press for highlighting the fact that Infantino had rejected Scala’s salary offer of SFr 2 million during meetings of FIFA’s ruling Council.
The transcripts undeniably show Infantino has an issue with this and that he did indeed push hard for the removal Scala, first via a negotiated settlement orchestrated by US FIFA Council Member Sunil Gulati and then via a change in the rules.
FAZ quotes Infantino as telling Council delegates: “Today I have no contract with FIFA. I did not sign a contract … proposed to me by the chairman of the Audit and Compliance committee. I did not accept this proposal. It was a proposal which I found insulting. (…) Maybe I have to ask some of you for a loan at some stage.”
The transcripts also show that Gulati held several meetings with Scala with the purpose of getting him to resign (though it was not mentioned why they felt this was needed). These discussions failed but Infantino stressed that FIFA Council members should continue to work on a solution to oust Scala.
Ultimately this led to a statutes change that removed the independence of the ethics committee and other governance officials by giving FIFA the power to hire and fire them at its own discretion. This inevitably forced Scala’s resignation – he would presumably have been fired by FIFA in any case once the motion was passed by Congress.
Gulati reportedly said in one of the meetings: “We met a number of times in the last 24 hours. We thought we had a resolution, a friendly resolution that would work. We did not get that realised, we do not have that right now.”
According to FAZ, Infantino’s response was: “We’ll see if it’s possible for him to step down. If he does not we will ask the delegates for this question (the statute change) to (be) pass (ed) by the congress.”
Infantino is said to have continued: “The congress should decide, it is a democratic decision. I think it is better if it comes from the congress than if it comes from the council in one week or two weeks. Because then it is all a personal thing which is not (what we want). Is there any preference here for a congress vote or a dismissal by the Council in one week or two weeks?”
However, not everyone in the FIFA Council was compliant with Infantino’s strategy or comfortable with the discussion, with England’s FIFA vice-president David Gill saying he did not understand what Scala stood accused of.
According to the FAZ transcripts, Gill said: “What reasons are they going to give? How do they to communicate that? How do I and how do the national associations make the decision? “(…)” I do not know how I would tell the FA how to vote. “(…)” With what reason? “(…)” It is an unbelievable situation I cannot believe we want to create today.”
Gulati also joined the debate in this regard saying: “We need facts.” (…) “We can not operate that way. We cannot dismiss people without a piece of paper and facts.”
Infantino even looked for support from renowned Kuwaiti powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Sabah saying: “We speak again and try to find a solution.” (…) “Sheikh Ahmad you want to join as well, you are a good negotiator.”
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