By Paul Nicholson
January 5 – FIFA’s revolving door has become jammed with staff not sure whether they are entering or exiting. The confusion and discontent has reached levels where the sports governing body has had to parachute in two specialist employment lawyers to mediate a way through escalating staff troubles.
One of the hallmarks of president Gianni Infantino’s regime has been the speed at which he has dispensed with the bulk of FIFA’s top management and their replacement with his own people – most notably with his installation of Fatma Samoura as General Secretary.
An organisation that was already in a state of high anxiety with the US Department of Justice and Swiss Attorney General investigations into corruption having ripped through the Zurich headquarters, has been turned into an organisation wracked by increased job security fear and paranoia with the culture of change and ruthless staff dismissals introduced by Infantino.
The result has been personnel conflict on a scale never before seen at FIFA.
A FIFA spokesman told the AFP news agency that specialist labour lawyers Nirmala Dias and Andreas Blattmann would “work with employees of FIFA to explore and assist them in determining options to help resolve conflicts, problematic issues or concerns.”
Among those who have left the organisation include medical director Jiri Dvorak, head of the FIFA museum Stefan Jost, head of security Ralf Mutschke, all key executives within Communications, and media team, several key members of the development department, the head of human resources, as well as executives within various strategic and commercial teams including sponsorship chief Thierry Weil and TV sales boss Niclas Ericsson.
The culture of fear was further heightened last summer when two ‘heads of service’, one of whom booked travel for senior staff, were fired in what was described as a reorganisation of their departments. They were the two whistleblowers who reported Infantino to the ethics committee for his expense claims as well as usage of private jets.
FIFA said that the lawyers drafted in would “bring systemic concerns to the attention of the organization for resolution.” Without being too sceptical that resolution will only likely fall in favour of the senior staff who felt the need to bring in the outside legal help in the first instance.
A big issue for FIFA will be to follow the letter of Swiss employment law (hence the need for specialist mediators) in the changes that Infantino wants to bring to his organisation – the emphasis being on ‘his’.
The news could not come at a more embarrassing time for Infantino as he prepares to celebrate FIFA’s ‘Best’ in their shiny new awards format this weekend, followed by a set of important FIFA Council meetings where he will seek to push further his plans for a 48-team World Cup amidst growing concern over the consultancy time and lack of commercial substance given for the plan from a number of confederations.
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