By Andrew Warshaw
March 10 – Russia’s under-fire World Cup supremo Vitaly Mutko, one of the most powerful figures in world sport, has been sensationally barred from seeking re-election to FIFA’s ruling Council.
With only a month to go before Europe elects its Council representatives, Mutko has failed an eligibility test – but not because of his alleged role in Russia’s damning doping scandal or any investigation into the 2108 and 2022 World Cup bid process.
FIFA’s review committee is reported to have ruled that Mutko, who has been a member of FIFA’s inner sanctum since 2009 and is also head of the Russian FA, cannot stand due to FIFA’s policy on government interference in football. Last October, Mutko was promoted from Sports Minister to Deputy Prime Minister.
UEFA declined to immediately confirm the reports, suggesting they had not yet been given the nod by FIFA to officially announce the bombshell news. It is understood, however, that FIFA have already passed on the information to Europe’s governing body.
Mutko himself confirmed, however, that he had been barred, a move that represents a huge blow both to his personal standing and to World Cup organisers as they build towards next year’s finals.
In an effort to save face, Mutko said the move would have no bearing on World Cup plans. “As far as our stance and preparations for the World Cup finals are concerned, the committee’s decision has no bearing on that,” Mutko told TASS.
“I wanted to be re-elected but now the FIFA represented by its compliance committee has somewhat changed the criteria. A new criterion, political neutrality, has been introduced. They want the organisation to be politically neutral and officials and representatives of authorities from various countries not to be elected to all their bodies. This is their right,” Mutko said.
It is believed to be the first time Mutko had undergone an integrity check since they were introduced as part of FIFA’s reform process. Whilst ditching him from its supreme decision-making body will have enormous repercussions, FFIA for once can take credit for showing consistency when it comes to its independent bodies being allowed to make uncomfortable decisions that could have far-reaching consequences.
Although it has intervened in a string of cases over how member federations run their affairs, FIFA had been facing mounting accusations of treating Mutko differently because of his unique power base and his influence at the heart of the FIFA administration.
Article 23 of the FIFA statutes states that its confederations must be “independent and avoid any form of political interference” whilst another article makes it clear that member associations must be free of “undue influence” from third parties.
Earlier this year Infantino was reported to have urged Mutko to withdraw from the spotlight though both men insist the private request never took place.
Unlike Danny Jordaan’s face-saving withdrawal from Africa’s parallel FIFA Council elections this week, Mutko was not given the opportunity, it would seem, to pull out of standing before it became known he had failed an eligibility test.
He says, however, that he will not appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, leading to speculation that the decision reached was part of a cleverly hatched deal that suits both parties.
One narrative being disseminated suggests this was the only way of preventing Mutko, in the face of mounting western suspicion, from carrying on without implicating him in Russia’s doping scandal or in any wrongdoing over the 2018 and 2022 bid process which is still being investigated. Had he failed an eligibility test for either of these reasons, it would doubtless have been interpreted that he was being investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee. Which may well, of course, still be the case.
His removal from the scene means the remaining four UEFA candiates are all clear to be elected unopposed in Helsinki at the UEFA Congress: Sandor Csyani (Hungary), Costakis Koutsokoumnis (Cyprus), Dejan Savicevic (Montenegro) and Geir Thorsteinsson (Iceland).
Germany’s Reinhard Grindel is the only candidate for a further European place, which has a two-year term. His election will restore Germany’s influence as a significant player following former DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach’s ban last year by the FIFA ethics committee for reasons connected with the 2006 World Cup bid debacle.
Ironically, just as news of Mutko broke, so FIFA’s general secretary general Fatma Samoura was in Russia dismissing suggestions the doping scandal could tarnish the World Cup and the Confederations Cup before it.
“The doping has nothing to do with the two events,” Samoura told reporters during a visit to St Petersburg.
“FIFA takes very seriously every aspect that can negatively impact the holding of events worldwide. Whether we are talking about doping, security and safety or discrimination, xenophobia, we make sure that bad behaviors are not affecting our competition.”
FIFA later issued a statement confirming that everyone on the UEFA list except Mutko had passed the eligibility test though it still remained unclear why the announcement was not made by UEFA which FIFA had previously said would be the case and which also happened with the African Football Confederation’s Council candidates.
Mutko, said FIFA, “was not admitted as a candidate for the position of member of the FIFA Council due to his position as Deputy Prime Minister.”
“The Governance Committee having previously decided that FIFA’s general principles of political neutrality and the prevention of any form of government interference and, in particular, the obligation imposed by art. 14 of FIFA Code of Ethics on FIFA officials to remain politically neutral with respect to governments, create a structural and inherent incompatibility with being a member of government, the Review Committee applied such criteria in assessing the eligibility of Mr Vitaly Mutko, leading to a final decision of non admissibility by the Governance Committee.”
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