By Paul Nicholson
November 19 – FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s plan to sell off the rights to two new FIFA competitions for $25 billion has been revealed as being just a stepping stone for a movement of all FIFA’s competition rights, including the World Cup and its archive, into a newly created Swiss company that he would chair.
The full extent of Infantino’s duplicity and lack of transparency has been unveiled by newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcaster WDR who have revealed that complete rights to the Football World Cup, satellite and network transmissions, archives, movies and videos, video games and merchandising would be handed over to the new rights holders.
The new information reveals how little Infantino has shared with the FIFA Council who he tried to railroad into a deal he said had a 60-day time limit but which was still on the table once that deadline passed. FIFA now has a Working Group examining the deal, a group that is, remarkably, chaired by Infantino himself, the driving force behind FIFA accepting the proposal.
The backers behind the deal are as previously reported, SoftBank Investment Advisers Limited (SBIA) and the London-based investment company Centricus Partners LP. Both have strong ties to Saudi Arabia and believed to be a front for the Saudi money, once again raising questions of geo-political influence as the motivation behind the offer to FIFA.
As well as a new Club World Cup events and some form of a global Nations League to replace the Confederations Cup, the deal reportedly includes all World Cup rights. The proposal (in a document that FIFA claims is old) covers digital and archival rights, film and video, satellite and Internet broadcasts, merchandising and rights to the games, all HD and 3D productions, computer games and virtual reality, according to documents seen by SZ and WDR, as well as control over “every other format that is subsequently developed worldwide.”
All would be funnelled through the specially created ‘FIFA Digital Corporation’ of which FIFA would hold a nominal 51%. Infantino would be installed as chairman of the company, arguably a more influential and powerful position in world football than president of FIFA, and certainly more lucrative personally than the annual $2 million plus bonus he has been receiving.
By removing all of FIFA’s commercial rights from its own sales and marketing teams it would be a further emaciation of a world governing body whose president in just two years has removed the head of every major department, shredded the budgets and operational capability of everything from development to medical, and has removed any form of independence in its governance and ethics process, turning them into a blunt tool for his own political requirements.
Marc Pieth, Professor of Criminal Law at Basel University, and one-time advisor to FIFA on governance, described told SZ: “It’s a raid on FIFA: they are trying to gut it financially and move all decisions to a dubious consortium of which [Infantino] will be the boss.”
An internal FIFA report into the deal has already been conducted by FIFA’s former chief legal counsel, Marco Villiger, and his deputy Jörg Vollmüller. They produced a 16-page report that cited numerous legal problems with the overriding conclusion that this would not be a good deal for FIFA. Both were fired by Infantino in August with Villiger having been given four hours to vacate his office after returning from vacation.
The reality for FIFA’s member associations and its governing FIFA Council is that they have been misled and played by Infantino in his desperation to get the deal through. Having refused to give the Council full information on the deal, and threatened with a false deadline, he then turned for support from Europe’s money hungry clubs, some of whom like PSG and Manchester City may owe him a favour if the allegations that he helped them through UEFA’s financial fair play regulations are confirmed as true.
When Real Madrid added their voice to the clamour for more money and publicly endorsed Infantino’s plan, then suddenly the gloves were off again and Infantino was back in play. His aggressive condemnation of a European Super League can now be viewed in separate light from just being the right thing to do. Similarly his condemnation of LaLiga playing a regular season game in the US.
Confidence that the Working Group examining the deal under Infantino’s leadership will come up with anything other than a positive recommendation, despite the obvious consequences for the future of FIFA and world football, at this stage would not be worth betting against.
The final decision on whether the proposal goes ahead will be taken by the FIFA Council in March 2019. It will be a defining moment for FIFA. It could even be an end-moment.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org