All hands to the pump: Now FIFA’s Covid chair Rehn jumps into the ‘Save Gianni’ lifeboat

By Andrew Warshaw

August 12 – At first glance it looks like just another routine FIFA press release, this time about the organisation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A chance, understandably perhaps,  to flag up the work being done by the chairperson of FIFA’s COVID-19 Relief Plan steering committee, Olli Rehn. To explain how, over the course of the spring and summer, the plan will have distributed $1.5 billion “ to support the global football society.”

But keep reading and you suddenly come across Rehn, former Vice-President of the European Commission, discussing a totally different subject – the Swiss judiciary’s investigation into Gianni Infantino even though that has nothing whatsoever to do with Covid-19.

What a surprise. Another day, another opportunity – whatever the subject matter on the surface – to get the message out that the current FIFA president has cleaned up corruption by doing things the right way. And to imply that those scoundrels at the Swiss judiciary should not even be contemplating the notion that he might be guilty of any wrongdoing.

Since 2017, Rehn has been deputy chairman of the FIFA Governance Committee. FIFA would doubtless argue that such a position gives him the perfect right to add his voice to the recent outpouring of rhetoric from within the administration. Even if that were true – and there are legal experts who believe that it could prejudice the case – it seems FIFA is using any excuse to maintain its narrative of the man at the top being totally innocent in his dealings with departing Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber.

“Over the last few years, under the leadership of President Gianni Infantino, the first and foremost focus of FIFA has been on the reform of the Federation according to ethically sustainable rules and good governance,” said Rehn, heaping praise on Infantino amid the proceedings that have rocked the FIFA administration over the past week.

“As the deputy chairman of the FIFA Governance Committee since 2017, I have been witnessing the progress of the reforms. And also influencing them where I am able to, of course. Also, the inspection and control of the funds for developing football has been lifted to a proper, professional level.

“This may increase administrative work in member associations, but it is essential in order to make sure that the funds are really used for the right purpose, which is developing football.

“FIFA today is a very different organisation compared to that of five years ago and there is no longer any basis or grounds for loose accusations.”

“It is important to bear in mind that there were (and still are) about 20 ongoing investigations before the Office of the Swiss Attorney General in which FIFA is an injured party.

“There have, in fact, been over 40 criminal convictions already, although the vast majority have been in the United States.  Thus, the corruption has been cleaned up and the aforementioned meeting was associated with this task.

“As it concerned the cooperation by FIFA with the authorities and the Attorney General, I cannot easily find anything unjustifiable in it, as long as we are talking about the rule of law and a constitutional state.”

Only when he has finished dismissing the justification of the Swiss probe and lavishing support for the current FIFA regime does Rehn return to the subject of Covid-19, ostensibly the main reason for the press release.

As the pressure builds, it will be interesting to see how many more statements in the coming weeks conveniently throw in a reference to the Swiss investigation – however relevant to the subject in hand.

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Below the full transcript of the Fifa statement on Rehn.

The FIFA statement:

Olli Rehn confirmed Covid-19 steering committee chairman

In his address to the Finland Football Association (SPL-FBF) Congress over the weekend, Olli Rehn, who was confirmed recently to lead the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan steering committee, outlined FIFA’s response to the pandemic and stressed the major reforms implemented by the organisation in the field of financial management, ethics and good governance.

Rehn has an extensive career in Finland and at EU level with a focus on economic policy and governance. He is currently the Governor of the Bank of Finland, a member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank as well as a former Vice-President of the European Commission, and since 2017 he has been independent deputy chairman of the FIFA Governance Committee.

From his position on the FIFA Governance Committee, Olli Rehn has been following closely the reforms undertaken by the organisation in the last years. “FIFA has come a long way since the serious corruption crisis in 2015, which was the culmination of years or probably decades of problems. Over the last few years, under the leadership of President Gianni Infantino, the first and foremost focus of FIFA has been on the reform of the Federation according to ethically sustainable rules and good governance. As the deputy chairman of the FIFA Governance Committee since 2017, I have been witnessing the progress of the reforms. And also influencing them where I am able to, of course.”

“Also, the inspection and control of the funds for developing football has been lifted to a proper, professional level. This may increase administrative work in member associations, but it is essential in order to make sure that the funds are really used for the right purpose, which is developing football. FIFA today is a very different organisation compared to that of five years ago and there is no longer any basis or grounds for loose accusations,” he added.

Reacting to the recent opening of an investigation concerning FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s meetings with the Swiss Attorney General, Rehn said: “First and foremost, FIFA was obliged to cooperate with the authorities and it is important to bear in mind that there were (and still are) about 20 ongoing investigations before the Office of the Swiss Attorney General in which FIFA is an injured party. There have, in fact, been over 40 criminal convictions already, although the vast majority have been in the United States.

“Thus, the corruption has been cleaned up and the aforementioned meeting was associated with this task. As it concerned the cooperation by FIFA with the authorities and the Attorney General, I cannot easily find anything unjustifiable in it, as long as we are talking about the rule of law and a constitutional state.”

The new chairperson of the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan steering committee summarised FIFA’s approach to this unprecedented crisis: “FIFA has worked with health as its first priority, and rightly so. A good indicator of the situation is that at the worst point in early spring, all but four of the 211 FIFA member associations stopped [playing]…. In the name of solidarity, FIFA started to act to help mitigate the consequences suffered by associations and clubs as well as other stakeholders within football. Much due to the fact that significant economical and administrative reforms have been made at FIFA, the Federation stands on very solid ground now, economically. That will now be used to help the sport recover from the Coronavirus crisis.”

Rehn also provided further insight into the newly created Relief Plan: “Over the spring and summer, we have been preparing FIFA’s Coronavirus relief plan. Altogether, one and a half billion US dollars will be distributed in order to support the global football society. I took part in the creation of this plan as a member of the Governance Committee. This aid and the aid system resembles the European Union’s aid in the sense that it will be financed through the strong reserves and first-class credit rating of the institution and distributed partly as direct aid and partly as loans, which are, of course, voluntary for member associations.”

Finally, he concluded with a message of hope: “The newly-founded steering committee, which is a completely independent body, will follow and monitor the execution of the plan, its economic administration, and its effective and proper implementation in all parts of the world. FIFA appointed me the chairman of that committee last week. I trust that with cooperation the world over, and certainly in Finland, too, we will be able to keep the damage to football caused by the Coronavirus crisis to a minimum.”