Lobbying or observing? The thin FIFA line in UEFA politics

FIFA sign

By Andrew Warshaw

July 21 – As Gianni Infantino awaits the most important verdict to date in his brief FIFA tenure, the FIFA president has come under yet more scrutiny over alleged dirty tricks – this time over accusations that he tried to influence the outcome of September’s UEFA presidential election.

A report by Dutch daily newspaper De Volkskrant claims Infantino sent an emissary in May to a meeting of the northern European football associations in Milan to tell them to vote for Michael van Praag’s main rival, Slovenian federation leader Aleksander Ceferin.

Such conduct is not permitted under the FIFA ethics code. Infantino’s message was reportedly delivered by his Norwegian advisor Kjetil Siem, recently hired in the new role of director of strategic  affairs.  A few days later, four of the associations – Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland – confirmed they would support Ceferin.

In a written statement, FIFA denied any wrongdoing, arguing that Siem travelled in his capacity as secretary-general of the Norwegian Football Association.

“Kjetil Siem was not sent on behalf of the FIFA President to Milan,” the statement read. “At the time of the meeting, he was still an employee of the Norwegian Football Association. With regard to the UEFA Presidential election, it is up to the members of UEFA to choose their new President. The FIFA President is not involved in these elections and does not support any particular candidate.”

Ceferin, Dutch FA president Praag and Spain’s Angel Villar Llona are the three declared contenders for UEFA’s presidency following the resignation of Michel Platini. The 55 European football associations will make their choice on 14 September in Athens.

Infantino’s involvement, if it is genuine, would be a big disappointment to van Praag who backed out of the race for FIFA president in February in order to support  Infantino and would have expected similar backing in return. Van Praag told De Volkskrant that he confronted the Swiss in his hotel room in Milan at the time of the Champions League final. “He was angry that this story went around and said he could never afford something like this, being the president of FIFA,” Van Praag was quoted as saying.

But he said he welcomed the three-way flight for the UEFA presidency.  “I welcome competition, because it makes a strong democracy. I want to help lay the foundations for a cohesive, transparent and decisive UEFA.”

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