Infantino backs controversial Lekjaa as he expands career into Moroccan politics

October 21 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino has shielded Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) president and FIFA Council member Fouzi Lekjaa over his new role in the Moroccan government, claiming that FIFA is politically neutral. 

FIFA governance guidelines and rules on political neutrality imply that a politically active football administrator cannot sit on the organization’s powerful Council, but when quizzed about Lekjaa’s new role, Infantino said: “Under FIFA statutes FIFA is, of course, neutral in matters of politics and religion. We, at FIFA, nor any FIFA members, express any political preferences. Mr Lekjaa was at the FIFA Council this afternoon and he participated, very actively, in the debates.”

Article 4.2 of the FIFA Statutes dictates that “FIFA remains neutral in matters of politics and religion,” although “exceptions may be made with regard to matters affected by FIFA’s statutory objectives.” Earlier this month Lekjaa was handed a role in the cabinet of the Moroccan government. The FRMF president will serve as a minister delegate to the minister of finance, raising eligibility questions over his position in the FIFA Council.

Infantino sent Lekjaa “his sincere congratulations” when the Moroccan assumed the role, adding that “without a doubt, your experience, knowledge and commitment, in addition to your passion and personal qualities, will contribute to your success in your new mission”.

The statues do not explicitly prohibit Lekjaa from holding his new post, but there is a precedent that suggests Leekja’s new ‘mission’ could have further consequences. In 2017, Vitaly Mutko was barred from seeking re-election to FIFA’s top decision-making body after failing an eligibility check. FIFA’s review committee – of which Lekjaa was a member – ruled that Mutko could no longer sit on the council because of his role as a deputy prime minister of Russia. Mutko had previously been Russia’s sports minister.

An executive committee member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) as well as a vice-president of the governing body, Lekjaa is one of the strongmen in the African game. He has been president of the FRMF since 2014.

Lekjaa has long been a controversial character in football circles, having been accused of assaulting (headbutting) Ethiopian FIFA-listed referee Bamelak Tessema after RS Berkane, Lekjaa’s hometown club, lost to Zamalek of Egypt in the CAF Confederation Cup final in Alexandria. A member of the CAF disciplinary, Lekjaa eventually saw the case withdrawn despite witness statements confirming the assault.

See Moroccan FA boss Lekjaa accused of assaulting Ethiopian ref Tessema. CAF to make ‘watershed’ ruling

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