editor NOS Sport
editor NOS Sport
“Campione, campione, olé, olé, olé”, blared through the Swiss hotel bar. After the Blatter era, a new president of world football federation FIFA stepped in. A beaming Gianni Infantino was applauded by UEFA lobbyists. ‘Their’ Gianni.
It was the conclusion of a day, February 26, 2016, full of hours of meetings at the FIFA Congress. With, of course, the all-important presidential election. For days, the UEFA strategists kept a low profile, but in the bar they told their victory stories with a beer in hand.
The humiliations of the Blatter era were over, or so they believed. UEFA was now on the ball. A new era would dawn.
Soon after his first election, however, less positive noises were heard about Infantino. Swiss professor Mark Pieth sounded the alarm. Pieth was the architect of reform within FIFA.
In Blatter’s time, he devised a system of independent supervisors, who had to check and clean up the organization from the inside out. It was the reform that led to Blatter’s own downfall.
Pieth soon saw that Infantino was beginning to resemble his predecessor. “He’s blazing,” as Pieth put it, three months after the election.
My concerns have not been eased by the transition from Blatter to Infantino. To be honest, I think he’s actually worse than Blatter.
We are now more than seven years later. Shortly after the much-discussed World Cup in Qatar, the football world is once again preparing for a presidential election. Infantino’s second reelection. And again he is the only candidate.
A good time to return to Pieth for an interim report on Infantino. The Swiss professor is harsh in his assessment: “When I was involved in FIFA, I already saw quite a few indications of corruption. My concerns have not been lessened by the transition from Blatter to Infantino. To be honest: I think he is actually worse is then Blatter.”
“I would characterize Blatter as the ‘patron’ of a company. A man who wanted power, influence and of course money. Infantino is the superlative. He wants to get rich in a much shorter time, seeks absolute power and I would want to compare to an autocrat.”
According to Pieth, transparency, good governance and independence are empty concepts if the right people are not placed in the crucial places. “It is very easy to put things on paper, but it is much more difficult to put it into practice. You do that by appointing people who enforce the rules and ensure that this actually happens.”
He was impressed by the experienced supervisors Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert, who ended the careers of Blatter and former UEFA president Michel Platini from the ethics committee. However, these supervisors were replaced by Infantino.
‘Afraid of people with guts’
“It was clear to me that they were afraid of people who had the guts to remove Blatter and Platini from the football world. That’s what the ethics committee was for,” says Pieth. “Infantino and his friends have replaced all those independent people with friends, say: less competent people.”
With this Pieth refers to the Colombian Maria Claudia Rojas and the Greek Vassilios Skouris, who had to lead the investigations into abuses. “They are not real professionals in this field and they are too dependent on the legal support of the organization,” he explains. “The woman who now has to investigate abuses doesn’t even seem to speak English.”
While running for his second reelection, Infantino remains a suspect in a criminal investigation. The Swiss judiciary suspects him of trying to influence the police investigation into corruption in the international football world.
The reason for this is a secret meeting between Infantino and the Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber in a hotel. Lauber was the Swiss leader of the investigation, which was conducted in conjunction with the FBI and led to the fall of Sepp Blatter.
Exonerated by regulators
Blatter left before he officially became a suspect. Even as a suspect, Infantino had no intention of following suit. He was also exonerated by FIFA’s internal regulators. Shortly after the announcement by the Swiss judiciary in July 2020, Maria Claudia Rojas, who had been appointed by him, made this known. According to Rojas, even a provisional suspension was not necessary.
“I was certainly surprised that he was acquitted so quickly. You would expect them to first want to know what the Swiss prosecutors would come up with. Especially since the judicial investigation is still ongoing. There was no need to do that in a few days to decide,” says Pieth.
Support from KNVB
Under Blatter, national unions still had the chance to vote blank in a re-election. A way to protest silently, even if there was no opposing candidate. Infantino’s previous re-election had the procedure changed. A round of applause was enough. The opposition became completely invisible.
Be it a vote or applause at the congress in Rwanda; The Swiss can count on the support of the KNVB.
Chairman Just Spee stated in Algemeen Dagblad last week that Infantino has “sensible ideas” about the way FIFA is governed. “You can say no loudly, but what then? Now you are sitting at the table and you can exert influence. That is the best for Dutch football.”
The NOS made an interview request to the KNVB this week to discuss support for Infantino, but that was refused by an information officer.
“I think that a little more courage and guts can sometimes come in handy,” Professor Pieth responds coolly to the U-turn of the Dutch football administrators.
“Infantino made a fool of the European federations when they were not allowed to use captain armbands at the World Cup in Qatar. And they reluctantly agreed.” he explains. “The European federations have much more power than they think. They could have put pressure on FIFA, but they have turned out to be cowards.”
Van Praag understands KNVB support in Infantino’s re-election: ‘Sometimes you have to be wise’