9th August 2020

FIFA reform guru Pieth says world federation is ‘panicking’ over its legal tangles

FIFA has been accused of “panicking” by undertaking a second war of words in a week, this time over a media report about events long before Gianni Infantino was elected to the presidency. Last Monday Alasdair Bell, the world football federation’s Deputy Secretary General, summoned a video press conference in which he attacked the Swiss judicial authorities. The cause was a criminal investigation into Infantino over his meetings with outgoing Attorney General Michael Lauber.

Infantino has denied all wrongdoing and, on Sunday, Bell returned to the attack. However this time his anger was generated by a report in Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick over the costs incurred by FIFA in commissioning the Basel law Professor Mark Pieth to lead a reform process between 2011 and 2013. Pieth, from the Basel Institute on Governance, was appointed by then President Sepp Blatter after a stream of corruption scandals involving executive committee members.

UEFA criticism

Opposition to some of Pieth’s recommendations – such as term limits for exco members, integrity tests, independent directors and publication of all wages and expenses – were opposed by UEFA. The European federation’s President was then Frenchman Michel Platini and Infantino was his General Secretary.

The reform process had been apparently resolved and consigned to history before Blatter’s banishment from world football in 2015 and Infantino’s accession. So it was surprising that FIFA reacted so fiercely to SonntagsBlick’s report that Blatter’s FIFA had paid Pieth’s Basel Institute CHF2.5 million (€2.3 million) for the work – especially because the story had been ‘broken’ seven years ago by the business outlet Handelszeitung.

However, FIFA – and Bell – did react. He said, in a statement: “While purporting to work for a more transparent FIFA, it also seems that Mr Pieth omitted to be transparent himself, for example, by failing to mention how many millions he and his institute received from Mr Blatter’s FIFA. A conflict of interests perhaps?

“The fact is that Mr Pieth and his associates may have made millions out of advising FIFA on ‘good governance’ but what real difference did they ever make? The organisation basically stayed the same and it required the intervention of the US Department of Justice and the involvement of new leaders before any real reforms were introduced. So, the next time Mr Pieth and his associates comment in public about the new FIFA and Gianni Infantino, they might also care to point out, in the interests of transparency and ‘good governance’, how much money they made out of the old FIFA and Sepp Blatter.”

Pieth had reportedly charged an hourly rate of 650 CHF, receiving a total of 214,380 CHF. The institute received CHF2.5 million between 2012 and 2014.

‘Astonishing’ statement

The 67-year-old, who has been highly critical of Infantino, wasted no time firing back. He described Bell’s statement as “astonishing” for “distorting facts drastically”. He did “not take a remuneration but billed FIFA on behalf of a university fund”.

Pieth added: “It would be rather strange to expect either the taxpayer or an NGO pay for the cost of reorganising a rich international sports organisation. That the reform process got stuck in 2012 is solely the doing of Infantino and UEFA who disliked introducing terms of office and an independent vetting committee.”

Pieth concluded by bringing the latest row back to the Lauber case. He said: “I believe FIFA is panicking in the face of the criminal investigation initiated against its president. If FIFA dislikes the Swiss legal system to this extent it may consider moving to a location with a legal order more conducive to its way of doing business.”

• This article was originally published on Keir Radnedge’s internet site on 9 August 2020. Click here for the original.

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