Just a couple of months ago, newly elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino promised to usher in an era of accountability for soccer’s scandal-ravaged governing body. Not a month ago, he declared FIFA’s annus horribilis officially over, while quietly snatching unprecedented executive authority. And now, less than three full months into a presidency supposedly committed to reform and integrity, Infantino has already found himself in some serious shit.
Last week, German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung released a report claiming that they had seen documents that show Infantino scheming to oust the face of FIFA reform, the now-former Audit and Compliance Committee chairman, Domenico Scala. FAZ’s original report was built off recordings they claimed to have acquired of a FIFA Council meeting ahead of last month’s FIFA Congress in Mexico City.
The report pointed to a few key statements Infantino made, according to their records, that demonstrated his beef with Scala and Scala’s committee. The committee and Infantino had yet to come to an agreement on the new president’s salary, and the first proposed number—$2 million annually, down from the $3 million base salary of previous president Sepp Blatter’s last contract—was unacceptable in Infantino’s eyes.
In addition to that, the president was bothered by a complaint the Compliance Committee lodged with the Ethics Committee about Infantino’s recent bid for a new $25 million house in Zurich. The Compliance Committee apparently thought the purchase was suspicious—how would a man without an income afford a big new house like that?—but Infantino said he had been assured by the head of the Ethics Committee’s investigatory chamber that the complaint would not be substantiated. More than anything, the anecdote appears to have been relayed to the Council as proof of Infantino’s suspicion that Scala was out to get him.
The most explosive parts of the report were about Scala’s position itself. There, FAZ reported that Infantino was actively looking for ways to oust the Audit and Compliance chairman. While trying to hatch schemes to either force him to resign or to actively fire him, one Council member, David Gill from England, expressed alarm, saying that the Council couldn’t just get rid of Scala without any reasonable justification.
Ultimately, FAZ alleged, another FIFA member concocted the rule change that eventually did pass during that Congress, the one that gave the Council power to fire anyone in any of the “independent” reform committees at their discretion. Before the Council could use the new rule to can Scala—which, per FAZ’s report, appears to have been the plan—he resigned, citing this new authority as the reason.
FIFA responded to the FAZ report quickly. “Any allegation that this decision would be the result of a ‘plot’ is ludicrous,” their statement read.
FAZ came right back by printing the relevant transcripts of the meeting verbatim and in the original English the comments were made in. Here is FAZ’s transcript of the part where Infantino was upset about Scala’s proposed salary:
Infantino: “Today I have no contract with Fifa. I didn’t sign a contract that was proposed to me by the chairman of the Audit and Compliance committee. I did not accept this proposal. It was a proposal which I found insulting.”
Infantino: “But this is the situation. It is my problem.“ (…) “May be I have to ask someone of you for a loan at some stage.”
And here’s U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati appearing to inform the Council that his attempts to convince Scala to resign of his own volition were unsuccessful, while Infantino tries to gage the room’s feelings about using the soon-to-be passed new rule change to get rid of Scala:
Gulati: “We met a number of times in the last 24 hours. We thought we had a resolution, a friendly resolution that would work. We didn’t get that realized, we don’t have that right now.”
Infantino: “We see if it’s possible for him to step down. If he doesn’t we will the delegates ask for this question to pass by the congress.”
Infantino: “From that point of view if somebody brings this question for the congress.” (…) “The congress should decide, it is a democratic decision. I think it is better if it comes from the congress that if it comes from the council in one week or two weeks. Because then it is a personal thing which is not.”
Infantino: “Is there any preference here for a congress vote or a dismissal by the Council in one week or two weeks?”
And here’s Gill and Gulati making it clear to Infantino that firing Scala without reason would look really, really bad:
Gill: “What reasons are they going to give? How the can to communicate that? How do I and how do the national associations make the decision?” (…) “I don’t know how I would tell the FA how to vote.” (…) “With what reason?” (…) “It is an unbelievable situation I can’t believe we want to create today.“
Gulati: “We need facts.” (…) “We can’t operate that way. We can’t dismiss people without a piece of paper and facts.”
The newest potential bombshell report came from another German paper, this time Die Welt. The reports says Infantino is on the cusp of a preliminary 90-day suspension from the Audit Committee, stemming from emails they’ve received that allegedly say that at Infantino’s instruction, FIFA destroyed the records from the Council meetings held during last month’s Mexico City Congress.
In addition to the destruction of those Mexico City Congress records, Die Welt’s report says the Compliance Committee has discovered other instances where Infantino may have been breaking FIFA regulations. The report cites possibly misused funds spent on travel expenses, the rushed appointment of Fatma Samoura as secretary general before she’d been cleared by the Audit and Compliance Committee, and some lower-level clothing “gifts” that might or might not have been permissible. An insider Die Welt spoke to says, “there is so much suspicion surrounding the president, you can’t see the forest from the trees anymore.”
The Ethics Committee has released a statement claiming that while they cannot say whether or not Infantino is under any preliminary investigation for any wrongdoing, they can positively say Infantino is not subject to any formal investigation at this time.
FIFA has also refuted Die Welt’s characterization of the leaked emails, claiming that only a copy of the Council meeting records were deleted, not the original version:
If the report is accurate, we could very well hear about Infantino getting suspended in the coming days pending a formal investigation. Even if that part doesn’t pan out exactly as described, there certainly does seem to be a whole bunch of shady business going on at the new-look FIFA. It’s a wonder that anyone thought it would be any different.