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Mark Pieth

Infantino’s FIFA is a ‘return to the Blatter Middle Ages’

The first 100 days under the new FIFA president Gianni Infantino are a step backwards for world football, warns Swiss law professor Mark Pieth. Reforms of the governing body have failed and state control is needed, he told Swiss public television, RTS, on Friday.

“We have to stop the self-regulation of Fifa,” Pieth told RTS. “They are clearly not able to regulate themselves. States need to intervene, not just Switzerland on its own, but perhaps states from within the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] or the Council of Europe.”

Pieth is a criminology professor at Basel University who was invited by former FIFA president Sepp Blatter to lead a FIFA reform group in 2011.

Last month the FIFA Congress unanimously passed a resolution giving the new FIFA Council power to appoint or "dismiss any office holders" of its independent bodies such as the ethics committee and the audit and compliance committee.

It effectively gives the council, which has replaced the former executive committee and is headed by Infantino, the right to fire elected officials like ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert or ethics investigator Cornel Borbely.

The ethics committee, which was reformed in 2012, has played a key role in cleaning up FIFA. It has investigated and banned more than a dozen top officials for ethics violations, including Blatter, ex-secretary general Jerome Valcke and former executive committee members.

"Very amateur"

“People no long want to be controlled. For me this means a return to the Blatter Middle Ages,” said Pieth.

“I don’t think FIFA is in a very good state. Their actions are very amateur. They should be calmer and start to reform instead of saying ‘everything is fine, everything is reformed now that I’m here’.

Anti-corruption campaigners have expressed their alarm over the recent departure of FIFA audit panel chairman Domenico Scala in a dispute with Infantino. Scala resigned last month after his working relationship with Infantino broke down, partly as a result of disputes over the presidential salary and the FIFA Council taking powers to fire elected independent officials. Pieth helped bring Scala to FIFA in 2012.

FIFA says that allegations that Scala was ousted in a plot are ‘ludicrous’. The world football body says Scala "misinterpreted" the Council’s decision and that the committees will remain independent.

In a interview with the Le Matin Dimanche newspaper earlier this month, Infantino said that “neither the president of FIFA nor the members of the FIFA Council influence the work of independent commissions”.

Last year, amid FIFA's corruption-fuelled crisis, Scala proposed a slate of reforms  that were the basis of modernizing changes drafted by a panel which included Infantino. Their work picked up on a previous round of reforms steered by Pieth’s group. The Swiss law professor’s panel was frustrated by FIFA blocking outsiders from key positions.

Pieth said the current problem was not simply rivalry between individuals but a structural issue.

“I have the feeling that Infantino hasn’t understood the essence of the reforms. And now he’s destroying the reforms for his own interests,” he declared. 

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