World football may learn shortly whether it is to be pushed towards the first step of what could be a third FIFA presidential election in three years.
The ethics committee of the world governing body is reportedly expected to rule tomorrow on whether to open a formal investigation into allegations concerning the conduct in office of Gianni Infantino.
Speculation and rumour concerning the 46-year-old Swiss lawyer, who was elected in succession to banned Sepp Blatter only in February, have been escalating over recent weeks after a string of antagonistic leaks.
This created uncertainty over his personal expenditure in office which has been criticised by up to four whistleblowers in complaints to ethics investigator Cornel Borbely.
Infantino created waves within FIFA by the speed and energy with which he set about redesigning the organisation’s structure and his ‘kitchen cabinet.’
This included a logical and long-overdue split of functions between administration and competitions sectors plus the surprisingly quick arrival of former United Nations co-ordinator Fatma Samoura as secretary-general and departures of the heads of the travel department and general secretariat.
Further controversy followed events at the Mexico City congress in May which was followed swiftly by the resignation of Swiss businessman Domenico Scala as chair of the audit and compliance panel plus the sacking of interim secretary-general and finance director Markus Kattner.
The anti-Infantino leaks campaign – notably to Swiss and German media – began soon afterwards, notably with the publishing of a transcript of parts of a FIFA council meeting. This included a comment from Infantino that his pay offer was “insulting” and disagreement over his wish to bring about Scala’s removal.
Responsibility for the compilation of the minutes of council and congress minutes falls, by statute, on the shoulders of the secretary-general.
Further critical comments followed revelations about Infantino’s expenses claim (mattresses, car hire, dress suit etc) plus confusion over his flight arrangements to visit World Cup hosts Russia and Qatar and then a widely-reported private family visit with his wife and mother to an audience granted by Pope Francis in Rome.
A weekend report in the Swiss newspaper Sonntagszeitung suggested that Djimrabaye Bourngar from Chad (deputy investigatory chairman) and colleague Robert Torres (Chief Justice of Guam) were meeting to consider whether the ethics committee should formalise an investigation into Infantino’s conduct in pursuance of his presidential duties.
Borbely has recused himself through sharing Swiss citizenship with Infantino.
If a formal investigation were to be opened then Infantino’s ability to continue as FIFA president would be compromised whatever the proper considerations of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
Last year, when investigations were opened against Blatter (then president of FIFA) and Frenchman Michel Platini (head of European federation UEFA) both men were suspended provisionally for 90 days pending the outcomes.
Even an investigation of Infantino, with or without suspension, would call into question his future and that of the presidency at a time when FIFA – its image and reputation shredded by the scandals of the past few years – cannot afford further damage.
Not least of the considerations of FIFA’s Swiss and American lawyers and strategic advisers will be the need for the body to retain its status as a ‘victim’ in the investigations being undertaken by judicial authorities at home and abroad.
The ethics committee has refused to offer a comment about any consideration of the allegations. Infantino, via a statement issued by FIFA’s media department, “has made clear that he had acted appropriately and in accordance with FIFA’s code of ethics.”