Does FIFA have its own Comey problem?

On Tuesday, the same day FBI director James Comey was fired, the FIFA Council decided not to renew the terms of FIFA chief ethics investigator Cornel Borbely and FIFA ethics chief judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.

As you can imagine, Borbely and Eckert have been busy the last few years. The federal indictment of dozens of soccer officials and consultants on corruption-related charges exposed the problems within FIFA, its confederations and at federations around the world.

FIFA ethics investigators lack the subpoena power federal investigators have, and they have hit many dead ends, notably on investigations into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights. Eckert came under intense criticism for his watered down version of the report of former investigator Michael J. Garcia's examination of FIFA corruption that was never made public.

But the FIFA ethics committee effectively brought down the careers of FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini, his presumptive heir. Blatter's successor and Platini's former No. 2 at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, also was the subject of a FIFA investigation but cleared in 2016.

On its face, there's nothing wrong with the decision to replace Eckert and Borbely. Unlike Comey, who was fired in the middle of his term, Eckert and Borbely were coming to the end of their terms.

And there is no reason to believe their replacements aren't competent. Colombian Maria Claudia Rojas will replace Borbely as the new head of the ethics committee's investigatory chamber, and Greek Vassilios Skouris, a former president of the European Court of Justice, will head the adjudicatory chamber.

"These individuals have been chosen because they are recognized, high-profile experts in their respective fields," FIFA said in a statement. "Moreover, they better reflect the geographic and gender diversity that must be a part of an international organization like FIFA."

Ethic deputies nominated hail from Canada, Rwanda and American Samoa. (Nominees for new FIFA committees include Obama White House counsel Neil Eggleston for appeal committee deputy. His son, Nat, was four-year starter at Duke and played for the U.S. U-18s.)

But both Eckert and Borbely insisted the move was "clearly politically motivated" by Infantino and "will inevitably lead to a renewed loss of trust."
(The Financial Times reported that the ethics committee shakeup followed its decision to bar Russian Vitaly Mutko, chairman of Russia’s 2018 World Cup organizing committee, from running for the FIFA Council.)

Borbely went so far as to say their ouster will set back the FIFA reform process several years. (As if it is dependent upon them alone to move forward?) But one more comment from Borbely underscored the enormity of the situation.

"We investigated several hundred cases and several hundred are still pending and ongoing at the moment," he added to argue their departure will slow down the process of moving these cases forward.

The problem for FIFA isn't a Comey problem -- should Eckert and Borbely have been replaced? -- but a cloud of corruption that hangs over it -- and will remain there until these investigations are completed.

On top of the hundreds Borbely mentions are the hundreds more that will come in the door as the work of police and investigators concludes in the United States, Switzerland and France.

In the end, it's not the work of Eckert and Borbely that matters. The action is with those ongoing criminal investigations.

9 comments about "Does FIFA have its own Comey problem?".
  1. Wooden Ships, May 11, 2017 at 12:20 p.m.

    I don't believe FBI Directors serve terms. Has FIFA provided any explanation for these dismissals?

  2. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 11, 2017 at 1:59 p.m.

    I looked it up and was surprised to learn that the FBI Director is actually appointed to a ten year term although it looks like few have actually served that long. Apparently they can also be fired by the President, as we learned this week for better or for worse.

  3. Wooden Ships replied, May 11, 2017 at 6:17 p.m.

    Thanks Fire, I didn't realize that either. Always thought it was at the pleasure of the CINC.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, May 11, 2017 at 6:19 p.m.

    My apologies to Mr. Kennedy.

  5. beautiful game, May 11, 2017 at 12:57 p.m.

    When money talks, ethics take a walk.

  6. Nick Daverese, May 11, 2017 at 7:16 p.m.

    The head of the FBI gather evidence and hand it to the DOJ they decide to prosecute or not. They don't try to tell the DOJ what to do. Comey tried to tell obamas DOJ what to do. Plus he met with her on her jet to discuss their kids right. Who believes that lie. He should have been fired. Funny thing Democrates wanted him fired until Trump did it. Now all of a sudden they changed their so called minds. Schummer is my senator he actually thinks one day he will be president. That's why he sold his soul.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, May 13, 2017 at 6:56 p.m.

    Nick, don't overlook the context of Comey's action. Comey is catching flack now for taking a bullet for the Attorney General, who the suspicious press had just reported had met privately with former President Clinton, by Comey making the announcement that Mrs. Clinton would not be prosecuted instead of the AG's office. Even though Comey acted on his own, his doing so protected the AG who was compromised by Bill Clinton.

  8. Craig Cummings, May 12, 2017 at 12:12 a.m.

    I played basketball against CIA director POMPOEO in JR. HS . He and his brother were very good players. Mikes school Los Amigos were our cross town rivals. I bet he still remembers those games. I do.

  9. Bob Ashpole, May 13, 2017 at 7 p.m.

    Sooner or later everyone is replaced by someone else. When, why and who are the interesting facts. The article covers all three questions.

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