Infantino's scurrilous plan to sell FIFA down the river

First of all, I'd like to apologize for my column three weeks ago taking FIFA President Gianni Infantino  to task for harboring a surfeit of bad ideas. It turns out that my criticism was far too mild. According to German media reports this past weekend, Infantino's bad ideas were not just bad ideas, but nothing less than a coverup for his plans to completely sell out the global game, with himself as one of the main beneficiaries.

The $25 billion offer to FIFA from a secretive consortium of financial investors was originally said to be aimed at founding two utterly unnecessary competitions - an expanded World Club Cup, and a World Nations League. This was the offer Infantino wanted the FIFA Council to push through in Bogota last March, on the grounds that the cash-toting investors' group had set a time limit of 60 days on the offer. Infantino couldn't reveal who the investors were, he said, because he had signed a confidentiality agreement.

If you were suspicious that such a colossal amount of money was being mysteriously thrown at a pair of white elephants, then full marks. Internal FIFA documents seen by the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reveal that the deal was in fact also set to include all of FIFA's digital, archive, merchandising and gaming rights, should the two pointless tournaments fail to bring in the requisite revenue. Oh, and all of the rights to the 2026 World Cup and beyond.

Why on earth would the head of FIFA want to instigate a deal that would transfer control of the game to anonymous financial interests? That's simple. According to the documents, Infantino himself is the prospective head of a new company controlling all these rights called FIFA Digital Corporation (FDC). The shady financial consortium (consisting of UK consultancy SB Investment Advisors Limited and London-based Centricus Papers LP - behind which lurks the Japanese technology concern Softbank with close ties to the state of Saudi Arabia) would own 49% of FDC, and FIFA 51%. The board, though, would consist of five directors apiece, and would nominate the chairman and head of finance. FIFA would effectively no longer control decisions that affect the whole future of soccer.

If the details sound too complex to take on board, then the following is all you need to know. Only after failing to swing that Bogota vote did Infantino hand the proposal to FIFA's internal lawyers, Marco Villiger and his deputy Jörg Vollmüller. They were horrified at its implications, and in a 16-page memo advised Infantino to urgently scrap the deal. He responded by failing to renew their contracts. Villiger - FIFA's head legal expert since 2002 - left in August of this year, Vollmüller in October.

Infantino would not talk to the SZ, but FIFA's official response to the newspaper was to claim that the proposal was "just one of hundreds circulating around FIFA," and that it was no longer valid. That is a blatant untruth. Infantino himself heads up a task force looking into its viability. That task force only exists because Infantino failed a second time to ram the proposal through the FIFA Council meeting in Rwanda late last month.

It's heartening that there has been internal pushback to this disgrace, but it's not a given that such resistance will last. In today's kicker magazine, Dutch federation President and UEFA Vice President Michael van Praag defends Infantino by saying "it's one of his jobs to look for possible new investment in soccer, as long as he informs the FIFA Council in a correct and timely manner" (which here is clearly not the case). Van Praag rules out putting forward a candidate to run against Infantino in next year's election for FIFA President on the grounds that "he's only been in office for two years and the reform of FIFA is a long process. Infantino's doing a good job."

Van Praag speaks like a true functionary - loyal as a sheep dog, willfully myopic to the faults of his lord and master. To Infantino's gutting of FIFA's own Ethics Commission by replacing critics with puppets, van Praag blandly states, "We shouldn't pre-judge the new Ethics Commission." The only thing to be thankful for here is that the spineless van Praag is not on the FIFA Council.

He does, nonetheless, typify the docile compliance that Infantino was doubtless relying on when he first tried to quickly impose the $25 billion plan on FIFA without due process and consultation. Yet a combination of internal FIFA friction and media exposure should now place enough obstacles in Infantino's path and, in a sane world, lead to his removal. That step, as an SZ editorial states today, "is a matter of urgency."

Are there really enough men and women on the FIFA Council with the moral backbone to stand up to its devious, manipulative and increasingly autocratic boss? Concacaf's representatives on the Council are Victor Montagliani, its president, Sonia Bien-Aime, Sunil Gulati, Pedro Chaluja and Luis Hernandez. It is also a matter of urgency that they let us know their views, and how they plan to counter Infantino's shameless plot to grab unlimited power and money.

8 comments about "Infantino's scurrilous plan to sell FIFA down the river".
  1. R2 Dad, November 19, 2018 at 4:09 p.m.

    I don't supposed Fiduciary Duty is anywhere in his employment contract? Seems like the game needs a new organization to represent the sport. Blatter, now Infantino? This is all I hear in my head:

  2. Bob Ashpole, November 19, 2018 at 6:51 p.m.

    Sounds like he is a bigger crook than the guys that were prosecuted. Wasn't he paying attention?

  3. Wooden Ships, November 20, 2018 at 11:09 a.m.

    Wonder if our prosecutors can, once again, interject themselves and put Infantino on notice and cause change/coup. 

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, November 20, 2018 at 4:17 p.m.

    FIFA does business with US companys constantly especially for TV broadcast rights. There is always a significant tie to US commerce. Also they were selling the broadcast rights for the finals being hosted in the US, Canada and Mexico.

  5. Wooden Ships replied, November 20, 2018 at 5:55 p.m.

    That’s our in then Bob. If they didn’t take away Qatar’s bid surely we would be safe for 26. It’s a shame. 

  6. John Soares, November 20, 2018 at 11:49 a.m.

    Is it too late to bring Blatter back:)

  7. Kent James, November 20, 2018 at 12:07 p.m.

    Exposing self-dealing like this is why it's important to have professional journalists on the beat...

  8. beautiful game, November 20, 2018 at 12:29 p.m.

    Infantino has been and continues to be a con artist par excellence. Time for FIFA ethics committee to expunge this crook forever; along with his co-cons...sound familiar?

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