Over a span of four months, from October 2015 to January 2016, the FIFA Ethics Committee removed the three most powerful men in football – Sepp Blatter, Jerome Valcke, and Michel Platini – from office, and banned them from the game.
It was an extremely hopeful stretch in the dark history of the world’s governing body. There was, at that time, legitimate hope that FIFA might be rid of the corruption that was its defining characteristic during Blatter’s seventeen-year reign.
That hope feels very far away right now.
On Tuesday, FIFA – under the leadership of new, US-backed president Gianni Infantino – decimated the Ethics Committee that was so instrumental in toppling the previous regime by firing all but two of the committee’s members.
It was the kind of brazen, self-preserving move that was commonplace under Blatter. According to The Guardian, hundreds of ethics committee investigations will now be stalled indefinitely.
The departing prosecutor, Cornel Borbély, said in a press conference on Wednesday in Bahrain that “This is a huge setback. The reform process has at least stepped backwards for several years.”
The decision was especially damning because, if anything, the ethics committee as it was constructed was a shy police force.
The body failed to move against FIFA’s top officials until after the US Department of Justice started making headway in 2015, and refused to release the findings of a high-profile report on FIFA corruption, especially as it related to the Qatar World Cup bid, by its former top investigator Michael J. Garcia.
The only takeaway here is simple: Infantino, along with FIFA’s top officials, do not want any semblance of an independent committee investigating their dealings.
Infantino was investigated but ultimately not charged by the ethics committee last year when the Panama Papers implicated him in a corruption scandal involving UEFA’s TV rights deals.
Borbély and outgoing judge Hans-Joachim Eckert said in a joint statement that the decision to gut their committee was “clearly politically motivated.”
FIFA has put forward replacements for the dismissed committee members, but it’s awfully difficult to imagine that those new appointees will have the independent authority they would ostensibly need to do their jobs effectively.
The likes of Borbély and Eckert weren’t the only ones to lose their jobs at FIFA’s annual congress this week. Miguel Maduro, who chaired the governance committee, was also sent packing.
Why? Maduro, last March, refused to allow Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko to run again for the FIFA Council because FIFA bars its officials from active political engagement.