FIFA Madness: Miguel Maduro & “The Female Position”

by | Sep 22, 2017

In May, FIFA sacked “did not renew the mandate of” its Ethics Committee co-chairs, Cornel Borbely and Hans Joachim-Eckert, so as to “better reflect the geographic and gender diversity that must be a part of an international organisation like Fifa.” These “non-renewals,” and Borbely and Eckert’s piqued reactions, were headline-grabbers, reducing Miguel Maduro’s non-renewal to mid-table paragraphs of the stories themselves (including mine). After Maduro’s fascinating 72-minute appearance at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport departmental select committee hearing last Wednesday, these roles were reversed.

Maduro was non-renewed after ten months as Governance Committee chairman, at least partly for his committee blocking Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko’s candidature for re-election to Fifa’s governing Council. They did so because Mutko WAS deputy PM, thereby breaching Fifa ethics (don’t laugh) on political neutrality (don’t LAUGH).

Fifa “still hasn’t realised what is required if they want to act under the rule of law and (be) subject to efficient, independent scrutiny,” Maduro mused, on his departure. Fifa’s culture “is not conducive to effective reform without outside pressure.” And if Fifa leaders “are dependent (on a) community (which) is unfriendly to the rule of law,” they won’t reform. This was Maduro’s focus last Wednesday.

The select committee hadn’t convened since June’s General Election. But the business belonged to pre- and post-election chair, Damian Collins. Collins co-founded self-explanatory pressure group “NewFifaNow” and was clearly pushing their agenda, with a bucket-list of controversies, including those surrounding Egypt’s Hany Abo Rida and Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad. He ticked them all off…although Ahmad was hurried through in stoppage-time. Ethically-suspect. But in a good cause.

Borbely was invited to speak. And Collins and Maduro exposed Fifa’s censorship of its Investigatory Chamber ex-chairman. Borbely said plenty after his “non-renewal.” So, Fifa understandably feared what he’d say if legally protected by “parliamentary privilege.” Fifa Secretary-General Fatma Samoura said Fifa’s Ethics Code and “potentially criminal” Swiss Law stopped Borbely speaking. The Ethics Code article went unspecified and cynics wondered how Borbely could breach criminal law.

“We are sure you understand our answer,” Samoura added. “People can draw their own conclusions as to why Fifa would restrict someone freely giving evidence to a national parliament when there’s a clear public interest,” said Collins, metaphorical crayons in-hand. “The first evidence of what is wrong with Fifa governance.” Maduro added. “Who interprets the Code of Ethics should be the Ethics Committee. The judicial body decides on the extent of the obligations of its members. Fifa’s culture of governance is a system of rules without a rule of law.”

So, the articulate Maduro was no “understudy,” one MP calling him “very good at answering questions before I’ve thought of them.” His European Union background occasionally surfaced with delicious awkwardness, although his euro-centric view that Fifa confederations with more votes weren’t “the most relevant in…football” was a rare error. He was ready to provide a ball-by-ball commentary on his Fifa experiences. And if the ornate committee room was available, he’d be commentating still.

Fifa was “extremely resistant to accountability, independent scrutiny and transparency.” Thus, “attempts” were made “to exercise undue influence on us.” As Maduro explained: “They are not aware of how their actions may be contrary to ethical rules. In many cases, they are not even aware of the extent to which what they are doing is contrary to principles of good governance.”

Fifa president Gianni Infantino “non-renewed” him. Yet Maduro claimed he was “genuinely interested in reforming Fifa.” Although Maduro instantly admitted “maybe I want to believe that.” Infantino had said “sometimes our decisions were not well accepted” and “he was not comfortable with (the Mutko) decision.” He didn’t otherwise “try to influence a decision.” And Maduro “expected (him to) protect the authority of the independent committees.” Alas, “that was not the case.”

Maduro likened Fifa to “a state beyond a state” (“they often behave that way” – Collins) and the non-renewals to “having the attorney-general and president of the supreme court” removed overnight. A colleague suggested “they would never dare not to renew us” as that would question the “credibility of the entire process.” But, Maduro noted, “If Fifa wanted to (show) they were ready for independent scrutiny, they should have presented a compelling argument for removing (us). That didn’t happen.”

Infantino counselled “patience” on reform. But Maduro’s patience was tried by Infantino’s belief in “compromise on certain aspects.” He knew that “the way we exercised our independence” was widely opposed among Infantino’s “main stakeholders.” And Infantino “had to choose between protecting the independent bodies or preserving his presidency. Ultimately, he chose to politically survive.”

This part-manifested itself in Samoura’s dash to Brussels, solely to stop Maduro barring Mutko. Samoura said “we needed to declare Mr. Mutko eligible, otherwise the World Cup would be a disaster and (Infantino’s) continued presidency would be in question.” This suggested some “toys-from-pram-throwing” by Mutko. Maduro told her to do one…diplomatically: “It was a matter of political opportunity that was not for my committee to decide. If Fifa wanted political opportunity to take precedence, they should have that in their rules.”

Infantino responded with a “very strong letter.” Maduro explained: “(his) argument was that this had always happened at Fifa and that we were applying (the rules) retroactively. We replied that we were not retroactively applying the rule (but) applying the rule that existed. The problem was that it had never been applied in the past, not that we were applying it now.

“But he argued that we were putting in question good governance. We should respect the rights of confederations to choose the candidates they want. That is so but respecting eligibility criteria, or there is no point having eligibility criteria. We told (Infantino) this and kept our decision.” If not their jobs.

Maduro saw the bright side, though. “One good thing” was “Fifa realised we were really independent.” However, his committee reverted to Fifa-type. His and others’ departures left it lacking the required independent members. Fifa‘s solution? Ask a non-independent “not to vote.” He noted, correctly: “This is absurd. The chair might ask a Liberal Democrat or a Labour or a Conservative not to vote. That gives the chair the power to determine the outcome. Another example of how weakly embedded are the principles of good governance” in Fifa. And not the last.

He “discovered a lot” of “very interesting” issues/subjects surrounding what he quaintly labelled “voting control,” e.g. insisting that voting congress delegates “use one pen” as “different-coloured pens meant “their cross can be controlled.” His job had barely begun. Fifa campaign funding investigations hadn’t begun at all. “A candidate for president needs to spend more than £1m for sure,” Maduro noted, not alluding to the ethics complaint against Infantino for declaring £500,000 presidential election expenses when he spent £1m. For sure.

Also on-going when he left were disputes over Fifa reforms “that require at least one woman” among confederation’s elected Fifa council members. Some created “the female position” (!) for which “all women candidates” stood. Thus “a rule saying: ‘at least one woman’ became ‘not more than one woman.’” A rule promoting female representation “transformed into a rule limiting it.”

There was “strong resistance,” because “the more you open to women, the more the likelihood is that those who have always been in power might be challenged.” It was a case of “the boys within the boys,” an example of how English as a secondary language can evoke some disturbing imagery.

He got an “extraordinary reply” from the Asian confederation (AFC), who said BEFORE their election: that “all positions have been agreed and negotiated.” The AFC were asked to advise female candidates that they could stand for any position. Yet, all four stood for the female position, which Maduro called “not rational.” One female candidate subsequently told him she “never received” the advice and “could confirm this” to the select committee.

Asked about “selective application” of Fifa rules, Maduro said: “People don’t mind rules being applied so long as they impact on people they don’t like.” Infantino told him that “independent committees” had been “used and instrumentalised.” Ex-president Sepp Blatter’s political opponents, who speedily became Ethics Committee investigatees, would agree.

Maduro provided an intriguing “oh…by the way” moment. “We asked someone if (they) had received money from one of the candidates in past elections. They said: ‘yes but he’s my friend and it was a private loan.’” Collins asked if this was “the Hammam” election; Mohamed bin Hammam’s aborted 2011 Fifa presidential bid. Maduro couldn’t “remember fully.” But “it was not Infantino’s,” he hastily added, closing a potential can of worms.

One solution was especially intriguing, in the surroundings. Forced smiles abounded (spotted by alert camerawork) as he said “external pressure” on Fifa could come from “a public authority” with “trans-national” power. Like “the European Union, if you think about it.” He didn’t “want to get involved in another debate in the UK,” and confirmed this by not calling Fifa reform “one area where the EU could have added value, independent of other questions that I don’t want to get into” for…40 seconds.

Maduro returned Fifa malfeasance to the news agenda. And Fifa’s blunderbuss, line-by-line refutable response kept it there. Fifa insisted Maduro’s “undue influence” allegations were “factually incorrect.” and they “never put the competencies of previous committee members into question.” As Infantino told Fifa Congress in May: “I will not accept good governance lessons from those who have failed to protect football and Fifa.” Ah…

“For Maduro to be in regular contact with the administration…was normal,” Fifa continued, although Maduro hadn’t suggested otherwise. “Exchanges” with committees were “logical and desirable,” apparently regardless of content. And Independent committees “all defend Fifa’s interests,” which was, by definition, “factually incorrect.”

The response also suggested that “today, the people in charge of Fifa’s committees bear even more responsibility to bring about reform” than their predecessors, without explaining why. And “the independence of Fifa’s committees…will only be measured by the decisions taken, not by personal opinions.” Especially not those of Fifa personnel, which was rather Maduro’s point.

His “undue influence” claim was echoed virulently in his ex-deputy, Navi Pillay’s May 17th resignation letter, in which she eloquently threw Fifa’s rules back at Samoura. The rules imposed a “need to disclose…improper interference, exercise of influence or pressure (to which) we had been subjected.” So…she disclosed them.

The “undue influence exerted…to change a recommendation made by the GC was made known to me. As a judge and former UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, I cannot countenance serving in an institution whose officials violate the norms and standards of good conduct, that they themselves adopted. I remain concerned that the GC’s independent functioning will not be respected. Kindly accept my resignation.”

And she told the Guardian’s David Conn: “I went in with great admiration that Fifa had adopted good principles, but they rode roughshod over us, people with background in this work. You cannot have reform as rhetoric and carry on with the old ways.”

Maduro since declared: “The fact that they don’t see anything wrong with what I portrayed is the strongest confirmation of how deeply embedded is the culture I described. Genuine reform will only come from the outside.” Hopefully, his committee appearance will, with attendant media scrutiny, kickstart that process.

It could take a while. England’s Fifa Council representative, David Gill, voted for the candidate-slate offered by Fifa to replace Maduro et al. And if Collins et al take a different stance in their “Sports Governance” report, due in December, Fifa will surely cry “governmental interference.”

They could invite Borbely and/or Eckert to spill some beans, calling Fifa’s bluff over criminal law and confidentiality agreements. Of course, there may be financial incentives for the pair to decline. And Borbely himself asked the committee to seek Fifa’s permission for him to speak last Wednesday.

However, Collins noted, “Borbely was willing to do so.” And, after Maduro’s persuasive eloquence and Fifa’s dissuasively ineloquent response, Borbely might be more willing. And, hopefully, Collins can book the committee room for longer than 72 minutes.