The strict rules FIFA passed in February to oversee its top officials seem to have been relaxed and do not need to be applied to the letter, months after the scandal-scarred football body hailed them as crucial to rebuilding trust following the corruption-tainted years of Sepp Blatter’s presidency.
Amid claims that FIFA’s new audit panel chairman from Slovenia fails to meet independence criteria demanded for the job, FIFA clarified on Friday how its governance regulations can be interpreted.
FIFA appointed Slovenia state auditor Tomaz Vesel in July as an apparent outsider with no formal football links to oversee its billion-dollar annual spending. Among his first tasks was helping decide President Gianni Infantino’s $1.5 million salary and right to future bonuses.
To protect against conflicts of interest, and uphold the independence of audit and ethics committee leaders, FIFA rules state they are “not permitted” to have had an “official function” in a FIFA member federation during the four years before being selected.
However, Vesel’s recent work with a Slovenian federation committee was reported Thursday by a football magazine in Norway. The magazine, Josimar, reported that Vesel said his advisory work was declared to FIFA’s vetting panel.
The Slovenia federation is led by Aleksander Ceferin, elected last week as UEFA president and a FIFA vice president, who plays with Vesel on a football team in Ljubljana.
On Friday, FIFA said the vetting process by its review panel which clears candidates for independent jobs, elections or committee seats can now assess “on a case-by-case basis” if they can take office.
“The text of these rules is, in some respects, open-ended and vague, requiring its clarification on a case-by-case development of criteria aimed at making their application as objective and certain as possible,” FIFA said in a briefing document published Friday.
While also clearing Vesel for duty, the three-member FIFA review panel has vetted dozens of candidates for seats on FIFA’s revamped committees plus continental elections, including joining the Infantino-chaired FIFA Council.
However, Vesel’s appointment has been the highest-profile test of checks and balances FIFA put in place to clean up its operations while cooperating with investigations by American and Swiss federal prosecutors which removed Blatter from office.
FIFA declined to comment Friday on details of the review panel’s assessment of Vesel’s eligibility.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, FIFA did suggest the panel could take into account if a candidate’s previous football positions “were purely advisory and did not involve any remuneration.”
The Vesel case has cast further doubt on FIFA’s commitment to letting officials in key oversight roles work independently.
He replaced Domenico Scala, who resigned in May in protest after FIFA’s annual meeting in Mexico City where Infantino’s council was given hire and fire power over audit and ethics committee leaders. Scala and Infantino also clashed over the presidential salary.
FIFA’s latest guidance on how football insiders could be appointed to independent positions was sent to its 211 federations on Friday. It is set to announce lineups for its new committee structure next month, and acknowledged some members had perceived conflicts of interest.
They have been asked to “formally confirm that he or she will recuse themselves” from future debates and decisions where conflicts could arise, FIFA said.