“It shouldn’t be surprising to anybody that [Putin] would do everything he could to manipulate FIFA.”
Miguel Maduro joined Fifa in May 2016, thinking he landed his dream job. A thrilling and exciting opportunity at the time which combined soccer (football) with public and private accountability. Soccer’s governing body at the time was a mess., and he was more excited than ever to work within a team that would fix it. There were more than a dozen U.S federal indictments at the time lingering on from the ousting of its longtime president.
Maduro was assured by the new president Gianni Infantino that things would be different. “He seemed very committed, so I had no impression that he was a corrupt person or anything like that,” Maduro explained. However, his impression was very short-lived.
Within months, Infantino began to urge Maduro to throw out the FIFA rulebook and do him favours. Infantino grew more desperate as the World Cup drew closer.
For instance, Vitaly Mutko, one of the members of the executive committee was seeking re-election. While Infantino didn’t want any problems, there were undoubtedly two pressing issues. The first was that Mutko had just been elevated to become a Russian deputy prime minister, which means under FIFA regulations he may not serve on the committee. And the second problem was that Mutko was implicated in one of the biggest state-sponsored sports doping efforts in history; a scheme said to have included dozens of Russian soccer players.
Despite all of this, Infantino and two top lieutenants seemed panicked about the situation, and how the Russians would react if Mutko lost his spot – and that’s why they pleaded for an exception. McLaren’s scathing reports on Russia’s doping efforts where ignored, as FIFA seemed determined to protect the Russian minister of sport. Maduro said he went to Infantino and let him know there was no way his group could approve Mutko’s candidacy. But, he said Infantino’s response was; “Oh, that’s going to create a problem. I told [Mutko] there wouldn’t be a problem.”
Maduro was operating under the threat – ‘Let Mutko be, or you’ll be out of a job’. So much for a refined and reformed FIFA…
Maduro and his committee held firm on Mutko. And sure enough, a year after Infantino trotted him out in Mexico as a commitment to reform, Maduro was fired. He says he found out in a phone call from one of Infantino’s assistants the day before he was scheduled to fly to Bahrain for FIFA’s 67th Congress in May 2017. Shortly after, three of his colleagues resigned in protest.
Navi Pillay, a South African judge and former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, wrote in an email to FIFA that the association had violated “standards of good conduct” and exerted “undue influence” to keep Mutko in place. Another committee member who resigned, NYU law professor Joseph Weiler, filed a formal complaint to FIFA’s ethics committee.
“We were always wondering what was pushing Infantino,” Weiler told Outside the Lines, “because he could have simply said to the Russians, ‘Look, what can I do? I have this independent committee; our hands are tied.’ But in the face of everything he kept pushing. … To push us like that, to ask us to break the rules, there must have been tremendous pressure.”
Infantino’s corruption continued, he continued on with his schemes and continued to be cleared for his actions.
Mike Morrell, a former director of the CIA and agency analyst for 30 years; remains unsurprised about the situation, as he said;
“Sport is incredibly important to how the Russian people view their role in the world, and the power of the state, and how the nation is doing relative to other nations. It shouldn’t be surprising to anybody that [Putin} would do everything he could to manipulate FIFA.”
ESPN’s Outside The Lines conducted research over the course of the past year, which brought about some shocking revelations.
FIFA and other sports governing bodies have repeatedly kowtowed to Russia despite evidence of widespread doping, computer hacking and allegations of bribery of sports officials. And it’s the story of how those actions have fueled an unrelenting effort over the past decade to speed Russia’s return to sporting superiority, from the Olympics to soccer to a range of minor sports.
There seems to be a persuasive push between the past Soviet Union and the present. The tortured dichotomy is nowhere more starkly evident than in the Red Square, where a state-owned shopping mall stands, almost simulating a Disneyland entrance when lit up at night. Moreover, just off the square one can see a Stalin look alike on Nikolskaya Street who gladly poses for photographs The sadistic nostalgia of the muscular Russia of the Soviet era is unsettling.
Mutko is a figure who has worked hand-in-hand with Putin. Mutko was the person who pitched the idea of Russia 2018. While it was not an easy sell since Putin is not an avid soccer fan, Mutko was on a mission, and he was able to entice him by talking about the bigger picture.
“They try to portray it in the West as if we’re trying to boost some sense of superiority,” Mutko says. “That’s not the case, that’s not what we do it for. Through these projects, we are simply trying to develop the country.”
Whatever the broader goals, Mutko had a clear mandate: Russia will rise again. There will be no more losing.
In the past month, speculation surrounded FIFA because of the German TV network ARD’s questions. They speculated about whether FIF had analysed a series of conspicuous urine samples from several players of Russia’s squad for 2018.
The report also added further allegations to how Mutko had protected Russian soccer players believed to have doped, saying he previously directed a series of suspicious samples to be buried by Russia’s anti-doping lab. The story quoted Rodchenkov saying, “I received order from Mutko that we don’t need positives in football.”
ARD, which had aired the initial report that began to lay bare Russia’s state-sponsored doping scheme, also quoted an unidentified FIFA insider saying that “Gianni Infantino doesn’t want to get in trouble with the Russians.”
“This is more than obvious: If you say anything critical about Russia to Infantino, you are risking your career,” the source was quoted as saying. “It’s quite clear that Infantino wants to protect Russian interests to avoid putting off Russian sponsors.”
Two days later, FIFA issued a statement that Russia’s World Cup team was clean. The statement said, “Insufficient evidence was found to assert an anti-doping rule violation.”
By this point, Mutko had met his objectives and appeared to be moving away from Putin’s sports apparatus, for reasons that are unclear. First, Mutko temporarily stepped aside as president of the Russian Football Union, then days later he resigned as the head of Russia’s World Cup organizing committee. He insisted the decisions were his alone – moves made to avoid becoming a distraction – but that became harder to believe when he was later removed as minister of sport and given a new role as a minister overseeing construction and regional politics.