Vitaly Mutko

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Infantino faces ethics complaint over FIFA leadership

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LONDON (AP) Gianni Infantino’s leadership of FIFA faced renewed criticism Wednesday when two former officials turned on the president with complaints about his conduct.

New York University law professor Joseph Weiler disclosed he has submitted an ethics complaint to FIFA about alleged undue interference by Infantino on the work of the governance panel he served until May.

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Weiler quit his FIFA role after the abrupt removal of committee chairman Miguel Maduro, who testified Wednesday to British legislators about the strong pressure applied by Infantino in an apparent attempt to influence decisions.

Maduro said he was told that banning Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko from soccer’s ruling council would be a “disaster” for the 2018 World Cup and Infantino’s presidency could be jeopardized.

But Maduro still went through with the biggest call of his tenure – blocking Mutko, who is also head of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee, from seeking re-election to the FIFA Council on grounds of political interference.

“With the exception of that case in general, the president did not try to influence our decisions,” Maduro told the sports committee at the House of Commons. “He would transit to me sometimes those decisions were not well accepted but in that case there was an attempt to influence that decision.”

It came in March just as Russia was preparing to host a World Cup warm-up tournament, where Infantino met with Mutko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“(Infantino) expressed concerns about the impact of the decision (to ban Mutko) on the World Cup,” Maduro said. “He was very clear about that.”

FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura went further to Maduro.

“The secretary general made it clear to me that it was extremely problematic,” Maduro said. “More than that, she said we needed to find a solution to declare Mr. Mutko eligible because otherwise the presidency itself would be in question, the World Cup would be a disaster, that was her view, and the continued presidency of Mr. Infantino would also be in question.”

Mutko’s continued position of power within FIFA was also under scrutiny after he was directly implicated in the state-sponsored doping scandal in Russia.

Maduro said Infantino believes there is “no evidence” Mutko is involved in the Russian doping scandal.

FIFA took six hours to challenge Maduro’s allegations, without saying specifically what was inaccurate.

“For Miguel Maduro to be in regular contact with the FIFA administration, sometimes under his own initiative and in order to seek advice, was normal in the course of his work,” FIFA said in a statement. “Exchange between the administration and FIFA’s committees, which in the end all defend FIFA’s interests, are logical and even desirable, so for these exchanges to be portrayed as undue influence is factually incorrect.”

Weiler confirmed to The Associated Press by email that he had submitted the ethics complaint to FIFA about Infantino, who pledged to clean up the governing body after succeeding the disgraced Sepp Blatter in February 2015.

FIFA said the ethics committee “will not comment on ongoing proceedings nor comment on whether or not investigations are underway into alleged ethics cases.” That is despite FIFA announcing in June, in response to a spate of reports about Infantino, that “there are no open preliminary or investigation proceedings involving the FIFA president.”

The hearing at the British parliament began with committee chairman Damian Collins disclosing correspondence from FIFA blocking ousted investigator Cornel Borbely from taking questions from legislators. Samoura wrote to Collins warning that Borbely is prevented from appearing at the digital, culture, media and sport committee because he is still bound by the FIFA ethics code and Swiss civil and criminal law.

More AP coverage of FIFA at http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Fresh arrest shows FIFA’s corruption turmoil far from over

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More than a year since FIFA declared the end of its corruption turmoil, the optimism has proved misguided. The latest arrest, of the man who is one heartbeat from the presidency of world soccer, demonstrated that on Tuesday.

Fresh wrongdoing, still reaching into the heart of power in FIFA, undercuts Gianni Infantino’s pledge to set the governing body on a new path to probity after the misdemeanors of the Sepp Blatter era.

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Here is a look at fresh offshoots from the corruption scandal that burst into the open when several soccer officials were arrested at a Zurich hotel:

ANGEL MARIA VILLAR

As FIFA’s senior vice president with 19 years’ experience on world soccer’s decision-making body, Angel Maria Villar is one rung down the ladder from Infantino.

Now Villar is fighting accusations of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and falsifying documents as part of a probe into the finances of the Spanish federation he heads.

The 67-year-old Villar was arrested in Madrid on Tuesday along with his son, whose business ventures he is accused of helping to profit from matches arranged for 2010 World Cup winner Spain.

It is not the first time the former Spain international has been embroiled in wrongdoing in his post-playing career in football politics.

Misconduct in a dual role as leader of the 2018 Spain-Portugal bid and a FIFA voter led to him being reprimanded. He was fined for a lack of cooperation with the investigation into 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding, criticized for a “tone and manner” that was “deeply disturbing.”

SHEIKH AHMAD

Until April, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait was one of the most powerful figures in sport despite lacking the commensurate public profile.

The long-time Olympic powerbroker and election “kingmaker” was forced out of his position of power in soccer in disgrace after being directly implicated in a bribery plot uncovered by American investigators. Despite denying wrongdoing, the sheikh quit the election to remain on the FIFA Council ahead of the May election.

RICHARD LAI

The claims against Sheikh Ahmad emerged in the indictment of FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai in a New York court, the latest branch of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer that was revealed in 2015.

Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including at least $850,000 from Kuwaiti officials. The scheme was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes.

VITALY MUTKO

As head of the 2018 World Cup, Vitaly Mutko is central to the success of FIFA’s showpiece event and enjoys privileged access to Infantino and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That is despite mounting evidence uncovered by World Anti-Doping Agency investigators of how he subverted sport through his role in the scheme to cover up doping.

As Russian deputy prime minister, Mutko was banned from re-election to the FIFA Council this year on grounds of political interference. But FIFA’s inertia on Mutko’s role in the Russian doping scandal continues to jar with Infantino’s assertion that he won’t tolerate any transgressions by people in positions of power in soccer.

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Russia says TV deal for World Cup still far off

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MOSCOW (AP) Russia says it is far from reaching a deal with FIFA on TV broadcast rights for next year’s World Cup.

With the tournament a year away, there is still no agreement in place to avoid the embarrassing situation of games not being shown in the host nation. FIFA usually signs deals several years before major events.

Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko says FIFA wants $110 million from Russian TV channels, but they can only afford to pay $38-$40 million, in comments reported by Russian state news agencies.

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Mutko has previously accused FIFA of trying to force the Russian government to contribute.

A TV deal for the Confederations Cup test event was only reached last month, six days before the opening game. No financial details were made public.

Infantino: ‘Necessary actions & sanctions’ on Russian doping

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Russia will face any “necessary actions and sanctions” after investigators alleged that soccer players had suspicious drug-test samples covered up as part of a wider doping scandal in the 2018 World Cup host nation, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday.

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Five suspicious samples in the Russian men’s under-17 and under-21 national teams in 2013 and 2014 were exposed in emails released earlier this month by the World Anti-Doping Agency, accompanying investigator Richard McLaren’s report into Russian doping.

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Then-sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also in charge of Russia’s World Cup preparations, has been accused of covering up a doping case in the Russian league. FIFA’s ethics committee has said it will examine McLaren’s report and the role of Mutko, who sits on FIFA’s ruling council.

Asked whether he still trusts Mutko, Infantino said: “He is a council member and of course we are working together.”

“If anything has happened with regards to doping cases in football which were covered up and which now are unveiled, then both FIFA as well as UEFA, depending on what the competence is for these particular cases, will be dealing with them and we will take the necessary actions and sanctions,” Infantino told a sports conference in Dubai.

“I don’t think we should mix up a doping issue, even if it is a big doping issue, with the organization for the World Cup which is a completely different thing where it comes to anti-doping in the World Cup. This is a FIFA matter. It will be dealt with by FIFA officials in world accredited laboratories … very probably in Switzerland.”

Russia was accused by McLaren of subverting doping procedures at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, with intelligence officers involved in tampering with samples of Russian medal winners.

“We will guarantee that the World Cup in Russia will be completely safe when it comes to anti-doping matters or when it comes to doping cases,” Infantino said.

Infantino said FIFA has “quite a few more sponsors who want to come on board” for the 2018 edition.

“We have to get more creative to find ways to accommodate everyone but I think this is also proof that the image of FIFA is changing,” added Infantino, who replaced Sepp Blatter as head of world soccer’s governing body in February following a sprawling scandal.

FIFA’s attention will shift to the 2026 World Cup next month when Infantino’s council is due to take a decision on whether to expand the World Cup from 32 teams. Infantino said he has “overwhelming” backing from federations for a 48-team World Cup, starting with 16 groups of three teams.

“Financially, the 48-team format is the most appealing or successful simply because the sporting element is prevailing and every match is important,” Infantino said. “The decision should not be financially driven, neither in terms of revenue or costs … but the driver should really be the development of football and boosting football all over the world.”

North America is considered the most likely host of the 2026 World Cup, having not staged the showpiece since 1994 in the United States. CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said a joint bid between his native Canada, the United States and Mexico remains a possible contender in the 2020 vote.

Montagliani does not believe Donald Trump’s comments during the divisive U.S. presidential campaign about Mexicans will have any impact on the ability of the U.S. to work with Mexico on a bid.

“I think it’s pretty obvious the president-elect is a supporter of sports, a supporter of the Olympic movement, he builds golf courses,” Montagliani said. “As it relates to sport, on face value I don’t see it (Trump) being a challenge. I think any administration … will be supporter of the World Cup.”

Russian official Mutko seeks to retain FIFA Council seat

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Under fire for his role in Russia’s state doping program, Vitaly Mutko has begun the process of a FIFA integrity check to be an election candidate.

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Mutko, who heads Russian operations to organize the 2018 World Cup, has been elected by European soccer leaders since 2009 to represent them on FIFA’s ruling committee.

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His FIFA seat is due for re-election in April, though potential candidates must pass a vetting and eligibility check by a review panel appointed by the world soccer body.

On Friday, Mutko was implicated in widespread evidence detailed by Canadian investigator Richard McLaren that he oversaw a state-backed doping program as sports minister.

Hours later, UEFA said Mutko was among five applicants for four vacant seats on the FIFA Council. The April 5 vote is by 55 European member federations.

Mutko has retained his FIFA positions and presidency of the Russian soccer federation since McLaren’s interim report was published in July.

The World Anti-Doping Agency then called on the FIFA ethics committee to investigate Mutko based on McLaren’s evidence.

The full investigation report release on Friday seemed to confirm that Mutko was asked to cover up a positive doping test by a Russian Premier League player from Uzbekistan.

Mutko was also implicated as sports minister in overseeing widespread doping programs of Russian athletes who competes at the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and the 2013 track and field world championships, held in Moscow.

It is unclear if FIFA’s ethics committee has a mandate to prosecute non-soccer cases.

Asked on Friday if UEFA could launch its own investigation of Mutko, leaders of the European body deferred to FIFA’s ongoing vetting process.

“We have written to FIFA with the five potential candidates and the procedure is FIFA has to go through this eligibility check,” UEFA legal director Alasdair Bell said.

Bell acknowledged that the McLaren report “appears to contain some serious allegations” though noted that “these are contested.”

Three of Mutko’s long-standing colleagues are standing down from their FIFA Council seats from Europe: Michel D’Hooghe of Belgium, Senes Erzik of Turkey, and Marios Lefkaritis of Cyprus.

UEFA said the other election contenders are: Sandor Csanyi, a current UEFA executive committee member from Hungary; Geir Thorsteinsson, president of Iceland’s soccer federation; former AC Milan player Dejan Savicevic of Montenegro; and Costakis Koutsokoumnis, the Cyprus federation president.