Gianni Infantino

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FIFA: Infantino should remain president during probe

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LONDON (AP) Gianni Infantino can remain FIFA president and should not be forced from power while under criminal investigation, world football’s governing body told The Associated Press on Saturday.

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A Swiss special prosecutor opened a criminal case into Infantino’s conduct on Thursday over his meetings with the country’s attorney general who has been leading a sprawling investigation into football corruption.

“There is nothing preventing the president from performing his duties,” FIFA said in a statement to the AP. “He will continue to fully assume his functions within FIFA.”

The FIFA ethics committee faced calls to suspend Infantino from his predecessor, Sepp Blatter, who was toppled in disgrace in 2015 and banned from world football until 2021.

“The FIFA president is subject to a criminal investigation by the Swiss judicial authorities,” FIFA said, “but he has not been charged nor is he guilty of anything. … FIFA and its President will continue to cooperate fully with the judicial authorities in Switzerland until these investigations are concluded.”

Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber has offered to resign over the case that centers on three meetings he had with Infantino in recent years – including one that he hadn’t disclosed and claimed no memory of.

“FIFA is convinced that at the end of the current investigations it will be confirmed that the FIFA president didn’t do anything wrong by performing his fiduciary duties and meeting the attorney general of Switzerland,” FIFA said.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Criminal case opened against FIFA president Infantino

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GENEVA — A criminal case against FIFA president Gianni Infantino was opened Thursday by a Swiss special prosecutor, plunging world soccer’s governing body in a new scandal.

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Special prosecutor Stefan Keller has concluded there is enough evidence to take the case to court after investigating the circumstances of a meeting Infantino had with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber, who offered his resignation last week.

Keller has uncovered “elements that make up reprehensible behavior,” according to a statement from the Swiss authority overseeing the federal prosecutors office.

Keller opened a criminal case against Infantino as well as Valais prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold, and has sought authorization to open a legal case against Lauber, too, according to a statement from the Swiss authority.

Keller, a legal expert named to the post of special prosecutor on June 29, found possible infractions included abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, “assisting offenders” and “incitement to these acts,” the supervisory authority for the office of the attorney general said in its statement, adding other criminal acts and proceedings could also be considered.

Suspects in such cases benefit from a presumption of innocence in Switzerland until legal proceedings are completed.

FIFA declined to comment but Infantino said last month “this whole thing is quite absurd.”

“To meet with the head prosecutor or attorney general of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal,” the FIFA president said on June 25 during a news conference held online.

Lauber offered to resign Friday only minutes before a federal court upheld allegations that he lied about a meeting he had with Infantino during a sprawling investigation into soccer corruption. It came in response to Lauber’s appeal against being disciplined in March for misconduct.

The internal disciplinary case against Lauber focused on a meeting he had with Infantino in June 2017 at a hotel in Bern, at which the prosecutor took no notes. They later both said they could not recall their discussion at what was their third meeting in a 15-month period.

“On the basis of general life experience, such a case of collective amnesia is an aberration,” the federal court ruling said last week.

Infantino gained the FIFA presidency in the fallout from the investigations that erupted around the governing body in 2015. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who had already announced plans to resign in the wake of arrests of dozens of soccer officials, was banned from world football.

Michel Platini, the favorite to succeed Blatter and then serving as UEFA president, was also suspended, which ended his chances of leading FIFA.

In the void, Infantino, who led the UEFA administration as general secretary, saw a route to leading FIFA. The Swiss-Italian was elected in 2016, beating Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman.

The Bahraini is senior vice president of FIFA so would be in line to replace Infantino temporarily if he was suspended due to the criminal case.

FIFA propose salary cap, transfer fee talks

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has proposed talks with leagues across the globe about potentially implementing a salary cap and limits on transfer fees as the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The leader of soccer’s world-governing body released a lengthy video statement Saturday, in which he also asked league associations to work together to find the best solutions for the club and international calendar moving forward.

Last week he said FIFA wanted a ‘common sense’ approach to players who are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and that players showing messages of support should be ‘applauded and not punished’ despite FIFA’s previously strict rules around players sharing political, religious or personal messages during games.

FIFA are working on a financial package which they hope to discuss with members and finalize in their next council meeting later this month but recent talks with associations across the globe have suggested a salary cap or transfer fees limit could work.

Here is what the FIFA chief had to say specifically when it comes to soccer adapting to the changing financial environment.

“On the financial and governance aspects, I also heard some interesting proposals on a wide range of topics,” Infantino said. “From salary caps to transfer-fee caps or other taxation mechanisms, to the possible obligation for governing bodies, competition organisers and clubs to build reserves or to contribute to a reserve fund which can be of assistance in hours of need such as now.

“I personally advocate for clearer and stricter financial regulations, imposing full transparency and good governance principles, and not only limiting this to the transfer system, but to the entire football ecosystem. FIFA is doing already a lot of work on this area, even if we face some strong vested interests who fight against our plea for a better global governance in our sport.

“Dear friends, we will need your full support and commitment to move to the next level of good governance in football globally. I think that these and other measures, projects and ideas should be discussed at all levels. I know that this is something that will spark intense debate, but debate is healthy, and we should speak about it all together – as we stand together during this difficult period.”

Quite how a salary cap or a limit on transfer fees would work remain to be seen but given the huge financial burden places on clubs during the coronavirus pandemic, it is a very plausible solution to help stop clubs from going out of business.

With governing bodies such as UEFA placing strict financial fair play rules on clubs to stop them from spending beyond their means, FIFA doing something similar would be possible.

Would clubs, leagues and associations sign up for these new rules? In the short-term, probably. Long-term, it would be tough. Nobody knows how long sports, and society, will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and even if a vaccine is found and fans can return to stadiums and things go back to relative normality, the financial implications of the past four to five months is likely to be felt for years to come.

The salary cap system will not work for every league or even every region but as we’ve seen in Major League Soccer, it can bring stability and certain leagues need that across the globe.

FIFA to release $150 million in cash reserves to help during coronavirus shutdown

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino unveiled a financial assistance plan to help member associations weather the storm during the coronavirus shutdown.

The football governing body, which infamously has $2.7 billion in cash reserves, announced that each member association will receive $500,000 in cash to begin offsetting the massive financial hit of the coronavirus pandemic. With leagues shut down all over the world, teams are being forced to pay players and staff with little to no sponsorship or gate income.

“The pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for the entire football community and, as the world governing body, it is FIFA’s duty to be there and support the ones that are facing acute needs,” Infantino said in a statement released by FIFA on Friday. “This starts by providing immediate financial assistance to our member associations, many of which are experiencing severe financial distress.

“This is the first step of a far-reaching financial relief plan we are developing to respond to the emergency across the whole football community. Together with our stakeholders, we are we assessing the losses and we are working on the most appropriate and effective tools to implement the other stages of this relief plan.”

As part of the plan, FIFA is also advancing its regular operational costs payments to member associations, which is usually paid in July. It is also releasing these funds without necessitating fulfillment of its specific regulations.

After calling this move a “first step,” Infantino did not detail what the next steps in the financial assistance plan are, nor did he state there would be more action taken other than the aforementioned inference. Clearly FIFA is capable of doing much more to help, but this move is a healthy start to assist smaller leagues and clubs with less spending power survive the outbreak.

FIFA says support of women’s game will continue

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Soccer’s international governing body says it will maintain funding for women’s soccer despite concerns about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the Women’s World Cup last year, FIFA President Gianni Infantino pledged to invest $1 billion in the women’s game over the next four years.

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“In line with the FIFA Women’s Football Strategy and FIFA’s long-term vision for the development of women’s football, this funding will be invested into a range of areas in the women’s game including competitions, capacity building, development programs, governance and leadership, professionalization and technical programs,” FIFA said in a statement provided Tuesday to The Associated Press. “We can confirm that this funding has already been committed by FIFA and will not be impacted by the current COVID-19 crisis.”

The Guardian first reported that FIFA’s funding would not drop because of the coronavirus.

FIFA also said it is assessing the financial impact the pandemic is having on soccer worldwide, including the women’s game, and is exploring possible ways to provide assistance.

“The exact format and details of this assistance are currently being discussed in consultation with FIFA’s member associations, the confederations and other stakeholders,” the organization said.

FIFA has said it sees a duty to offer a lifeline from its cash reserves, last reported at more than $2.7 billion, as the economic consequences of the pandemic ripple across global soccer.

“FIFA is in a strong financial situation and it’s our duty to do the utmost to help them in their hour of need,” the organization said in a statement late last month. “FIFA is working on possibilities to provide assistance to the football community around the world after making a comprehensive assessment of the financial impact this pandemic will have on football.”

Infantino reiterated the pledge in a video message to FIFA’s member associations.

FIFA’s commitment comes after FIFPro, the international players’ union, called for continued financial support of women’s soccer worldwide. The union issued a report saying COVID-19 is “likely to present an almost existential threat to the women’s game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women’s football industry.”

There are early signs the pandemic is already taking a toll on the women’s game, in addition to the cancellation and postponement of league play and tournaments worldwide. In Colombia, Independiente Santa Fe suspended all player contracts for its women’s soccer team recently but said its men’s team would only see pay cuts.

The pandemic struck at a time when women’s soccer was on the upswing, boosted by the success of last year’s World Cup in France.

“We do have concerns about investments in the women’s game being dropped or reduced or precrisis investments being withdrawn, ultimately, from the women’s game. We’re concerned that decision-makers might ignore the needs of women or exclude women’s football from recovering support programs,” said Amanda Vandervort, chief women’s football officer for FIFPro.