FIFA has officially eradicated corruption. All it took was pressing the delete key.
Soccer officials and players who bother checking out the new code of ethics governing their conduct will find the word “corruption” missing.
They will also discover how to now avoid being banned for paying and receiving bribes.
Corruption was scrubbed as an official misdemeanour during secret meetings where executives executed the first overhaul of the code since a wave of scandals left soccer’s governing body “clinically dead” in 2015.
That was the hyperbole used by Gianni Infantino during a speech at the World Cup in June boasting of his own apparent achievements cleaning up FIFA.
But in two years as FIFA president, Infantino has been accused of violating governance rules and forcing out officials who threatened his position.
It will be even easier now for FIFA to banish critics.
A new offence has been introduced in the ethics code – defamation.
There are no specific examples, providing flexibility for the ethics committee to decide on the burden of proof – as with all cases.
“Persons bound by this code are forbidden from making any public statements of a defamatory nature towards FIFA and/or towards any other person bound by this code in the context of FIFA events,” section 22.2 of the new code states.
Those found to have defamed FIFA will be banned from any soccer-related activities for up to two years and they can be booted out for five years for repeated “serious cases”.
The vagueness provides leeway for FIFA, through theoretically independent ethics organs, to punish detractors.
The ethics code was first introduced in 2004 by Sepp Blatter, who was was expelled from the FIFA presidency for financial misconduct in 2015 by the ethics committee he created.
Bribery is still prohibited in the ethics code but the ability to prosecute cases has been weakened.
Section 12.1 of the new code states, “bribery, misappropriation of funds and manipulation of football matches or competitions may no longer be prosecuted after a lapse of ten years”.
Ethics prosecutors now only have five years to complete cases into other general breaches of the code – half the previous time permitted to uncover wrongdoing.
The new code does allow the lead ethics prosecutor Maria Claudia Rojas to enter into plea bargains to resolve cases that do not involve bribery, misappropriation of funds or match-fixing.