Tuesday, June 14, 2016

It's Time for More Questions for and Answers from Sunil Gulati

I want to think Sunil Gulati - the head of US Soccer and a member of FIFA's governing Council (formerly Executive Committee) - is a good guy. I really do. He is an academic, an American and a soccer guy, all things that bias me in his direction. But Gulati has repeatedly said and done things to raise questions about his integrity and loyalties.

The most recent is to be somewhat economical with the truth to a group of reporters about the recent changes to FIFA's governance that eliminated the independence of key officials in FIFA, roles that were once deemed essential to FIFA's governance reform. Gulati's role as FIFA consigliere is not consistent with a commitment to FIFA reform, and FIFA reform is in everybody's interest.

Here are the details.

FIFA's president Gianni Infantino recently had a conflict with Dominico Scala, the chairman of FIFA's Audit and Compliance Committee. Scala was appointed after a set of governance reforms were passed by the FIFA Congress in 2012, in Budapest. These reforms were based on a first set of recommendations proposed by the so-called "independent governance committee" led by Mark Pieth (here in PDF), of which Gulati was a member (prior to being appointed to the FIFA ExCo).

Long story short, those reforms created several "independent committees" described in the FIFA Governance Regulations (here in PDF) as follows:
[T]he independent committees as well as their individual members shall conduct their activities and perform their duties entirely independently but always in the interests of FIFA and in accordance with the Statutes and regulations of FIFA. 
Scala was the chair of the Audit and Compliance Committee, which has a wide ranging mandate and important role in FIFA governance. Arguably, the chair of this committee has institutional authority that exceeds FIFA's president. One of Scala's responsibilities, as described by FIFA's Governance Regulations was the following:
To determine the compensation of the President, the vice-presidents and members of the Council, and the Secretary General;
This is where his dispute with Infantino originated. Don't take my word for it, you can hear it straight from Infantino in the leaked recording of the FIFA Council meeting in which he explained that he found Scala's salary proposal "insulting" and complained about his laundry bill. As a result, Infantino decided that Scala had to go, and Gulati agreed.

In response to this dispute over Infantino's salary, Infantino and the Council devised a mechanism to authorize them to remove Scala from his position in the form of a change to FIFA's Governance Regulations. The change was proposed to the Congress as a dry technical matter and passed with essentially no discussion, debate or apparent understanding by members of the Congress.

Here is how FIFA described the change after its Congress in Mexico last month:
The Congress authorised the Council to appoint office holders for the remaining vacant positions within the judicial bodies, the Audit & Compliance Committee and the Governance Committee until the 67th FIFA Congress, and to dismiss any office holder of these committees until the 67th FIFA Congress.
See what they did there?

They eviscerated the independence provisions of these committees by placing their "independent" members and chairs under the Council. Thus, these members are far from "independent" but rather, they all serve at the pleasure of the Council and Infantino. To call them "independent" is ridiculous.

To be very clear - this important institutional change was the result of Infantino wanting a higher salary, and Scala standing in his way.  Scala resigned in protest, which actually was a huge favor to Infantino and FIFA, saving them the trouble of removing him. But I digress - back to Gulati.

In a media roundtable before the Copa America Centenario Gulati was asked about this episode. Here are his comments in full, courtesy @thegoalkeeper :
Jeff Carlisle: Speaking of Infantino, what did you make of that resolution that was passed in Mexico City that basically stripped the Audit and Compliance Committee of its independence?

Gulati: Well, I don't think it stripped the Audit and Compliance Committee of its independence, first. What it did was give the Council the ability to add or remove people for the next - what is now 11 months.

I don't know if the Council - what used to be the Executive Committee - has ever recommended someone for any of the independent committees that's been turned down by the [FIFA] Congress. The Congress [voting as a whole] isn't coming up with new names for those positions.

We had a situation in the last year where people that got themselves into trouble legally couldn't be removed, except by the Congress itself. So what Congress did is delegate that authority to the FIFA Executive Committee/Council for the next 12 months. It's a temporary measure.

I don't see any chance - and I've seen this written - that the Ethics Commitee chairpersons or members are going to be affected by any of this. Clearly, there was an issue regarding the Audit and Compliance Committee. But in the end, [Audit and Compliance Committee chair] Domenico Scala resigned, so there wasn't any action by the Council.
Gulati is not playing things straight here. The change completely stripped the committee of its independence, and the issue of individuals getting into legal trouble who couldn't be removed is a red herring. The independent chairs were in no such trouble, and even if they were, the Congress had authority to remove them. There was no problem needing this solution - other than Infantino's desire for a higher salary.

One of the reporters in the roundtable saw through this nonsense and returned to the topic. Here is that exchange, with my comments:
Carlisle: Getting back to the [FIFA] Audit and Compliance Committee, you said that people got themselves into trouble and they couldn't be removed, but I guess I'm confused. If the intention of that body is to be independent from the FIFA Council, that just seems like a contradiction to me.

Gulati: So if somebody gets indicted and they're on a FIFA committee and you can't remove them, I think the independence kind of ends at that point.
To be clear, Gulati is talking about provisions that came from recommendations he helped to author as part of FIFA's governance reform process. The reforms have been eliminated with no discussion and no debate. Gulati's redefinition of "independence" is not in line with FIFA's statutes.

Next Gulati muddies the issue by conflating adding members to committees with authorizing the Council to remove them:
Carlisle: You're saying that's all that's -

Gulati: No, no, I'm not saying that all. But right now, you've got a new president [and] you add members. The recommendations of who's on that committee come from the FIFA Council, from the Executive Committee.

So, Domenico Scala, [ethics investigator] Cornel Borbély and Mike Garcia [who investigated FIFA corruption] and all the people that were independent members, those came from either the administration or the Council. These aren't recommended by a U.N. commission, right? They're added and subtracted by [the FIFA] Congress. My comment earlier was, the Council recommended them [and] sometimes the administration.

Straus: You mean the FIFA president, when you say "the administration"?

Gulati: Yeah. Or the General Secretary, but yeah. And the FIFA Congress has approved all of them that have ever been appointed. They haven't said, "Nope, we don't want this one, we're going to add a different one." That's my main point: that the two have been consistent, number one, and two, it's a temporary measure for 11 months.

And I would be very surprised if any of the existing three groups - and now it's more than three, it's multiple committees now at FIFA have independent members. And there's going to be additions to those.

The Governance Committee is a good example. There's only three people on that. There have to be people added over the next 12 months, otherwise you live with three. So except for that 12 months - then the power will go back to the FIFA Congress.
The powers are temporary because the issue was Scala. Once he is gone, then Infantino wouldn't need these powers ... until the next "independent" official gets in his way.

Gulati does hint at the real reason for the changes, but the reporters do not follow up. What is not revealed (until we hear the tapes) is Gulati's central role in ousting Scala and concerns he expressed about the changes to FIFA's governance regulations. Gulati tells the reporters something different than what he said to his FIFA colleagues - being a good company man, I suppose.
Tannenwald: Can I go back to something you said a moment ago, and try to get more of a layman's explanation of it? Which is, "when a person is indicted, they cannot be removed." Indicted, as in, by the U.S. government? Or by -

Gulati: Under the FIFA statutes, the people on some of the committees are approved, and removed, by only the FIFA Congress. So, it's not only about indictment. It could be anything else. If anything happens in the course of a year, you can't remove them, or you can't add someone new until the [next] FIFA Congress.

Tannenwald: Okay. That's what I was trying to parse out.

Gulati: And look. There was obviously some tension between the chairman of the audit and compliance committee and the president. I'm not going to make bones about that. That's absolutely the case. And I think it's pretty clear that they didn't have a working relationship.

McIntyre: Why not?

Gulati: You'd have to ask one of them.

Carlisle: So, fill us in. I know one of the issues was Infantino's compensation. Has that been resolved?

Gulati: Not that I know of.
Serving in FIFA is challenging. I get that. At the same time, Gulati is being paid more than $300,000 by FIFA, which is far in excess of his compensation by US Soccer (reportedly zero). Gulati has an obligation to uphold the interests of US Soccer, and I am pretty sure that gutting FIFA reform so his FIFA boss can get a higher salary is not among those interests.

Gulati is rapidly becoming the Forrest Gump of international soccer. He has been present when many of the various scandals and controversies have occurred - including CONCACAF, Chuck Blazer, FIFA's secret bonus deals, and now Infantino's dirty laundry. Perhaps, like Forrest he is just a simpleton who finds himself at the right place at the wrong time. What I want to believe and what the evidence suggests are not quite the same.

Gulati owes US Soccer some greater transparency in his FIFA work. The US soccer media should ask some more questions, even if they are uncomfortable.

1 comment:

  1. Note: Post updated to remove reference to SAFA. Thanks, @NextFIFApres