May 11, 2017 / 4:16 PM / 3 months ago

FIFA ethics row is 'storm in a teacup', says Infantino

FIFA President Gianni Infantino smiles as he takes questions from journalists at press conference after the 67th FIFA Congress in Manama, Bahrain May 11, 2017.Hamad I Mohammed

MANAMA (Reuters) - The row over the removal of FIFA's head ethics investigator and judge is a "storm in a teacup", the organisation's president Gianni Infantino said on Thursday, arguing that the main reason for their replacement was geographical diversity.

A FIFA congress which began with Infantino engaging in what some labelled Donald Trump-style rhetoric about "fake news" and attacking "experts", concluded with a new Ethics team voted into office at the behest of Infantino's FIFA Council.

Infantino, who also said FIFA's "crisis is over" despite continuing investigations from U.S. authorities, said there had been nothing personal about the removal of Ethics chiefs Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert.

"I have no issues with either of them. Certainly not. I’m probably the most scrutinised person in the world. What happened is a simple question of due process," Infantino said.

"All those coming in are serious people who have amply proved their qualities. Mandates come to an end. We shouldn’t make a tragedy out of it. The people coming in have plenty of experience," he added.

On Thursday the congress voted in Colombian investigator Maria Claudia Rojas as the new head of the committee's investigatory chamber.

It also elected Vassilios Skouris of Greece, a former president of the European Court of Justice, as head of the adjudicatory chamber.

"One mandates ends, another begins. It’s not about renewing or not renewing," Infantino said before offering his explanation of why Swiss Borbely and German Eckert had to go.

"We are a worldwide organisation. Some of the comments I was receiving included that the FIFA president was Swiss, the chairman of the disciplinary committee was Swiss, as was the chairman of the ethics investigatory chamber. The chairman of the adjudicatory chamber was German. A governance committee member was also European," he said.

“We had to take these comments into account....The proposals were from all confederation presidents taking into account the best CVs and the geography," Infantino added.

Eckert and Borbely said on Wednesday that they had still been working on "several hundred" cases of possible wrongdoing.

Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who lost out to Infantino in the election to replace Sepp Blatter last year, said the move was a setback for those hoping to see FIFA cleaned up.

Ali agreed with Eckert and Borbely that replacing the Ethics team would slow down progress and lose valuable expertise.

"Every other week something new comes to light and there are very serious allegations. In that respect it is a matter of continuity, at least getting things finished that have been started. You don’t want to start from scratch. To be honest, if it's not broke don't fix it," Prince Ali said.

"We are in a crisis, you can't have a FIFA president who says everything is fine, as we have heard before, when obviously it is not."

Editing by Ed Osmond

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