Earlier this week, at a meeting in Bahrain, the FIFA Council decided not to recommend that the chairmen of the two chambers of the Ethics Committee, Hans-Joachim Eckert of Germany and Cornel Borbely of Switzerland not be elected for another term. On Thursday, the FIFA Congress elected Maria Claudia Rojas of Colombia and Vassilios Skouris of Greece as their replacements. In an exclusive interview, Eckert spoke about the events of the past few days.
DW: Mr. Eckert, having had a couple of days to think about it, what's your view on your dismissal by football's world governing body?
Hans-Joachim Eckert: I am very relaxed about it. I know that I did nothing that I regret in my five years in this position at FIFA. It was clear from the beginning that it would be a very difficult job. Today I see it with a certain degree of disappointment, especially when it comes to the lack of respect with which I and also my work have been treated. When I hear at the Congress that we had done too little and been working too slowly, I can only point to the milestones that we achieved and how many cases we dealt with in during this time. Whether this criticism is justified is for others to decide.
During your time in the position, did you ever get any feedback from FIFA President Gianni Infantino on your work? Or were you caught completely off guard by the development?
There was no feedback, but that was also the case during the Joseph Blatter era. Mr. Blatter said very clearly from the start that he was in favor of setting up the Ethics Committee. He never interfered, even after the procedure that led to his dismissal was launched. There too, he was completely neutral, which speaks both for him as a person and the work. As for Infantino, it was too short a time span to be able to assess this. I think he has kept abreast of the cases but there was no direct contact with us.
Did he not reach out to you to explain the decision to let you go?
No. Not before and not afterwards. The secretary general [Fatma Samoura ] publicly stated a few weeks ago that she supported the Ethics Committee and that we should be nominated again. Infantino said nothing to the contrary. He chose his words carefully when he said: "I cannot make a clear statement in support of you in the run-up to the Congress, but a normal procedure has to be followed." But there was no indication that he was about to get rid of us.
What do you make of the reasoning given, that they wanted fewer Europeans and more women?
What can I say? I find it almost amusing to say "we have to become more representative worldwide" and then replace a German with a Greek. The last I checked, Greece is still part of Europe , but I must have a different view of the map.
What impact will your removal have on the FIFA reform process?
From a very rational point of view, the new people are sure to have the necessary legal qualifications, and have the technical knowhow to deal with the ongoing cases and familiarize themselves with material. This is also not all that easy due to the language involved. Take the case related to the 2006 World Cup, which was hosted by Germany, for example. All of documents and files are in German. We are not just talking about a couple of hundred pages, but thousands.
With all of the new people, it will take months, and I am quite conservative, until the chamber will be able to work efficiently. Don't forget that all but two people have been replaced.
This makes it sound as if FIFA was looking to defang the Ethics Committee...
I leave this assessment to the media. I have taken note of the fact that they no longer wanted the former members of the Ethics Committee. One can only speculate on the reason why. But I think part of the reason must have been that the Ethics Committee lived out its independence. I don't mean this in a negative sense. We were independent and so we took the attitude that we were not going to be afraid of big names, we were simply going to do our job.
Do you think that FIFA boss Infantino will live to regret this decision at some point?
I can't really say. I don't know how it will all work out. FIFA has reorganized itself. The chairman of the Governance Commission, Luis Miguel Poiares Maduro, a highly respected person all over Europe, was also let go after six months, although his appointment by FIFA had been highly acclaimed. It is hard not to think that there was some connection between this and his ruling that Vitali Mutko [former Russian sports minister, head of the organizing committee for the 2018 World Cup] was not eligible to be elected to the FIFA Council.
What is your view on how the German football association has conducted itself?
I have taken note of the fact that Reinhard Grindel [the chairman of the DFB German football association] made his position clear in the run-up to the Congress. He said: "The DFB would like to keep these two people in the Ethics Committee because they have done a good job and have made a great contribution to the fact that the reform process that has been embarked upon is headed in the right direction." He also fought very hard for us at the Council meeting. But the problem was that the voting was conducted in blocs as opposed to by individuals. The FIFA president presented a list of candidates that didn't include us. Should the DFB president have said: I want to reject the entire list? The fact that he has abstained from the vote and didn't simply wave it through, deserves respect.
And just to be clear, it is not about me personally. I didn't have any right of extension or anything. What bothers me the most - and this hurts me personally, is the lack of respect that the FIFA officials have shown us, that they couldn't be bothered to inform us about the decision or have a conversation.
Was that it for you and FIFA personally?
FIFA is a global organization. I was part of the FIFA Ethics Committee for five years. I have tried to regain the integrity of sports, of football. We wanted to give FIFA the opportunity to show to the outside; yes, we are capable of cleaning things up ourselves. I think it is a shame. Whether it's over with FIFA and me is completely irrelevant. To put it very clearly, there are other things in life than FIFA.
Hans-Joachim Eckert, born in 1948, worked as a judge at the District Court of Munich until July 2015. The trained lawyer was involved in numerous corruption trials against major corporations. From July 2012 he was chairman of the Ajudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Executive Committee, which has, among other things, banned former FIFA President Joseph Blatter and former UEFA President Michel Platini from all football-related activities.
The interview was conducted by Stefan Nestler.