At the press conference following today’s UEFA Congress in Helsinki, Aleksander Čeferin blatantly denied he’s the Chairman of the Organization Committee of FIFA Competitions. But Josimar can reveal that the UEFA President chaired a meeting of this committee, which is responsible for the World Cup 2018 in Russia, last week.
By Håvard Melnæs and Pål Ødegård
The UEFA Congress in Helsinki took place without any controversy. A reform of the statutes was unanimously passed, and all the speeches stressed the organization’s emphasis on ‘good governance’, ‘transparency’ and ‘change’. The only hint of confrontation came when UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin lambasted what he called ‘blackmail’ by the European superclubs after threats to break out of UEFA and create their own super league. His speech received applause from the delegates, who minutes later passed a motion to invite two representatives from the European Club Association onto UEFA’s Executive Committee.
Then they voted on which delegates were to sit on the influential Executive Committee. Sweden’s football federation President Karl-Erik Nilsson was among the candidates. The Swede got 50 out of 55 possible votes. As Josimar revealed in September last year, this was Nilsson’s reward for getting Čeferin elected by making the Nordic countries publish a statement supporting the Slovenian’s candidacy two months before he had even published his manifesto.
One hour after the UEFA Congress was wrapped up, Čeferin held a press conference. The Norwegian online newspaper Nettavisen asked him, in his capacity as Chairman of the Organization Committee of FIFA Competitions, his opinion of Josimar’s exposé about North Korean workers at the World Cup stadium in St Petersburg. Labour organizations and the international community have labeled the North Koreans as slaves and hostages.
“I’m not a chairman of this committee, and I don’t know anything about any North Koreans.”
Later in the press conference, Josimar confronted Čeferin with the fact that FIFA had confirmed that he was indeed the Chairman of the Organization Committee of FIFA Competitions.
“I’ve already answered this question.”
He then turned to UEFA’s chief of press, Pedro Pinto, and said:
“Can we please have some serious questions now?”
Minutes after the press conference ended, representatives from UEFA’s communications department raced to tell Josimar that the UEFA President probably had misinterpreted the question.
But it appears, the Slovenian avoids difficult questions. When Josimar asked him at a meeting in Copenhagen in September, a few weeks before the UEFA presidential election, whether he had any worries regarding the World Cup in Russia, he answered, with an expression that read resignation:
“Because of the doping revelations, match-fixing scandals, violence among fans at the Euro 2016 in France, the rights of those working at the stadiums, consisting of migrant workers from poor, former Soviet republics, that they don’t get paid and so on, if Russia is a safe travel destination for gay supporters, about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and Syria?”
Our list clearly bored the UEFA President. After a pause, he answered:
“There are two types of people: positive and negative. I am positive.”
FIFA’s Head of Media, Hans Hultmann, confirms that Aleksander Čeferin is indeed the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of FIFA Competitions, and that this committee had a meeting as late as last week. According to Hultmann, Čeferin chaired this meeting. It took place shortly after Josimar revealed that North Korean slaves worked at Zenit Arena.
Why is this kind of transparency so awkward for the UEFA President to talk about? Perhaps because Josimar’s investigations last autumn revealed how Russia’s deputy prime minister, former sports minister and association president and FIFA Executive Committee member Vitaly Mutko orchestrated Čeferin into the presidential chair at UEFA? The Russian Football Union President is also the head of the organization committee of Russia 2018. Mutko was not present in Helsinki. Perhaps Mutko neither wanted to answer questions he didn’t like about North Korean slave labour at World Cup stadiums?