Hans-Joachim Eckert was meant to be a savior of sorts for FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
The institution has been mired in corruption for years and many had hoped Mr. Eckert, who had served at Munich’s courts for 40 years, would help clean it up.
He was, after all, an expert in battling white-collar crime and he earned international respect over the way he handled a lawsuit against Essen-based industrial services provider Ferrostaal in 2011.
When Mr. Eckert was appointed to FIFA’s Ethics Committee, observers believed those credentials would spur him to finally oust the imperious and power hungry incumbent president Sepp Blatter. Yet three years after his appointment, it is clear Mr. Eckert, now chairman of the FIFA Adjudicatory Chambers, underestimated the politics of soccer, the emotional impact of events and the enormous hold some individuals have over the multi-billion-euro association.
Mr. Eckert is known for being tenacious, conscientious and meticulous, but it took him much too long to realize he misjudged the FIFA situation.
Mr. Eckert spent years learning the association and had to extricate himself from both the association and accusations he was part of the problem rather than the solution. Critics say he has made mistakes, but last week he suspended Mr. Blatter and UEFA President Michael Platini for 90 days. Mr. Blatter had already said he would step down as president of the organizaton but had intended to stay until a successor was appointed.
Both have vowed to appeal his decision.
While the ban on Mr. Blatter and Mr. Platini can be extended by 45 days maximum, they are excluded from all soccer activities. Meanwhile, intense investigations of top FIFA functionaries led by Mr. Eckert are underway in an attempt to achieve a swift, final judgment. A lifelong bans loom for those implicated.
FIFA Vice President Issa Hayatou from Cameroon has taken on the official duties at FIFA, but he, too, is suspected of corruption and also is believed to be in poor health. Few believe he’s capable of undertaking the necessary changes FIFA desperately needs.
FIFA executives confirmed Friday the organization will convene a special meeting on Oct. 20 in Zurich, which could include the election of a successor to Mr. Blatter. The election had been postponed until February.
Mr. Eckert has declined to comment on recent events, citing Clause 36 of the Ethical Code, which bans independent investigators from offering their opinions on unfinished procedures or non-appealable rulings.
Mr. Eckert is known for being tenacious, conscientious and meticulous, but it took him much too long to realize he misjudged the FIFA situation. His 2014 verdict on the “Garcia Report,” which has not yet been published but focuses on how the World Cup sites for 2018 and 2022 were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively, has led to acrimony. Despite all the public indications of corruption, he saw no reason to impose sanctions.
His reputation suffered a few dents when Michael J. Garcia, incensed by Mr. Eckert’s actions, resigned as chairman of the investigative branch of the Ethics Committee, going so far as to appeal his conclusions.
It has taken Mr. Eckert nearly three years to match his rhetoric with deeds but at least, finally, some action has been taken.