PtG Article 27.11.2006

FIABVB's credibility challenge from within

The new international volleyball federation does not only face hard resistance from the old one, but must overcome challenges on the inside in order to present a real alternative, Play the Game’s director writes in this editorial comment.

At the founding congress for the new world volleyball federation FIABVB this weekend, Play the Game was present to carry out two of our goals. One was to bid the new federation welcome as an initiative that promises to strengthen democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in a sport that needs it desperately.

The other goal was to tell that the best support Play the Game could render the new organisation was not to flatter it but to expose it to the same level of constructive, critical journalistic attention as any other international federation. Bearing in mind of course that a new Rome is not built overnight.

When looking at the very different cultural, political and financial interests that gathered at the congress in Copenhagen, it is impressive that such a group could at all agree to found a new federation.

Former enemies now join forces and share the same table – expressed at its clearest when the former General Manager of the FIVB, the Swiss Jean-Pierre Seppey, was elected president unanimously by people whom he fought against as the right hand for the dictatorial president of FIVB, Ruben Acosta, only a year ago.

In order to become a success and make a real difference to the deplorable state of affairs at the FIVB, the new federation must overcome not only fierce resistance from Acosta and the old guard, but also work hard to persuade the many people inside and outside volleyball that still suspect Jean-Pierre Seppey to represent the repression and dishonesty that characterises the FIVB.

Ruben Acosta has launched a massive defamation campaign against his former close collaborator, accusing him of mismanaging FIVB funds while Acosta was on a sick leave from 2003 to 2005.

Though most volleyball leaders know by experience that there is no reason to believe any documents or reports coming out of Acosta’s office, the allegations against Seppey did make an impression on delegates at the recent FIVB congress in Japan.

This is a fact that Seppey and his supporters must address directly instead of rhetorically insisting that it is now time to focus on the future.

If  Seppey does remember any examples – however small -  of economic or political abuse in his years as General Manager that with some right could be ascribed to him, it is advisable that he puts the cards and the regrets on the table at once. The damage an exposure of wrongdoing can do to him and his new organisation will grow, the longer the dispute drags on.

Also, it would suit Seppey well to lower the propagandistic tone that seems to stay with him from his former job. In his first press releases after the FIABVB creation, Seppey speaks of “thundering applause” and “many German media” at the congress, but those phrases are hard to recognise for anyone who attended the congress.

International volleyball politics is already suffering from grotesque exaggerations and it will only strengthen the FIABVB to express itself modestly and with restraint.

Along the same lines, the FIABVB must provide meticulous documentation for every figure it throws out in the public. It must be able to produce exact members’ list, exact financial tables, exact statutes and exact information about everything it does.

It is much worse for the FIABVB to be caught making an error than it is for the FIVB. Nobody expects the truth any longer from the latter, but have high hopes for credibility from the former.

These hopes still have a strong foundation. It speaks in favour of Jean-Pierre Seppey that he has been able to win the hearts and minds of his former bitter foes. Also, it was evident at the congress that even the sympathisers Seppey had brought with him were not parrots or flatterers. They displayed a lot of independent thinking and talking, and Seppey was ready to listen and adapt.

Seppey also deserves credit for being able to raise at least 2.7 million Swiss Franc (1.7 million Euro) and other forms of support from his extended global network.

The money, the skills and the determination that is accumulated on the FIABVB board and the readiness for open dialogue are crucial assets for the new federation.

Now, we wait to see how the FIVB will react to the challenge.

So far, Ruben Acosta has wiped out all opposition by expelling anyone who thinks or talks independently. He may think twice before expelling his critics in the future. For now they have another place to go.