PtG Comment 21.07.2015

FIFA: Once again, more make-up than make-over

FIFA’s attempt to dig up the reforms it recently buried only emphasizes the shortcomings of an organization that remains unable to reform itself from the inside

It is hard to tell which of the two persons performing at yesterday’s press meeting in FIFA that showed the most discouraging lack of timing and humour.

Was it the self-invited British comedian who tried to be funny but failed when throwing fake money bills at FIFA President Sepp Blatter at the beginning of the meeting, a gesture just as imaginative as if a somebody had arrived coughing at a general assembly in a tobacco company?

Had this comedian whose name I show the mercy of suppressing claimed his 15 seconds of global fame at a similar event five years ago we could have praised him for drawing attention to a state of corruption in world football that was not as obvious to the world public as it today. As of now, his lack of originality may even have generated more sympathy for FIFA and less for those who want to clean it up. And the action served to draw attention away from the importance of what followed.

Or was it the subject of the harmless attack, a visibly shaken Sepp Blatter?  When resuming the press meeting after a short break, Blatter evoked his late mother. He said he had just called her and heard her qualify the incident as a result of “bad education”.

Sepp’s mother is right, but her son and the FIFA he presides over are not exactly role models of good upbringing either. So when the FIFA president Blatter took over the stage in an attempt to look like a well-educated reformer of world football, it looked like a joke we have seen too many times in recent years. A joke just as ill-timed and unfunny as the first one, but with much more serious consequences for football.

Digging proposals up from the grave

Monday the 20 July FIFA’s Executive Committee – composed mainly by representatives of the six FIFA confederations that cover the six continents - tried to convince us that the same reform proposals that they themselves declared dead and buried with a clear majority at the general assemblies of 2013 and 2014, they will now be digging up from the grave and carry out with enthousiasm.

They want us to believe that they suddenly sympathise with the idea of submitting themselves to central integrity checks, in spite of the fact that they are already at risk of joining their closest associates who are imprisoned or anxiously waiting for the next step from investigators at the FBI and the Swiss prosecution.

They want us to believe that they now support term limits for elected football officials although a great part of them have been clinging to their football powers longer than anyone can remember.

They also declare willing to inform us about the salaries, perks and compensations they receive thanks to their football positions. Willing, at least, “when it is decided” as Sepp Blatter vaguely put it when for the second time asked by a journalist to disclose his own salary.

And all these wonderful initiatives that a short while ago they would not allow to happen in FIFA, they now wholeheartedly wish to implement, not only at the global level, but also at home, in their own continental and national federations that thanks to their leadership is ridden by police investigations and other scandals related to greed, nepotism and fraud.

But the joke did not stop there: The confederation leaders decided to appoint ten among themselves to a task force named “reform”, “to be chaired by a neutral chairman who should be appointed in consultation with the confederations’ presidents”.

With this decision the FIFA ExCo may hope to deflate a more radical – and more credible – proposition by the increasingly successful group “New FIFA Now” which even Blatter referred to in a side remark today.

Right before the meeting, this very diverse group got a breakthrough when convincing the Coca Cola company to support a “time-limited independent reform of FIFA led by an eminent person”.

This in reality means a temporary suspension of FIFA’s association freedom and internal democratic structures. As such, it is of course a play with fire, because also an independent reform group will be working under all kind of influences – drawn by football’s global prestige, its soft geopolitical power and its over 1.5 billion dollar fortune.

Restoring a dysfunctional system

However, it is a dysfunctional internal democracy and a flagrant abuse of its association status in Switzerland that has led FIFA into the abyss. Crime and corruption is flourishing in FIFA, in its confederations and its national associations, and FIFA top executives have served as role models for the worst aspects of leadership.

It is not a bad idea to suggest that only by giving up a dysfunctional democracy for a while a true football democracy can be restored.

Although a growing number of national football associations genuinely wish a more transparent and honest FIFA, change from the inside seems as far-fetched as ever after today’s meeting. FIFA has once again chosen to let those who are under suspicion lead the reforms.

They may think up a few improvements, but most likely they will once again produce more make-up than make-over.