PtG Article 30.10.2013

FIFA Reform – is it producing results?

Has football’s world governing body implemented any meaningful reforms since the much-criticised bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups? A top FIFA official and some of the organisation’s most prominent critics shared a platform at the Play the Game conference to address this question.

Since FIFA controversially awarded hosting rights to Russia and Qatar in late 2010, three reports have proposed changes to its internal structure.

The global anti-corruption group Transparency International, FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee (IGC) and a report by University of Basel Professor Mark Pieth who is also outgoing chair of the IGC have all issued recommendations in areas such as transparency, democratic reform, age and term limits of officials and salary disclosure.

While agreeing that FIFA has taken a few important steps, Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology told Play the Game that 42 out of 59 recommendations contained in the three reports had not yet been implemented. Pielke, who presented his full findings to Play the Game in the days leading up to the 2013 conference, used a newly-developed empirical “scorecard” to reach his conclusions.

Also present at the debate was Pieth, whose critical 2012 report had been commissioned by FIFA. While agreeing that some important reforms had already been implemented, he told Play the Game that he had “overestimated the will for change’ within FIFA and did not realise how long the reform process would take. The “real challenge,” he said, was not so much structural reform, but “the introduction of cultural change” within the organisation.

“It’s about power and money”

Typically, nations that provide a home to sport’s governing bodies believe that the affairs of such bodies should be private and self-regulating, he said. However, he had found that many of those working in such organisations were “more concerned about money and power” than sport itself.

Civil society, the media, academics and some politicians are all demanding change, he said, but their power is limited, and sponsors could play a greater role in the process. “It is a sad story that the sponsors have not come out a bit more forcefully, as their name could be negatively impacted if associated with unrest,” he said.

FIFA Communications Director Walter de Gregorio admitted that his organisation had “made a lot of mistakes” in the past. He agreed that the decision to award two World Cups simultaneously was a “major mistake” that had encouraged backroom deals and trade-offs. However, he told Play the Game that some important reforms had already been implemented and others were ongoing.

Among the already-implemented reforms, he said, was a decision to shift the responsibility of awarding World Cup hosting rights from the 24-member Executive Committee to the 209-member FIFA congress. The organisation’s Ethics Committee has been handed more power, he said, including permanent observer status on the Executive Committee and the right to observe other FIFA committee meetings.

Human rights: should a line be drawn?

While he agreed that the idea of minimum human rights standards for tournament hosts should to be examined, he asked where the line should be drawn. “Would Guantanamo Bay bar the USA from bidding?” he asked.

Human rights issues in World Cup host nations would be thrust into the spotlight, he pointed out, meaning that the hosting of a tournament could have a reforming effect.  “I truly believe that Qatar will be a different country ten years from now,” he said.

FIFA was not based in Switzerland solely for tax reasons, he claimed. Other factors came into play, he said, including the stability of the country and its location. “If it were only about taxes there are plenty of other places we could go,” he said.

Pielke’s “scorecard” can be found hereThe FIFA response to Pielke’s evaluation can be found here