A Report Card on FIFA Reform


By Roger Pielke, Jr.
A lot has been said about FIFA's reform process, and it is difficult to get a sense of what has actually been accomplished. In this article, Roger Pielke presents the results of his formal evaluation of the reform process, providing a more objective basis for assessing the outcome.

Last month at the FIFA Congress in Mauritius FIFA President Sepp Blatter declared that the governance reform process that he had initiated two years earlier had come to a close, "We have been through a difficult time. It has been a test for football and those who lead it. As your captain, I can say we have weathered the storm." 

Mark Pieth, a professor at the Basel Institute of Governance and the man hand-picked by Blatter to lead the FIFA Independent Governance Committee to advise the reform process, said of the two-year effort, “In a relatively short space of time, it's quite spectacular so far what has been achieved.” FIFA announced that the process had been a resounding success: “the majority of the reform recommendations by the IGC were implemented.”

Such comments are difficult to reconcile with the perspectives of other close observers. One member of the FIFA IGC, Alexandra Wrage, a governance expert and president of TRACE International, resigned from the committee just over a month before the Congress in Mauritius, explaining, “It’s been the least productive project I’ve ever been involved in. There’s no doubt about that.” 

Following the Congress, Guido Tognoni, former FIFA Secretary General, told a Swiss television station that, “Mark Pieth has good intentions but to me he’s like Sepp Blatter’s poodle. He must bark loud but he’s not allowed to bite. He had a promising approach but, of course, he’s banging his head against a block of granite.”

With such claims and counter-claims flying about, colored by interests and personalities, it can be very difficult to get a sense of what was actually accomplished in the FIFA reform process. In order to provide a somewhat more objective basis for evaluating the process, I have undertaken a formal evaluation, with a first look at the results presented here.

Any evaluation consists of three components. First, you need a measuring stick. Here I use four measuring sticks, in the form of three reports making recommendations to FIFA on how to improve its governance complemented by a newly-developed scorecard for evaluating international sports organizations. 

The three reports are:

The governance scorecard comes from two scholars at IDHEAP, Jean-Loup Chappelet and Michaël Mrkonjic, who in a new paper propose a quantitative scorecard for evaluating the governance of international sports organizations (hereafter CM13). 

The second part of an evaluation consists of collecting data to compare to the measuring sticks in order to assess performance. I carefully looked through each of the three reports offering FIFA recommendations and excerpted the recommendations to FIFA contained in each. I then evaluated whether FIFA’s reform process has successfully implemented the recommendation, partially followed the recommendation or failed to implement the recommendation. These are of course judgment calls on both what constitutes a recommendation and whether it has been fulfilled, but in the case of FIFA there is not too much ambiguity.

The following table presents the third part of an evaluation, a comparison of the data against the measuring sticks:

In their governance scorecard, CM13 provide 7 categories within which they assign 1 to 4 points across 9 criteria of good governance, resulting in a total possible score of 252 points (i.e., the total for an organization which received a perfect score in each of the 63 criteria).  They apply their methodology to FIFA (in 2012, at the mid-point of the reform effort) and to the International Olympic Committee, which received 70.2% of possible points. In contrast pre-reform FIFA receives 55.2% of possible points (reflecting my application of the CM13 methodology) and 56.3% of possible points after the reform effort. The FIFA reform effort thus was responsible for adding 1.1% to the total points FIFA tallies under the CM13 scorecard.

How can we square these results with FIFA’s claim to have implemented a “majority” of the recommendations of the IGC? Of the 20 recommendations that I identify in the FIFA IGC report, 13 overlap with the 24 recommendations that FIFA distilled from the IGC report. Of those 13 which overlap, I identify 6 that have been successfully implemented, 5 partially implemented and two unimplemented. The two recommendations which FIFA admitted to failing to implement are term limits (the IGC did not recommend an age limit) and the appointment of independent members to the Executive Committee. The other 11 recommendations on the FIFA list which do not appear on my list are actually sub-recommendations of those which do appear on my list, and which I left as components under the main recommendations. It thus appears that FIFA’s summary of the IGC ignored 7 other recommendations that I identified coming from the IGC.  Thus, FIFA’s claim to have implemented a majority of the IGC’s recommendations depends upon ignoring several recommendations and elevating sub-recommendations to a higher level.

So how did FIFA do in its reform process?

Overall, as judged against the recommendations made by Transparency International, Mark Pieth (prior to his appointment as IGC chair) and the IGC itself, FIFA adopted a very small number of recommended reforms – 7 of 63 total, and partially adopted a few more – 11 of 63, leaving the majority unimplemented – 45 of 63. Of course, none of this considers the substance of the recommendations, which deserves a more in-depth treatment. 

However, a case can be made that FIFA did select the most convenient recommendations to implement. After Mark Pieth accused FIFA of “cherry picking” among reform proposals, Sepp Blatter agreed, explained, “We cannot take all the package now: this is impossible. Even if Professor Pieth says we shall cherry pick, we cannot take the whole tree. It’s impossible to take the tree and have all the cherries down.”

The governance scorecard offered by Chappelet and Mrkonijc offers a consistent basis on which to evaluate the comprehensive effect of the FIFA reforms on governance, based on the 63 criteria that they present. The net effect of the reform effort is positive, but minimal according to CM13.

We might also ask how well the FIFA IGC performed. Many more recommendations of the IGC were adopted than those which were recommended by Transparency International or by Mark Pieth prior to assuming the role as IGC chair. No doubt that this outcome resulted from a degree of filtering by the IGC of what recommendations to actually bring forward. As Pieth told the Financial Times in March, 2012, "I didn’t stand up at the beginning and say, ‘I’m the big clean-up man.’ I didn’t intend to raise expectations, because that would have been for myself a way of crashing.”

Consequently, FIFA was never provided the opportunity to consider a more aggressive program of reform. Even if the organization would have ultimately voted against such reforms, bringing them forward would have prevented FIFA from advancing the mistaken notion that its reform process has been a great success. Further, it would have brought into the open FIFA’s position on those reforms considered to be essential to the organization from qualified, external experts. The IGC failed to recognize that the success of an advisory body lies in the quality of the advice, not whether decision makers act on it. By tailoring its advice to what FIFA wanted to hear, the IGC may have actually contributed to FIFA’s continued insularity and resistance to change.

There is a broader lesson here for international sports organizations seeking expert advice, a group which well beyond FIFA to include other international and national sports governance bodies facing reform, crisis or scandal, as well as for the broad discussions related to match fixing and doping. That lesson centers on the importance of truly independent advice and the importance of cleanly separating advice from decision making.

FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee was misnamed as it was never truly independent – most of its members had ties to FIFA, and 2 of its original members are now on the FIFA Executive Committee. There are various plausible mechanisms that might be considered for overseeing and paying for independent advice – there are many successful models to draw upon from outside sport. However, a pre-condition for a successful advisory process is a commitment from the organization receiving the advice to actually hear what relevant, independent experts have to say. The FIFA reform process was managed from inside the organization, blunting both the advice that was eventually offered and the potential to clearly evaluate the organization’s commitment to reform. As a consequence, both FIFA and its IGC receive poor marks for their performance.

Based on the evaluation presented here – a first cut at a more in depth analysis – it is hard to reach any other conclusion than that FIFA’s reform process 2011-2013, despite very modest steps forward, has fallen far short of what is needed to achieve what are broadly shared community norms of what constitutes good governance.

NOTE: I am happy to share my working spreadsheet which contains the various recommendations, data and scorecard. I welcome comments and suggestions as this project evolves. If you are interested, please email me at rpielkejr@gmail.com.

Roger Pielke will give a keynote address on the need for reform of sports organisations at Play the Game 2013, the 8th world communication conference on sports and society held in Aarhus, Denmark on 28-31 October 2013.

Read more about the conference themes, other speakers and how to sign op on the conference website: www.playthegame.org/2013

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