FIFA's Rotten Reform Record
FIFA president Blatter has all but declared “Mission Accomplished” with regards to FIFA's reform process, writes Alexandra Wrage. Photo: The Sport Review/Flickr
26.04.2013By Alexandra Wrage
When FIFA’s leaders could no longer ignore the spate of scandals ranging from World Cup hosting decisions to irregularities in its internal elections, they announced a new “reform initiative.”
The initiative was declared an effort to restore public confidence in the organization, but has done little more than polish the veneer on an outdated men’s club.
The inaptly named Independent Governance Committee was originally comprised of a cross-section of stakeholders, including two people who have since been elevated to FIFA’s Executive Committee, as well as governance professionals.
The process has been expensive and time-consuming, but little has really changed back at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich. One area of influence the IGC was assured was the role of nominating experts for key positions. But after the IGC’s nominations were sought to fill a newly designed and critically important position – a position right at the heart of reform efforts — FIFA rejected the IGC’s recommendations in favor of its own candidate. (In so doing, FIFA also asked the IGC to stop putting female candidates forward, stating that no female candidate would be acceptable.)
The IGC had another opportunity to effect change when it proposed independent members on the ExCo in order to encourage more transparency and accountability.
More than any other recommendation, this would have signaled a willingness to pry open the shutters on the organization.
Even carefully controlled and even with an understanding that some items of business would have to remain confidential, this would have brought FIFA in line with well-governed corporations and non-profits worldwide. The ExCo rejected this proposal, lending weight to FIFA’s reputation as a secret society, answerable to no one.
As a matter of common sense, the IGC proposed a neutral, independent background review process for new candidates for senior office to reduce the chance that the organization would be embarrassed by inadvertent association with felons and miscreants and to explore possible conflicts of interest.
The ExCo agreed instead to ask candidates to complete a “self-declaration” which, presumably, felons and miscreants would not hesitate to falsify.
Days later, the CONCACAF Integrity Committee report described how Jack Warner misspent many millions of dollars of FIFA’s money to improve a property owned by companies he owns.
In line with well-established international practices, the IGC recommended that the FIFA leaders disclose their total compensation, including salary, bonus and perquisites.
The ExCo declined, declaring the issue more one of public curiosity than good governance.
FIFA benefits from public subsidy through its tax-free status, but FIFA argues that the public has no right to insight into these matters.
The public, it seems, also has no right to know the performance criteria upon which these compensation decisions are based.
The IGC recommended age or term limits for key FIFA figures to reduce the stranglehold that permanent presidencies can have on any organization.
Blatter has stated that this will be put to a vote at Congress, but has not made clear what terms will be recommended by the ExCo.
Anything put to a vote without sufficient detail and ExCo support will, in the commotion that is Congress, likely die on the floor.
Meanwhile, the 77 year old Blatter who took office in 1998 has begun to float the idea of standing for election a fifth time in 2015.
Blatter has all but declared “Mission Accomplished”, and in a sense it has been. Opportunities for change have been evaded, finessed or re-directed; he deftly avoids discussion of the recommendations that simply fell off the table over time.
He did not debate them and did not explain himself; this is no surprise from a man who describes FIFA as if it were a sovereign state over which he presides.
The IGC has never had any means to compel FIFA to change.
The only entity capable of insisting on transparency at FIFA is the Swiss government, to which FIFA’s unapologetic opacity should be as embarrassing as its $1.4 billion in tax-free reserves are interesting. I hope they will act.
Alexandra Wrage is president of TRACE International and a former member of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee. This comment piece was originally printed on Forbes.com on Tuesday 23 April and re-printed on playthegame.org with kind permission from the author.