We all know how the US Justice Department has moved the tectonic plates of FIFA. Yet the next few months, until the elective Congress meets to decide a new President, could also see major changes in FIFA and if Blatter gets his way these changes will not be very palatable to the Europeans and, in particular, the British. Indeed this could prove to be the most important period in FIFA’s history, even more important than the immediate post war years when a nearly bankrupt FIFA, with some help from the British, was revived.
And here what was significant were the remarks that Domenico Scala, the independent chairman of the Audit and Compliance Committee, made when Blatter said he was going to vacate the Presidency. Those remarks have been lost in the attention, quite rightly, that was paid to Blatter’s bombshell. But examine what Scala said and a picture of what Blatter is planning emerges and it is very revealing.
Now the Scala statement did come with the sort of extravagant praise that made Scala sound like a confirmed Blatter camp follower. So he described Blatter’s decision to resign, as “difficult and courageous…the most responsible way to ensure an orderly transition…he has truly acted with the best interests of FIFA and football in his heart.”
However look beyond this almost ritualistic praise and what you find is Scala declaring his intent to work with Blatter to completely revolutionise the way FIFA works. Scala says he is “committed to working to facilitate the implementation of the reforms that the President has outlined…these reforms will include fundamental changes to the way in which this organisation is structured – steps that go far beyond the actions that have been implemented to this point.”
And then, after making it clear that he saw Blatter as the reformer held back by members rejecting the changes Blatter had proposed, Scala went on, “the organisation will re-examine the way in which it is structured…nothing will be off the table, including the structure and composition of the Executive Committee and the way in which members of the Executive Committee are elected. I expect this to be an important aspect of ongoing reform. As I said a year ago, the structure of the Executive Committee and its Members are at the core of the current issues that FIFA is facing.
“Current events only reinforce my determination to drive this reform….In order to ensure that those who represent FIFA are of the highest integrity, FIFA will seek to implement FIFA-driven integrity checks for all Executive Committee members. Such a reform was previously proposed by the Independent Governance Committee but was rejected by the Confederations. Today these checks are the responsibility of the confederations to which these members belong. This must change. Confederations actions must be consistent with their speech.”
This is clearly intended to be what Blatter sees as his final parting gift to the organisation. Central to the inheritance Blatter wants to leave behind is a slimmed down executive. And one where the executive members are elected by the entire FIFA Congress as the President is, not by the various Confederations.
And this is where we come to what can be called Blatter’s revenge against the Europeans who he identifies as his main enemy and, in particular, the British. At the moment there are 24 members on the FIFA executive. Assume Blatter gets his way and slims this down to 12 or 15. He could say 15 is in line with UK Company law. Section 149 of the Companies Act 2013 lays down that the maximum number of directors in a company cannot be more than 15. To exceed that number you must have a special resolution.
Now that means that UEFA which has 8 members, double the number of any other confederation, would also have to slim down. The most democratic distribution of numbers between the different confederations would be on the basis of proportional representation. Africa, which has 54 voting members, one more than UEFA, will almost certainly claim that now that FIFA is reforming they should no longer be treated as inferior to Europe – at present they have four seats. Surely they will argue they should have parity with Europe. Africa voted as a solid block for Blatter and such a claim would carry a lot of weight.
It could and will be argued that other considerations should apply like economic power or history or that African teams cannot compare with the European teams who are some of the best in the world. Yes, Europe are world champions but until Spain won in 2010 the South Americans had won the World Cup more often than Europe, yet they have always had only three seats on the executive. This means that even under the present system power on the field has never been translated into power on the executive.
Then take the impact of this slimmed down executive on Britain. Britain has always enjoyed the greatest privileges in FIFA, something no other country has or could ever aspire to have. Britain is the only country which has four votes in FIFA, as there is no British football association but English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations. In addition the four home countries get a permanent vice President on the FIFA executive.
Until this year it was an election generally decided by the four home nations meeting for tea and biscuits in a committee room at the FA. This year the entire UEFA membership had a vote but even then only the home nations were allowed to contest the seat. None of the other 205 national associations have such a privilege. And to complete this picture of special British electoral privileges IFAB, the body that decides the laws of the game and rules on issues such as goal line technology, is composed of equal representation from FIFA and the four British home nations. All sorts of reasons can be given to justify these special privileges but they can hardly be described as democratic.
Interestingly, until now Blatter has always been the greatest defender of these British privileges whenever they have come under attack, as they often have from among others by Jack Warner. However, now that he is going and holds the British and their press responsible will he defend these rights? In any case, in this new slim executive, elected by the entire FIFA Congress, there could surely not be a special election where only the British are allowed to contest a FIFA executive seat?
Now it would be easy and tempting to dismiss Blatter’s talk of reforming FIFA before he leaves as of no consequence. Is Blatter not part of an organisation that was branded by the Judge in the New York Court, where Chuck Blazer gave his testimony, as a “Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organisation”? Surely FIFA is no better than the Mafia? But to jump to that conclusion would be wrong.
For a start despite all the crimes and alleged crimes the Americans have unearthed this American action does not mean the Americans themselves see FIFA as football’s mafia. Mafia is what the US authorities sought to destroy and have claimed to have completely eliminated. However, words like racketeering are also used by American authorities when tackling crime in other organisations which they are not seeking to destroy but reform. And in this instance FIFA in American eyes is more equivalent to corrupt trade unions, like the Teamsters, whose activities in the 50s required both the US courts and the Congress to act and made Robert Kennedy’s reputation as a great fighter against organised crime. The result was these unions were reformed and remain very much part of American life. The Americans could not be planning to eliminate FIFA in the way the Mafia was eliminated but rather reform FIFA in the way the Teamsters were.
However, the point is that Blatter, helped by Scala, may reform FIFA the way he wants to before the Americans, whose investigation looks like being a long one, have completed their job. And given that 133 members voted for Blatter, just eight short of a two thirds majority, Blatter’s power to force the changes through at the Congress, just before it elects his successor, should not be underestimated.
Blatter is a seriously wounded animal but he still has the power to inflict one last blow on his enemies. And what is more if Scala’s remarks are any guide then that is just what he is planning.
Mihir Bose was the first sports editor of the BBC. He has worked for various media outlets and launched the Inside Sport column for the Daily Telegraph. Now a freelance journalist he has written 29 books. His recent books include The Spirit of the Game, How Sport Made the Modern World and The Game Changer: How the Premier League came to dominate the World. Follow Mihir on Twitter @mihirbose