“The danger is that the indulgence and attachments of the people will keep a man in the chair after he becomes a dotard, that reelection through life shall become habitual and election for life follow that.”
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Thomas Jefferson
Young nation though it still is, the United States was still only in its 20s when Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1805 that presidential terms should be limited to a maximum of two. His were the words of a selfless genius of a statesman.
At the time he was the serving president of the US but designed a constitutional amendment that would deny him a job for life. (Although as it turned out, two years later he signed into law the trade-suspending Embargo Act, which would in any case have destroyed his prospects for re-election, for it took the US economy to the brink of ruin as exports collapsed by almost 80%.)
Nonetheless, even from his early-19th Century vantage, Jefferson would find much to criticise FIFA, football’s multibillion-dollar regulator, for today. Its governance, despite numerous supposed rounds of reform, has been frankly abominable.
Sepp Blatter, currently in his fifth term as FIFA president, a post he has held since 1998, and very much in his dotage as a 79-year-old man, embodies this dereliction of leadership. For all his protestations that he cannot “monitor everyone all of the time”, FIFA’s governance failure is inseparable from the criminal activities many of its most senior officials have allegedly indulged in. Last week Carlos Chávez, the president of the Federación Boliviana de Fútbol (the Bolivian football association) – currently serving a third consecutive term and also treasurer of the South American confederation, Conmebol – was the latest to be arrested on corruption charges. It is very unlikely he will be the last.
Last week a US Senate committee convened to investigate the governance of football in that country in light of the Department of Justice’s attempts to extradite the accused to face trial there. According to Roger Pielke in USA Today, Sunil Gulati, the US Soccer Federation president, (third term), chose not to appear. His chief executive, Dan Flynn, was told by the senator for Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, that where there are suspicions of corruption “inaction and silence signals complicity.”
Interestingly, within 48 hours of that committee hearing, the prominent US football sponsors Coca-Cola and McDonald’s at last found their voice. “Recent allegations and indictments have severely tarnished FIFA in a way that strikes at the very heart of our sponsorship,” McDonald’s told the Associated Press.
Coca-Cola demanded a new reform process, with a fully independent commission being set up: “We believe that establishing this will be the most credible way for FIFA to approach its reform process and is necessary to build back the trust it has lost. We are calling for this approach out of our deep commitment to ethics and human rights and in the interest of seeing FIFA succeed.”
There will be no such commission because FIFA has been down this path before. In 2012 and 2013 it spent CHF1.1 million (£0.7m, €1.0m, $1.125m) on an independent governance committee to look into its structures. Some of the areas where FIFA refused to take up the IGC recommendations were as follows:
· Central integrity checks for FIFA executive-committee members and standing-committee members. Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, FIFA vice-presidents, Eduardo Li, an ex-co member elect, José Maria Marin, a FIFA club-committee member, and Julio Rocha, a FIFA development officer, were all indicted under the US DoJ investigation
· Congress should approve of all the appointments and reappointments to the FIFA ex-co and senior staff positions
· Two independent members to be added to the FIFA ex-co None has been added
· Term limits for all FIFA officials Blatter is currently serving his fifth term, albeit one that will be truncated when he finally steps down
· A review of key processes and related policies including the bidding for hosting decisions, governance of development projects, presidential campaigns and marketing and procurement activities Among those arrested in May were four sports-marketing executives accused of channelling payments to FIFA officials (though those officials were not acting in a FIFA capacity or receiving bribes for FIFA rights)
· Transparency in the area of compensation and benefits The salaries for Blatter and other key executives as well as the fees paid to auditors KPMG remain undisclosed, contrary to international standards of best practice.
Domenico Scala, head of the FIFA audit and compliance committee, has submitted a list of some of these reforms to FIFA’s ex-co for adoption at the extraordinary Congress when Blatter will step down next February. But bringing them in now is far too late – it is closing the door after the horse has bolted.
As far as I can see FIFA’s name has been irreparably damaged in the eyes of the public, as a direct result of the repeated scandals surrounding the organisation, controversies that have been patently obvious to any observer of FIFA over the years. Throughout the IGC process and also at its end, the committee was critical of FIFA’s sloth in adopting its recommended reforms. But most important – and indeed prescient in light of the recent arrests – was its following statement: “The reforms are necessary and important, however, the reform can only be truly successful if there is cultural change on all levels of the organisation,” it wrote. “The FIFA member associations have the opportunity to influence the culture of the organisation by taking on a more active and independent role in choosing the future FIFA leadership and in shaping the culture of FIFA.”
FIFA’s member associations have failed in this moral task, as Blatter’s re-election proved. But this cultural obstacle is intractable. FIFA’s political structure demands a system of patronage and clientelism. In much of the world senior football posts are attained through reaching the top of a greasy pole by offering favours and inducements to those whose votes can be bought.
When in 2011 Jack Warner arranged a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union on behalf of his fellow FIFA executive-committee member Mohammed Bin Hammam, then a FIFA presidential candidate, at which clichéd brown envelopes each stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars in cash were handed out, it was merely the most naked example of what is rife in football.
Even now, even at that supposed beacon of integrity, UEFA – whose president, Michel Platini, is expected to win the FIFA position Blatter is vacating should he choose to stand – the most basic standards of governance are being overlooked.
As Insideworldfootball has demonstrated [see related article below] the investigation into a match-fixing scandal in Greek football was conducted by someone who should have been conflicted out of the matter due to his past interests as a former counsel to the Hellenic Football Federation that was at the heart of the scandal. It was at best a sloppy inquiry but its conclusions have huge repercussions. Olympiacos, although their owner is chief indictee in a huge racketeering, corruption and match-fixing case in the Athens courts, will now be admitted into next season’s Champions League competition. The requirement for particular care to have been taken was all the greater given that UEFA’s deputy general secretary is the son of Olympiacos’s vice-president.
Such integrity issues are commonplace in football, almost wherever scrutiny is properly applied. Blatter, with his inaction and silence, may have become emblematic for the issues but driving him out and tweaking the organisation he has led for too long will not cure it.
FIFA needs wholesale and fundamental change. As such, we must ask ourselves fundamental questions about its role and function in a 21st Century world.
1. What is FIFA? It is a political organisation made up of 209 member associations with an executive body that executes the strategies the political arm sets
2. What is FIFA for? It is both the regulator of the world game and organiser of the World Cup
3. What does it deliver? A quadrennial tournament that is the biggest event in the sport of football as well as a number of junior tournaments. Its development function is performed through grant funding for football projects around the world.
As shown above, each of these questions can easily be answered but the true implications are more profound. The fact is the political function of FIFA has effectively overrun the development function outlined in question three. Take for instance Belize, whose football association received a sum reportedly in excess of $1 million in FIFA funding to build a national-team football pitch and stadium. The facilities delivered by the national association were so poor that last year the regional confederation ruled the ground unsafe and the national representative had to be withdrawn from the Concacaf Champions League.
Whether such indulgence and attachment led Belize to be among the 133 nations who supported Blatter over his challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan is unknown – the ballot was secret. But, again, it is clear that what happened in Belize is not unique around the world.
As football has expanded as a commercial property, through factors largely outside of FIFA’s control or endeavour, the revenues generated by the FIFA World Cup have grown exponentially. These sums are in large part paid for by public money in the shape of broadcasting contracts. As the governing body of world football, a matter also of intense public interest, it requires the accountability that citizens would demand of their public institutions.
Yet at its very heart there is a conflict. In economic terms FIFA is both a regulator and a producer in a competitive market. In order to produce its goods – the World Cup – FIFA uses its regulatory function to oblige other producers – the clubs – to release their players to it for a month every four years and for several separate periods over the two years leading up to it.
This is analogous to an ombudsman, say, the one in charge of broadcasting, dictating to all the biggest television and radio channels in the world to force them to hand over their operations and profits for a month every four years. In any other industry than sport it would not be permitted.
Take a look also at the future of large-scale international tournaments. FIFA demands nations spend billions of dollars on hosting its tournament, which in times of austerity a diminishing number will be persuaded to do. In light of the DoJ investigation, how many democracies will now bid for the FIFA World Cup? Will it in future be destined to take place in ever-more-unpleasant dictatorships keen to benefit from the international limelight the event brings? Or has UEFA shown the way with its Euro 2020 tournament, which will not take place in one nation alone but all over Europe at a number of different club venues? I for one believe it has, and it is a thought that brings still-more-intriguing implications.
It is not as if FIFA is bringing its own expertise to a FIFA World Cup to generate value the clubs would not otherwise obtain. There is nothing to stop clubs or leagues as competition organisers arranging their own international tournaments around their own grounds, using players already contracted to those clubs. Putting Sergio Agüerro, Lionel Messi and Angél Di María in Argentina shirts every now and again does not demand the input of a body like the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino. It merely needs commercial inputs like sponsors.
Ultimately this is where I see the direction of travel, and it is one that threatens the very existence of FIFA and football associations everywhere. As the distances between nations reduce and communication and relationships between separate entities improve, I foresee a time when the clubs or leagues organise their own international-team football tournament.
For the new wave of football investors like Joel Glazer, John W Henry, Stan Kroenke and Peter Lim, it must seem obvious that FIFA’s money belongs to them. Why hand over players for the commercial use of FIFA and its member associations, to generate billions of dollars every year, only for large amounts of that money to be lost to pork-barrel projects and naked graft? In order to get to it they would have to persuade sponsors and broadcasters to give the new Big Show their financial support. If, when, that happens, it will put an end to FIFA altogether.
Where would this leave FIFA’s other roles for regulation and development? Well both are of course necessary for the smooth functioning of the top end of the game. There is an economic self-interest that would ensure they are retained. Institutions like the Court of Arbitration for Sport already exist. Between 2011 and 2014 FIFA spent $231.7 million on governance, a sum that could comfortably ringfenced out of the proceeds of a new international tournament. Indeed, over that four-year period FIFA spent $397.4 million on personnel expenses, which would of course shrink much closer to zero were FIFA’s responsibilities taken on by others.
Finally there would be a hole to fill in the $263 million (£168.8m, €242.5m) FIFA spent on average between 2011 and 2014 on “development”. This ranged from pitches and stadiums to professional training for member-association executives to computers and office furniture for their plush new headquarters also built by FIFA. In short, the cause of bringing more people into the game of football has not always been well served.
So replacing the FIFA development system with a new one would not be such a thorny issue as it might seem. Indeed it is important to note how the Premier League, without any regulatory obligation, funds good causes to the tune of £56 million (€80.5m, $87.3m) every year from England alone. That money – exactly a third of what not-for-profit FIFA spends on an annual basis while the Premier League runs a 20-club, 38-game football competition – goes on facilities, participation programmes and education work. It excludes its parachute and solidarity payments to Football League clubs which are in addition to that). None of that was tied to political patronage. Instead it involved beneficiaries receiving money on the basis of strong business cases that met stringent application criteria, with future return on investment subsequently monitored.
This is something FIFA should do as a routine matter of course. If it fails to do so, then if clubs or leagues are looking at launching a new international tournament, it should be made part of the social contract its organisers have: effective delivery against formal targets for the benefit of genuine football development that will increase participation around the world.
Jefferson was quite right that a man should not occupy a president’s chair for longer than a few years – what has happened at FIFA in these final months of Blatter’s presidency support his view. And because of that, I can see a day not very far away when his contention that rebellion is a good thing will come to be tested.
Related article: http://www.insideworldfootball.com/world-football/europe/17247-exclusive-uefa-ethics-chiefs-clears-greeks-in-match-fixing-scandal-for-europa-league
Journalist and broadcaster Matt Scott wrote the Digger column for The Guardian newspaper for five years and is now a columnist for Insideworldfootball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.