Under pressure and backed into a corner? No problem, let’s take the weight off our shoulders by setting up a Task Force, pat ourselves on the back, send it away and hope for the best.
It may seem cynical but that seems to have long been the approach of FIFA whenever the organisation has faced danger and crisis and needs to appease its critics. Except that the current crisis, involving unprecedented corruption allegations and the resignation (though he hasn’t called it that) of the man at the top, is on a scale never witnessed in the organisation’s 111-year history.
Which is why, understandably, there is so much scrutiny over the composition of the recently established Reform Task Force designed to rebuild FIFA and restore credibility to an organisation that prides itself on doing a heap of good work across the globe but whose reputation and image has plummeted to an all-time low.
In just over a month’s time, the much-trumpeted new body is supposed to report to FIFA’s executive committee to present an update on delivering a set of robust, concrete proposals for a fresh start. But will it end up as another toothless, slow-acting if well-meaning group of fire-fighters or, this time, serve a real purpose? So far, the jury’s out.
As anticipated, former International Olympic Committee director general Francois Carrard, who knows a thing or two about corruption scandals having witnessed first-hand the Salt Lake City debacle that brought the Olympic movement to its knees, has been given the task of chairing the panel.
Carrard has said all the right things about the need for urgent action, that the situation is grave, that there no time to lose, etc, etc. But what of the other members? Turkeys, as the old saying goes, don’t vote for Christmas. Once FIFA decided that the Task Force members would be chosen by the confederations themselves, there was always the possibility of the body’s work being compromised by blocking mechanisms.
Take Africa’s two members, Hani Abou Rida of Egypt and Constant Omari from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I don’t know either of them, nor do I know the process by which the Confederation of African Football came to choose them. What I DO know is that their selection goes against the spirit of a reform task force and is unlikely to go down too well with anti-corruption campaigners who favour the entire group being independent.
Both Africans are members of the FIFA exco which is, in itself, surely potentially counter-productive. Does that mean they will effectively report back to themselves at the end of September? Choosing them seems fraught with accusations of self-interest, given that they form part of FIFA’s existing inner circle and may not be at all willing to go along with the reforms proposed which include term limits, disclosure of salaries and integrity checks.
It is further understood that Abou Rida was a strong ally of disgraced former Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam and even accompanied bin Hammam on that infamous cash-for-votes trip to the Caribbean back in 2011. If that’s true, it surely casts doubt on the panel’s make-up. What’s more, the Egyptian was one of those who voted in the 2018 and 2022 bidding contest, a process which, partly, led to where we are now.
Now let’s switch to the Conmebol Task Force members. By far the most controversial inclusion is that of Gorka Villar, director-general of the South American confederation. The name might sound familiar. Villar is in fact the son of long-serving Spanish federation leader Angel Maria Villar, vice-president of both FIFA and UEFA. The point here is that Villar Llona is considered one of the most conservative and anti-reformist of all senior FIFA officials. Not only that. As the head of Spain-Portugal bid for the 2018 World Cup, he is also understood to be one of those still being investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee over the entire bid process amid alleged accusations of collusion and skulduggery.
How Gorka Villar’s inclusion will be viewed by Domenico Scala, the Swiss-Italian who put forward the current set of proposals and is independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance unit, is one interesting question. Scala is understood to be uncomfortable with the cosy relationship the Villars share at different confederations. Indeed, it is believed he would favour rules that strictly monitor family members taking up rival senior positions.
The fact that FIFA has now added two positions on the panel for its increasingly anxious sponsors is a clear indication of how seriously it views the current predicament. Having the sponsors on board is a sensible move. So is UEFA’s decision to nominate its main legal eagle, Alasdair Bell, as one of its two representatives. Bell is as sharp as they come.
Yet until and unless Carrard and team provide concrete evidence that they are not simply going to fudge the issues, reveal exactly what their terms of reference are in terms of the practicalities, and help orchestrate a total overhaul of FIFA practises – whoever becomes president in succession to Sepp Blatter – public trust in the organisation, shattered over the last few months, is unlikely to be easily rebuilt.
Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at [email protected]om