Andrew Warshaw: Has reform wrangling become snagged in the starting gate?

Francois Carrard may well be a thoroughly decent man with thoroughly decent principles. But just when he had the opportunity to prove to an increasingly sceptical outside world that he was the right man to enact robust change at FIFA and herald a brand new dawn of transparency and credibility, he came up woefully and depressingly short.

The appearance of the 77-year-old former director general of the International Olympic Committee at the Securing Sport conference in New York this week had been eagerly anticipated. Carrard had made few public appearances since being appointed to lead FIFA’s much-touted Reform panel. Football’s stakeholders, not least several of FIFA’s main sponsors, wanted to hear what he had to say about implementing concrete improvements to the carefree, uncontrolled way FIFA has been operating for years on end.

Carrard experienced the 1998 Salt Lake City bribery scandal first hand when he was at the IOC. He knows all about how to clean up organisations that have become mired in skullduggery and underhand methods. So this was his chance – co-incidentally just across the park from where the latest of the Zurich ‘Seven’, former Brazilian powerbroker Jose Maria Marin, was reportedly being held after being extradited from Switzerland – to bang the drum for root and branch change, to throw out a message of optimism and hope to all those pushing for a new era.

He didn’t succeed.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the proposals Carrard has put forward for rubber-stamping and ultimate approval represent a significant advance over what we have now. Restructuring the executive committee to reduce its power, publication of executives’ salaries and imposing an age limit of 74 are three examples.

But FIFA’s sponsors aren’t the only ones to question why Carrard won’t go further. Everyone wanted to hear the reasons but his explanation was wafer-thin. By his own reasoning, someone of, say, 40 should be able to remain on the FIFA executive committee until he or she reaches the 74 age limit. No wonder this has fuelled the view in some quarters that powerful individuals might continue to take advantage of their position, which they hold for far too long, simply to enrich themselves.

Carrard acknowledged that FIFA was in “a very serious crisis” triggered by the investigations of the United States and Swiss judicial authorities and which led to the creation of his committee. He says his panel members are “totally committed and dedicated to reform”. Really? Why, in that case, won’t they approve of term limits for exco members? The answer is pretty obvious: most or all of the Reform group’s members, apart from him, have existing senior positions within FIFA’s six confederations. In other words, potential vested interests.

Before anyone accuses me of being disingenuous, consider this. Back on June 2, in his “resignation” speech, Sepp Blatter himself said the following: “We need term limits not only for the president but for all members of the Executive Committee.”

It was Blatter, in case anyone has forgotten, who set up the Reform committee and recommended Carrard as its chairman. Enough said.

Carrard’s argument for restricting term limits to the president appears to be that FIFA’s smaller nations may not have sufficient depth of talent in terms of administrative experience and that therefore it is unfair to impose a 12-year maximum term on them. You have to think global, he argues. “If you have a great young leader in a small country, he is 30 years old and after 12 years he has to go out and if you have maybe nobody behind, it is stupid.”

Fine. Nobody would dispute that national federations should not necessarily be dictated to in such a way. But Carrard misses a vital point. Corruption happens where money swirls around. And as we have seen, money swirls around within FIFA’s inner circle and at the top of its individual confederations, especially when people stay too long. Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer are cases in point.

Arguing about lack of talent in countries like Vietnam and Andorra is simply a case of the tail wagging the dog. There seems no logical reason why Carrard’s group cannot, when the current list of reforms is tweaked, extend term limits to exco members as well as other senior officials in the FIFA heirarchy, historically the most corruption-tainted bunch. And not just the FIFA exco. UEFA’s too. Let’s start at the top of the pyramid.

Unless, that is, Carrard is being manipulated behind the scenes by his own members to water down the package. It is no co-incidence that shortly before his appearance in New York, Asian sports supremo Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah revealed that up to 40% of the reform proposals could be thrown out. Not necessarily Carrard’s reforms but those drawn up by FIFA’s independent compliance chief Domenico Scala who presented an eight-point plan on September 1 – including term limits – and whose blueprint forms the basis of Carrard’s own ideas.

Tellingly, Carrard made the point of stressing that corruption in football, or at least FIFA, is not systemic. Where has he been living? We have the US Department of Justice investigating corruption, we have the Swiss authorities investigating corruption. We now even have the Germans, who many believed were paragons of good governance, investigating possible corruption surrounding their winning bid for the 2006 World Cup. We have had CONCACAF imploding not once but twice. And that doesn’t even take account of the fact that half the exco who voted five years ago for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts have either resigned or been thrown out. What else do you need to define systemic?

Even the head of the International Centre for Sports Security, the Qatar-based body that organised this week’s New York conference, believes that corruption in sport is worse than ever.

Mohammed Hanzab, the ICSS’s passionate founder, describes it as a virus that has spread throughout sports, leagues and federations. “We know the diagnosis, now we need the cure,” he told delegates. “The time for small fixes is over… The public will not be satisfied with cosmetic fixes.”

Yet cosmetic fixes are exactly what many perceive Carrard’s proposals to be. “He has not brought in one new concept that adds to the reform debate,” one high-ranking official close to the process told me.

Carrard would no doubt counter that he has to tread carefully, that pushing the boat out too far could sink it completely when FIFA’s 209 nations vote on the reforms on election day at the end of February. It’s a fair argument but the next step is critical. His committee is to present to the FIFA exco on December 2 “a package of reforms structures ad statements that the Congress can adopt”.

That package simply must have teeth that can bite and bite hard. Otherwise there is a serious danger that the future might not look radically different from the past, whoever takes over from Blatter.

Andrew Warshaw is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball and was formerly Sports Editor of the European. Contact him at moc.l1635172750labto1635172750ofdlr1635172750owedi1635172750sni@w1635172750ahsra1635172750w.wer1635172750dna1635172750