Sepp Blatter is soon to be the former president of FIFA, the governing body of world football, but questions are already being asked as to both who will succeed him and what he/she will do to restore FIFA’s battered reputation. SCSC Director Dan Hough muses on where FIFA goes from here.
It has been a revolutionary week for FIFA. Many people – including me (see here) – thought that Sepp Blatter would eventually have to step aside, but very few thought it would be just four days after he had been re-elected President for another five year term. The speed of change has been genuinely breath-taking. As evidence of alleged wrong-doing within FIFA has grown (see here for the 47-count, 164 page indictment against 9 FIFA officials and 5 corporate executives) Blatter has gone from proclaiming that he was “the president of everybody” (see here) to “I have been reflecting deeply about my presidency” and “we need deep-rooted structural change” (see here). The New York Times is now even claiming that Blatter himself is under investigation (see here). In the space of five days these are the types of summersault that any Olympic gymnast would be proud of.
FIFA will now indeed have to change. That much is clear. It is clear because the next President simply has no other option. But the new President faces a massive challenge in managing this process. Indeed, he or she could well make or break the organisation. Some things will be relatively easy to do; FIFA could, for example, reveal how much executives (including the president) actually earn. In the future the organisation could hardly be less transparent about where money flows to and from than it is now. Blatter himself even raised the prospect of having term limits for the President – slightly odd given that four days previously he had been elected for the fifth time (his tenure began in 1998). Putting things like this right should be a relatively straightforward for the new person in charge.
Quite who the next President will be remains unclear. The 2015 election was more a coronation than a genuine contest, and the incumbent had a huge advantage over his one and only challenger, Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein from Jordan. Al-Hussein is likely to be a strong candidate to succeed Blatter and although he’s been a FIFA vice-president since 2011 he has made a name for himself as an independent thinker (most notably when he criticised Qatar for the treatment of construction workers building some of the facilities for the 2022 World Cup). At least four other candidates could be in the running; Michel Platini, the current head of European Football (UEFA), Luis Figo (who pulled out of last week’s election in the week before the congress claiming that it was “a plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man”) and Lydia Nsekera, the first woman ever to be elected to the FIFA executive committee (see here for a more extensive list of possible candidates). Others may also throw their hats in to the ring.
However, the identity of the next President is only one part of the story. The bigger question is whether he/she will have the vision, the diplomatic skills, the leadership qualities and the drive and dynamism to really get to the bottom of FIFA’s problems. It is worth remembering that FIFA already has what looks like a pretty good set of ethics committees that should have been able to root out alleged wrong-doing. The shambles surrounding the non-publication of Michael Garcia’s report (see here) in to the last round of World Cup bidding illustrated that what looks good on paper often doesn’t work in practice.
FIFA needs root and branch reform. Thought needs to go in to how the executive committee is elected as well as to how FIFA awards prestigious tournaments such as the World Cup. Good governance involves having the courage to allow independent oversight and to be prepared to be open and transparent about decisions that are made. FIFA really needs to let the forensic accountants in, be open about mistakes and misdemeanours (and some of those could well end up being criminal misdemeanours, of course) that have happened in the past, and create new governance structures that disperse power away from the President. Finding an institutional structure that does justice to all of this will not be easy; there are still lots of interested parties within FIFA and they will want to make sure that they don’t lose out in these power games.
As things stand, the jury is still well and truly out on whether the World Cup bids – one of the main bones of contention and currently the subject of Swiss legal investigations – for 2018 and 2022 will need to be reopened. Very few people within FIFA want to do any such thing, but the key issue will be whether the Swiss investigators find any evidence that due process in awarding these events was not upheld. If they do, then, well, all bets are off and we can expect sparks to fly. It may realistically be too late to re-run the 2018 competition, but it certainly isn’t too late to open things up for 2022. As things stand, it is still very unlikely that that will happen, but given the events of the last seven days anything appears to be possible.