The thing about football is that it’s not just about FIFA…

Of late Sepp Blatter and his pals at FIFA have – quite understandably – been the centre of attention for anti-corruption scholars and football fans alike.  Indeed, an indictment from the US Department of Justice earlier this year has thrown world football’s governing body in to turmoil.

But as FIFA continues to buckle under the weight of its own scandals, the reputations of the 209 national associations that make up the organisation have largely remained intact. This is decidedly curious as FIFA is not the only organisation within football that suffers from governance problems.

A report recently published by Transparency International (TI) tries to redress this imbalance. The Transparency International Football Governance League Table looks at how transparent each of FIFA’s member football associations (FAs) are.  It unpacks whether they publish financial reports, activity reports, codes of ethics or conduct for their staff, and their organisational statutes on their websites.

By doing this TI are deliberately setting the bar very low. Good governance will involve much more than simply producing, and making publicly available, these documents.  Yet it might not be entirely surprising that even at this low level, the world’s FAs still do very badly. 81 per cent published no financial information, and 85 per cent publish no information on their activities. Russia, the hosts of the World Cup in 2018, do not publish any information on their finances or activities, and Qatar, the, to put it mildly, rather controversial host of the 2022 World Cup, publish precisely none of the documents listed above. In fact, only 14 out of 209 FAs publish all of the information that is listed above (Canada, Denmark, England, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden, in case you are interested).

But so what? Why does this actually matter?

Well, firstly, the FAs get a lot of money from FIFA. This money comes directly from fans of the game, either from direct ticket and merchandise sales, or because huge sponsors like Coca Cola and Adidas have invested money in order to piggy back on the huge audiences that football can attract. As well as getting millions from FIFA, many FAs also receive money directly from their national governments. If FAs don’t report how their money is spent, the opportunity for executives to potentially skim money into his/her own private yacht fund without being caught is much higher. Fans deserve to see how money that should be used to improve facilities and football in their country is spent, particularly when it comes directly from their own pockets.

Secondly, these FAs hold the power between them to elect FIFA’s president, and also vote to approve any potential reforms to FIFA’s internal dealings. These 209 organisations – who, as is illustrated here, are no great shakes when it comes to their own governance – have a vital role in helping to reform FIFA. That is a sobering thought, and makes one wonder if any change is likely to be achieved at all if it is left solely up to members of the ‘football family’.

Finally, whilst FIFA may be football’s top-dogs, each FA ultimately has control over how football is run in their own country. Can these organisations be trusted to hold the best interest of the game above their own self-interest? At the moment, they are so secretive that it is impossible to say for certain that they can. And this, ultimately, is the point. FAs take money from the people, and are supposed to act to benefit them by safeguarding and developing the sport in their territories. But without transparency, to allow for fans and the people to hold them to account, question marks will always remain about the work that they do.

Is there anything that can be done?

Well, frankly, that depends on how much faith one has. Another recent publication from TI discusses some of the things that FAs can do to improve their internal governance. These recommendations are similar to those being recommended to FIFA; term limits on leadership, some form of externally driven oversight, proper accountability, and, crucially, transparency.

At the moment, though, FAs are under little pressure to get their houses in order. At the same time as FIFA is coming under mounting pressure from groups like TI and NewFIFANow, the FAs receive much less attention. Reform at FIFA is of paramount importance, clearly, but in order to make sure that that change sticks, and that the game of football can continue to inspire millions around the world, comprehensive reform must also take place in each of the 209 football associations.

Ben Wheatland

Transparency International Secretariat

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The Politics of False Dawns at FIFA

In 2013, FIFA president Sepp Blatter triumphantly proclaimed the success of FIFA’s internal reform process. Presiding over the football governing body’s annual conference in Mauritius, Blatter claimed that FIFA had “weathered the storm” of recent corruption scandals and could move forward optimistically following the implementation of a reform package designed to promote good governance. Fast-forward two years, however, and it becomes apparent that FIFA remains embroiled in a storm that seems to be gaining in momentum each day as new allegations of corruption are brought forth and more transgressions are brought to light.

Events this year have shaken FIFA to its core. The indictment of fourteen FIFA and sports marketing officials on corruption charges by the U.S. Department of Justice in May (see here) was a sensational event that set the stage for further tumultuousness in the upper echelons of the organization. Indeed, Blatter (who plans to resign in February 2016) and UEFA president Michel Platini (previously the odds-on favorite to succeed Blatter) are currently suspended by FIFA after Swiss authorities opened a criminal investigation against Blatter over an alleged “disloyal payment” to Platini in 2011. While investigators have not yet determined whether this particular act was in fact “corrupt,” the investigation nonetheless shows that FIFA is a problem-ridden organization suffering from a fundamental leadership crisis.

Today, Blatter’s optimistic comments of 2013 are a distant memory and appear to be an utter sham. But how did this come about? What happened to the highly-touted reform package that was supposedly ushering in a new era of good governance? In reality, a truly meaningful and sweeping reform process never actually occurred. Instead, the past few years have been characterized by a series of false dawns in which promising developments have petered out, preserving the status quo and seriously hindering anti-corruption efforts in FIFA.

False Dawn #1: The Independent Governance Committee

Following the controversy associated with the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes (see here for a timeline), FIFA charged Mark Pieth, a Swiss law professor and anti-corruption expert, with the task of heading an independent advisory body designed to formulate reform proposals. This Independent Governance Committee (IGC), established in 2011, represented a step in the right direction. Finally, it seemed, FIFA could begin to adopt much-needed institutional reforms promoting higher transparency and accountability. Blatter and other top FIFA officials effectively ensured that this would not happen

Despite their public enthusiasm for reform, FIFA executives never really took the IGC’s reform proposals seriously. Sure, important reforms were passed, chief among them integrity checks in executive elections and the introduction of independent chairpersons to oversee FIFA’s Ethics and Audit & Compliance committees. However, as the IGC noted in its final report in 2014, some of the most crucial reforms—term limits for the presidency and other executives, independent oversight of the executive committee, salary disclosures, etc.—remain unimplemented. Any organization truly committed to governance reform would have adopted these common-sense measures. Mark Pieth slammed Blatter for “cherry picking” the easiest reform measures and avoiding the tougher measures that would induce real change. Blatter dismissed this criticism, arguing that “[e]ven if Professor Pieth says we shall cherry pick, we cannot take the whole tree.” Such dismissiveness illustrates a deeply-entrenched resistance to change that continues to plague FIFA today.

False Dawn #2: The Garcia Report

In addition to ignoring crucial IGC reform proposals, internal actors have also undermined some reforms following their enactment. The end-result: “newly-reformed” institutions that appear promising but deliver little. The events surrounding the 2014 Garcia Report provide an excellent example of this issue.

Michael Garcia, an American lawyer, served as the independent chairman of the investigatory chamber of FIFA’s Ethics Committee. Garcia oversaw an extensive two-year investigation into the allegedly corrupt bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. He presented his findings to FIFA in a 430-page report, which FIFA then released in summary form. Garcia complained that this 42-page summary was “materially incomplete and erroneous,” leading him to challenge the release of this summary in front of FIFA’s Appeals Committee. His criticisms fell on deaf ears, and he resigned soon after.

FIFA’s refusal to release the Garcia Report (or even an accurate summary of it) shows how FIFA has obstructed the very institutions that purportedly demonstrate its commitment to reform and transparency. On paper, the adoption of independent oversight on the Ethics Committee looked like a clear shift towards greater transparency and accountability. In practice, however, Garcia’s work was hamstrung by officials lacking a true commitment to transparency and reform. This case demonstrates that reformed institutions do not stand a chance of functioning properly without genuine buy-in from the individuals who work in and oversee these institutions.

False Dawn #3: Blatter’s Reelection and Resignation

Joint efforts by U.S. and Swiss authorities to crack down on misconduct within FIFA stirred up significant controversy ahead of the presidential election in May 2015. These high-profile legal sanctions showcased the pervasiveness of FIFA’s corruption problem as well as the inadequacy of its reform efforts (note: for an excellent paper that evaluates the effectiveness of legal and other accountability mechanisms in the FIFA case, see Pielke [2013]). These developments should have rendered Blatter’s presidency untenable, but they did not. Instead, when presented with the opportunity to take a stand for reform and change, the FIFA Congress voted for more of the same—Blatter won 133-73 over his nearest challenger. Blatter’s reelection in spite of all the wrongdoing that took place on his watch demonstrates the magnitude and systemic nature of FIFA’s governance dilemma.

A mere four days after winning reelection, widespread public backlash ultimately compelled Blatter to resign from the presidency as of February 2016. Unfortunately, this seemingly good news did not really change much. Blatter’s delayed resignation allowed him to cling on to his position and in so doing stymie any hope for meaningful reform. Given his recent suspension, though, Blatter may finally be forced out for good. Now, all eyes have turned to the special presidential election scheduled for next winter, which will play a decisive role in shaping FIFA’s future. 

The 2016 FIFA Presidential Election: False Dawn #4?

The three false dawns described above show that important institutional reforms are still lacking and, most importantly, that the troubles facing FIFA are cultural in nature. Indeed, FIFA officials’ decisions to ignore important IGC recommendations, to misleadingly censor and obstruct the Garcia Report, and to reelect Sepp Blatter in 2015 all boil down to an organizational culture that has normalized corruption and allowed it to flourish. This organizational culture must undergo fundamental change before essential reforms can hope to succeed. Next February’s presidential election could play a pivotal role in this process.

In order for FIFA to seriously commit to reform, a significant change in leadership is paramount. Certainly, external forces such as social condemnation and legal sanctions have played a necessary role in weeding out “bad apples” within FIFA’s leadership, but their impact is limited and insufficient in the long-run because these forces fail to address the underlying cultural elements that drive systemic corruption. A change in organizational culture must be internally-driven, and the key driver of this process must be the next FIFA president. This president should be a moral entrepreneur of sorts, who actively “walks the talk” of reform and legitimizes and prioritizes anti-corruption efforts inside the organization. While it is difficult to say whether any of the current presidential candidates can fulfill this role (an outsider may be a surer bet but might lack electability), one thing is certain: the extent to which the next president truly prioritizes reform and fosters internal cultural change will determine whether we look back on the 2016 election as a watershed moment in FIFA’s history or just another false dawn.

William Heaston

University of Sussex

W.R.Heaston@sussex.ac.uk

Franz, please, say it ain’t so …

For a sports fan of a certain age, the summer of 2015 has had rather a depressing feel to it. Not so much on account of any particular events that have taken place out on the field of play, but more for what has been transpiring off it. Over the last few months some of the great sporting icons of our times have had their reputations at best slightly tarnished, and at worst potentially ruined by the stain of corruption that they either saw fit to overlook as administrators or, even worse, may well have indulged in themselves.

That sporting superstars appear to have been caught indulging in skulduggery is particularly depressing when one remembers the style, grace and class that they themselves oozed out on the sports field. Many a football fan will recall Michel Platini scoring nine goals (the second top scorer in the tournament managed only three) whilst leading France to the 1984 European Championship. The doyen of French football, the star of the 1984 side, is now suspended from his current position as president of UEFA, European football’s governing body, pending the outcome of allegations that FIFA president Sepp Blatter made a ‘disloyal payment’ of £1.6m to him. Regardless of the outcome, Platini’s chances of succeeding Blatter as FIFA president now appear to be slim.

Falls from riches to rags can also be told in the world’s second most popular sport, cricket. Chris Cairns, the swashbuckling former Wisden Cricketer of the Year (2000) and prodigious six-hitter, is currently standing trial in London accused of both fixing the results of matches and perjury. The days when he could lay claim to being the best all round cricketer on the planet seem but a distant memory. He’ll do well to avoid spending the foreseeable future in jail.

If the affairs of Platini and Cairns were not enough to force the greying sports fan in to a mild state of depression, things got even worse this week. Sebastian Coe, current head of track and field’s IAAF, former Rolls Royce middle distance runner and double Olympic gold medallist, found himself fending off accusations that he turned a blind eye to accusations of systemic corruption in his sport. The fact that he originally described the German TV documentary that unearthed the doping scandals as a “declaration of war” and then failed to immediately acknowledge the need to implement the recommendations of a report in to the programme’s claims bodes ill. Coe has only been in the job since August, but already he finds himself having to do a lot of soul-searching about how he and his organisation have dealt with these corruption allegations. Coe’s task now is nothing less than to save his sport’s soul.

But in many ways the most surprising, and the most disappointing, allegation of corruption – for this sports fan at least – stemmed from Germany. For the best part of 50 years German football has been epitomised by the performances, the style and the all-round panache of ‘Der Kaiser’, Franz Beckenbauer. Not only did he lead West Germany to a World Cup triumph on the field in 1974, he coached soon-to-be-unified Germany to another triumph in 1990. His Bayern Munich side won the European Cup three times back-to-back in the 1970s and he became the first German ever to play 100 times for his country. Furthermore, he also went on to be president of the organising committee of the 2006 World Cup, a hugely successful tournament held in his homeland.

Beckenbauer’s career could not have been more star-studded. He became the epitome, at home and abroad, of German football. Yet now even he is on the verge of being brought down by corruption allegations. Beckenbauer, so we discovered this week, signed a deal with the now disgraced Jack Warner, a former FIFA top executive promising him that German football would deliver “various services”. There is no evidence that cash ever changed hands, but there is evidence that these “services” were to include support for the football federation that Warner led (CONCACAF), the possibility of Germany playing friendly games at times and in places that suited Warner’s interests and also of making sure that Warner received tickets to World Cup games. Plus, crushingly, all of this was being talked about just four days before Warner cast his vote to decide which country should host the 2006 World Cup. As it happens, Warner voted for South Africa, but that didn’t stop Germany winning the nomination by 12 votes to 11.  If that sounds like a paradox, on Tuesday Oliver Fritsch reminded readers of Die Zeit that it could well be explained in quite straightforward fashion; the South Africans simply promised greater rewards than the Germans did.

There is no evidence that the agreement was actually carried out. Indeed Beckenbauer, as was noted in the deal, didn’t actually have the authority to promise all of the things noted in the contract. But that attempts were made to even think about a deal like this needs, at the very least, the Kaiser to come forward and explain what exactly was going on. As things stand, Beckenbauer has done no such thing. Throw in the fact that an unexplained Euro6.7m slush fund has been discovered and things get even worse. The president of the German Football Federation, Wolfgang Niersbach, has gone on record admitting that it looks like the fund existed to help Germany win the right to host the 2006 tournament. Niersbach, despite claiming to have had no knowledge of the fund until now, has already resigned. Beckenbauer, the man who was right at the coal face as the bid was won, clearly has a significant amount of explaining to do.

In many ways, the words of Alfred Draxler, the former editor of Europe’s biggest newspaper, Bild, and current editor of SportBild, say it all; “I simply could never imagine it. I always believed that we were awarded the 2006 World Cup on the basis of a fair competition. But today I’ve got to report that a contract has been found that looks very much like an attempt to indulge in bribery”. It does indeed appear that even the Kaiser might well be corruptible.

These events won’t see sport vanish from our TV screens. Or indeed suffer much of a reduction in popularity. They certainly won’t see football relegated to the far flung corners of newspapers’ sports sections. But they certainly do make one realise that corruption gets everywhere and that even apparent paragons of virtue can find it either very hard to resist or very hard to face up to. Franz Beckenbauer may come forward and find an elaborate explanation for his actions. I think, given the evidence thus far, he’s got a tough job ahead of him. Which, in so many ways, is one almighty great shame.

Dan Hough

FIFA’s Reforms; More Smoke and Mirrors?

Sepp Blatter has announced how FIFA plans to improve its governance procedures and also to weed out corrupt practices. The ideas outlined on 20 July might sound plausible enough but they lack two crucial things; independent oversight and faith that those in charge of implementing reforms are really capable of carrying them through.

FIFA, understandably, is trying to move on from the worst set of scandals in its 111 year history. 14 current and former FIFA members are currently being investigated for a legion of alleged misdemeanours, and the great and good within the organisation appear to realise that FIFA simply cannot carry on pretending it is business as usual. It’s with that in mind that Sepp Blatter, the current President, has announced a set of reforms at a press conference in Zürich (see here for a video of the speech he gave). He began by announcing that he would not be standing for president when the next election for that position is held. This will, so we discovered, be on 26th February 2016.

The reforms themselves stem from the first FIFA Executive Committee meeting since a tumultuous FIFA congress in late May and were described by one FIFA official as a “watershed moment” in FIFA’s history. Leaving aside the surreal attempts by a British comedian to make a farce out of the proceedings (see here to watch that particular escapade), Blatter outlined five key reforms that he felt would clean up the organisation’s workings.

  • Transparency over the salaries of top FIFA officials
  • Term limits for top FIFA officials
  • A taskforce, headed by a neutral chairperson, will be set up to investigate whether, and if so which, further ethics reforms were needed.
  • FIFA’s 27 person executive committee will in all likelihood be reduced in number and it will also be elected by the 209 national federations and not through the six regional confederations.
  • Enhanced integrity checks are to be brought in for FIFA executive members

At first glance, these moves may look reasonable and forward-thinking. But the more one analyses what they are likely to mean in practice, the less convinced one becomes that they are going to mean anything substantive. Blatter has, for example, now clearly and unambiguously stated that he will be standing down; but he still has seven months to ensure that his successor – a successor who will be voted for by the same people who have been exceptionally reluctant to get rid of Blatter – does not tread all over his legacy. The chances of a genuinely new face taking over with no links to Blatter are subsequently limited a best.

It is easier to be slightly more positive about both bringing in transparency in terms of what FIFA officials earn and also in limiting the time that they can spend in office. However, if actually revealing how much the big hitters in an organisation earn is seen as a flagship reform, then that alone tells us plenty about how much else needs to be done.

The taskforce might also sound like something to be welcomed. Tough questions being asked by tough-speaking experts can only be a good thing, no? But even in Blatter’s speech he began to sow the seeds of doubt about what sort of independence this taskforce will enjoy; the chairman, for example, is going to be chosen in consultation with the presidents of FIFA’s regional confederations. They are very unlikely to opt for someone who they think is going to publicly read them the riot act. It is also unlikely that the 209 national federations will opt for sets of radical new thinkers when thinking about who should sit on the new-look executive. There will certainly be more transparency, but whether that is enough to bring with it cultural change remains very much to be seen.

Finally, the integrity checks appear like they are going to be carried out by FIFA’s own ethics committee – a committee that has proven to be toothless thus far and is, again, clearly not a body with independence hardwired in to its DNA. Anyone who has seen how the Premier League in England conducts integrity checks on owners of its clubs will be, at best, deeply suspicious about whether this process is going to lead anywhere at all. It is also worth noting that Blatter’s speech was also nothing more than that – a speech. FIFA’s 209 member associations still need to approve all of this.

In truth, much of what Blatter announced today is neither new nor radically different from what has been discussed before. Indeed, much of the substance of these ideas has been rejected by various FIFA congresses and meetings. What we probably are seeing is evidence that changing the culture of an organisation takes time, effort and no small degree of soul-searching. FIFA is not there yet. Indeed, if this is evidence of FIFA’s progress thus far, then we are still a long way from getting anywhere near where we really need to be.

Dan Hough

SCSC Director Dan Hough talks FIFA and corruption allegations on the BBC

It has been a big week for FIFA, the governing body of world football.  The newly-re-elected President, Sepp Blatter, signaled his intention to resign and criminal investigations in the USA and Switzerland are doing ever more damage to the organsation’s reputation.  So where does FIFA go now?  SCSC Director Dan Hough warns, in a live interview on the BBC on Wednesday 3rd June, that the road ahead will be both long and winding.  See the full interview here.

FIFA; where to now?

  

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.