Fifa promising to reform is like Arsene Wenger promoting the spirit and mental strength of his Arsenal team after they bottle it against the weakest Manchester United side he has faced in his 20 years in charge in North London. It’s just a little difficult to believe.
On February 26 in Zurich, an Extraordinary Fifa Congress approved a set of reforms presented by the 2016 Fifa Reform Committee. Later the same day, Gianni Infantino succeeded the resilient but disgraced Sepp Blatter as president of world football’s governing body. General Secretary of Uefa since 2009, the Swiss was elected for a period of three years and will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the reforms, which he himself helped draft.
“I will work tirelessly to bring football back to Fifa and Fifa back to football,” was the stand-out soundbite from Infantino in the aftermath of his victory.
He would do well to start with a look at the dynamic and shiny video Fifa have produced to present the reform process.
In the infographic-filled presentation, Fifa admits it has, “A responsibility to adapt to the latest developments in the world of football.”
For those who haven’t paid attention, those so delicately put ‘developments’ are the indictment by the US Department of Justice of 14 Fifa officials and associates on charges of “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption.
We hear that the “new reforms will protect against wrongdoing and improve the way Fifa works, creating a modern, trusted and professional organisation.”
And the confidently voiced narration continues: “Fifa has listened and Fifa is changing.”
But let’s not take their word for it.
Let’s take a look at the reforms and what they may mean. They can be divided into four categories or themes – governance, transparency, accountability and diversity.
There will be a separation between political and management functions. The executive committee will be replaced with a new Fifa Council (36 seats up from 24), in which “the president’s role will be less powerful and more ambassadorial.” The Council’s role will be “supervisory and strategic, setting the vision for Fifa and global football” and the General Secretariat will carry out “day-to-day business and bring the council’s strategy to life.”
Increasing the number of representatives from confederations seems to make good democratic sense. The cynic in me says there are more heads to turn and more pockets to fill, but I think it will make for more representation and less concentration of power. However, the proposed separation of political and managerial functions sounds like spin to me. I don’t expect a football governing body to have a bicameral decision-making process, but the checks and balances need to be seen to be believed. Both bodies will be overseen by the audit and compliance committee, who are fully independent in the sense committee members are elected by Fifa Congress.
There will also be a limit of three terms of four years, applying to the president, council members and members of the audit and compliance committee. This is a necessary step, which would have prevented Blatter’s successful re-election five times in a row.
But does it go far enough? Is there a strategic advantage in enabling a president or top official, however ethical and morally just, to serve for 12 years straight? I say not. Make it two terms and keep things fresh and officials on their toes.
Another biggie. Under the new reforms the election of all council members by confederations will be supervised by Fifa and all candidates will be subject to “comprehensive eligibility and integrity checks.” One of the main criticisms directed at the governing body previously was that there was no system of oversight once decision-making power and resources were distributed amongst confederations and member associations.
Fifa has given assurances of its commitment to “extending these good governance practices beyond the new Fifa Council and the General Secretariat to confederations and its 209 member associations. They must mirror Fifa’s new governance structures and values. These will ensure that the game is run to higher ethical standards everywhere.”
On a global scale this is a monster of a task. If the Council and Secretariat remain squeaky clean for a period of years we may see a culture shift, but given the majority of the corruption ran right to the top it’s hard to be optimistic.
One reform which has received universal praise is the commitment to annual disclosure of senior figures’ salaries. It has been a red mark on Fifa for years and fans will now finally be able to see how much these administrators are paid to run the beautiful game.
There is a new statutory obligation, both for Fifa and its member associations, to provide greater support and opportunities for women in the game’s governance. Each confederation must elect a minimum of one female representative to the new Fifa Council. Fifa backs up this commitment in the promotional video with a diversity graphic showing a group of five women and two men.
The first woman to be elected to the Fifa Executive Committee was not until 2013 and of the soon-to-expand 24 person committee only three are women.
Safe to say Fifa’s graphic designers were getting ahead of themselves just a little.
Human rights are now officially enshrined in Fifa statutes. However, some may argue it’s too little, too late after the awarding of upcoming World Cups to Qatar and Russia.
What this means moving forward is unclear, particularly in relation to the organisation of international tournaments, but Fifa claims it will include “provisions in its statutes to respect and promote human rights in all of its activities, from the organization of the Fifa World Cup to football development projects and commercial partnerships.”
There is also the addition of a new Football Stakeholder Committee, to provide greater accountability at national levels and provide “a greater voice for the football community,” which I am guessing will be similar to the allocation of FA Cup final tickets to members of the ‘Football Family’, who have no attachment to the teams involved on the day. Among other groups, members will be selected from players, coaches, clubs, leagues and referees, but it will be difficult to have true ‘community’ representation on one committee.
Infantino declared after his election win: “We will restore the image of Fifa.”
In fairness the image and reputation of Fifa couldn’t have sunk much lower and there are years of repair work ahead of the organisation. However, while its new president may be full of optimism, the jury is still out.
The reform video presentation ends in an ominous tone. “These reforms are designed to build a stronger Fifa… [pause]… in time.”
It’s less Obama “Yes we can!” more Arsene Wenger “Let’s not buy a defensive midfielder in the transfer window and see how the season turns out.”
Suffice to say, I’m not holding my breath for a happy outcome.
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