Commentary

FIFA reform? An oxymoron

The biggest joke about FIFA is that anybody believed its members were truly serious about reforming the joint.

It took years for U.S. Soccer to implement wide-ranging reforms that included the reduction of the size of the board of directors and addition of independent directors. These were the steps taken by serious men and women interested in improving the organization even if it meant they voted themselves out of jobs and the perks that went with it.

Can you imagine FIFA bosses -- men who have developed massive empires from years of service in the sport -- voting to kill the goose that lays the golden egg?

FIFA's ethics and compliance chief Domenico Scala proposed an eight-point plan of reforms in response of a tidal wave of scandals that hit FIFA and its confederations, but a reform commission Sepp Blatter set up could reject up to 40 percent of the proposals, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the FIFA power broker who is a member of the commission, told Reuters.

The major proposal that likely wouldn't fly: term limits (no more than 12 years) for heads of continental confederations and national federations. Proposals approved by the commission will go to the FIFA executive committee for approval in December and then to full membership for ratification in February 2016.

Francois Carrard, the former Swiss CEO of the International Olympic Committee who heads the commission, says the mood for reform is much greater than it was four years ago when initial reforms were instituted but that is only in response to the current crisis touched off by the arrest of seven FIFA officials in May as part of Federal indictment against 14 individuals in a corruption case involving Concacaf, Conmebol and federations within Concacaf and Conmebol.

As Carrard noted in a talk Tuesday at the Securing Sport conference in New York, ''In 2011, you didn't have your breakfast ruined by the police.''

Reforms call for the a limit to three terms of four years for the FIFA president, but the only restriction on other executives is that they can't be older than 74. Much of the corruption stems from soccer executives who have been in power for more than 20 years and built up such power bases that no one dared question their behavior.

Until his recent suspension as part of the investigation in a $2 million payment from Blatter, UEFA president Michel Platini was unique among the six confederation presidents who were in power in the leadup to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes in December 2010 in that he was the only one not to have been indicted, banned or reprimanded in the wake of corruption scandals -- and it was so bad that two of the successors, in Concacaf and Conmebol, have been indicted.

Of the 24 men -- until recently only men served -- on the FIFA executive committee slated to vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts, 15 have been indicted, named as an unindicted co-conspirators, banned from soccer, reprimanded by FIFA or the IOC or find themselves under investigation by IOC.

The problem with the reform commission is that is entirely based on representing confederations -- two members per each of the six regional bodies. Besides, Sheikh Ahmad, they include Platini's No. 2 at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, the Swiss secretary general who is running for FIFA president. FIFA executive committee member Hani Abo Rida of Egypt was on Mohamed bin Hamman's plane to Trinidad & Tobago on the infamous lobbying trip that included cash handouts of $40,000 to any Caribbean official who wanted them. Spaniard Gorka Villa, who is director general of Conmebol, represents one of the seven arrested FIFA officials, Venezuelan Rafael Esquivel, and is the son of Angel Maria Villar Llona, head of the Spanish federation (for 27 years) and a target of FIFA investigators.

Carrard says the concern is about smaller countries where a leader might take charge at a young age and his services would be lost without a qualified successor in place.

''After 12 years," he said, "he has to go out and you maybe have nobody behind. It's stupid. In another situation, in a bigger country, it's easier. We are still trying to find and refine the solution.''

Another of Scala's suggestions for FIFA included a rotating presidency. Sheikh Ahmad put his foot down on that idea.

“I don’t believe in this," he said. "Just because we are in trouble, we don’t have to kill everything. We have to solve the problems without an overreaction."

Waiting to see what FIFA does is its sponsors. Its four American sponsors -- Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Visa and Budweiser owner AB InBev -- all urged Blatter to step down -- FIFA's ethics committee solved that problem by suspending him -- but Visa has gone so far as to say it would pull its sponsorship if reforms weren't satisfactory.

One wonders if FIFA's so-called reform commissioners even care.
3 comments about "FIFA reform? An oxymoron".
  1. Kenneth Gough, November 4, 2015 at 8:17 a.m.

    It's time for the Swiss authorities to place FIFA in receivership, appoint a well-respected businessman to straighten out the business side of things, and turn loose the prosecutors to clean house.

  2. Wayne Root, November 5, 2015 at 7:35 a.m.

    I would suggest taking the whole bunch out and standing them up against a brick wall, but most would say I was being a bit extreme. FIFA is a house definitely in need of super-cleaning.

  3. Margaret Manning, November 5, 2015 at 8:03 a.m.

    Definitely time for the Swiss to place FIFA in receivership, and appoint a disinterested trustee while the prosecutors clean house. The notion that the very people who created or tolerated this corruption would be allowed to design an approach to curing it is idiotic. FIFA should have young people of both sexes, preferably players, in the majority of positions that vote.

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