World football’s governance guru is fretting that 2013 will not be a happy new year. Mark Pieth, the Basel professor brought in to guide world federation FIFA gently but firmly along the road to reform, is unsure to what extent his work will bear fruit.
FIFA, and president Sepp Blatter, had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to an admission of the need for an internal revolution in the wake of a triple-whammy: the ISL bribes case, the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid bungle and then the 2011 presidential election morass.
The worldwide headlines have grabbed the attention and interest of Swiss politicians – hitherto happy to indulge all the scandal-hit international sports federations in their midst – and the 47-nation Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The latter was the stage on which Pieth, yesterday, paraded his increasing concerns that FIFA’s reform process is in danger of being watered down.
Pieth was unable attend a ‘PACE’ hearing into anti-corruption measures in sport in general and within FIFA in particular. However, he did present a written submission in which he complained that some of his “key suggestions” had met internal FIFA resistance, “including from among the European associations.”
Those “key suggestions” had included ‘fit and proper person’ checks not only on prospective new appointees to senior positions but on current incumbents as well as a system to prevent conflicts of interests over FIFA’s multi-million TV and sponsorship contracts.
PACE, earlier this year, approved FIFA’s obedience to Pieth in both a new audit committee as well as a new, two-chambers, ethics commission directed to “upgrade the compliance programmes, conflict of interest policies and other fundamental requirements of large economic players.”
However, Pieth’s work is effectively at an end. Overseeing what may happen to the final pieces of the reform jigsaw has been handed over by FIFA to a small working group comprising the employed general secretaries of the six regional confederations.
The suspicion is that they will follow the wishes of their confederation presidents – who are all senior members of FIFA’s governing and all-powerful executive committee.
Their specific resistance to reform has been evidenced, for Pieth, by their rejection of his belief that both he and independent audit chairman Domenico Scala should be appointed as independent members of the exco.
“A deviation from this compromise is unacceptable,” said Pieth whose submission appealed for the Council of Europe “to add its voice to those demanding urgent change.”
The need for major changes in both structure and personnel at the very head of FIFA was echoed by Sylvia Schenk, from Transparency International which had shrunk back from an early invitation to become centrally involved in the FIFA reform process.
Unlike Pieth, Schenk was present in person in Paris and said: “One quarter of the whole executive committee – six of 24 – have been accused or suspended in corruption cases, or retired shortly before they would have been accused of corruption cases.
“They happened with the same people in power. If the past is not dealt with then FIFA will never come to peace. People don’t believe in these structures and if they don’t believe they won’t follow the rules and that will be a big problem.
“You have to start with new people at the top to show that there will really be change. In FIFA that hasn’t happened . . . FIFA’s a monopoly [like] a closed shop.”
A defence of the reform process was undertaken by Theo Zwanziger, the former German federation president who heads the all-important reform working group.
One proposal under consideration – and viewed with scepticism by many within the exco – concerns term and age limits. One task force has suggested a maximum of two four-year terms for FIFA president, and three four-year mandates for exco members.
Zwanziger said: “There’s no denying that the longer somebody remains in office, the . . . greater the temptations. That’s why we’re moving to terms of office that should be limited for officials.
Jerome Champagne, former deputy general secretary of FIFA, was among others to address the hearing on the need for change within FIFA.
Absent, however, was Mohamed Bin Hammam. The former president of the Asian confederation had been slated to attend but withdrew. Earlier this week he was banned for life from football over an AFC cash scandal.
Blatter, 75, who has been president for 14 years, has set FIFA Congress in May as marking the end of the reform process . . . whether Pieth likes it or not.
By Keir Radnedge