Nierbach’s elegant but sharp intervention at the world federation’s congress in Mauritius last Friday contrasted starkly with the outpourings of his DFB precedecessor Theo Zwanziger.
When Zwanziger expounds on integrity checks he creates so much complexity that the listener can barely even spell the words correctly any more.
Not so Niersbach, a newly-elected member of the UEFA executive committee and one surely bound for the FIFA top table (though, again, it may have to be at the expense of Zwanziger).
FIFA emerged from its 63rd congress in Port Louis, Mauritius, having achieved more progress on reform than some faraway critics credited but not enough in the crucially salient sector of perception.
The fact that it staged congress in the deep south of the Indian Ocean did not help. A logistically unhappy venue (on several fronts) restricted FIFA’s own ability to explain progress since many media outlets were constrained by cost to watch, imperfectly, from a thousand or more miles away.
FIFA has come a long way in two years in terms of governance and financial self-security. This much was clear from the opportunity granted, away from congress, to review controls being imposed by audit and compliance chairman Domenico Scala.
Indeed, the checks and balances being installed by the Swiss industrialist means FIFA may soon be employing more accountants than KPMG, Ernst & Young and PwC put together.
No more opportunity for a president to hand an exco member World Cup TV rights for one dollar as Sepp Blatter favoured Jack Warner on one infamous occasion.
Similarly, a rigorous grip is now being imposed on development cash. Scala halted seven such projects in their tracks at a finance committee meeting last Monday because the paperwork was awry.
No more construction of training centres on land owned or controlled or linked with an exco member (pace Warner, pace Morawi Makudi etc).
In the real world Scala, built like a rugby prop forward rather than a football playmaker, is financial commander of a pharmaceutical company. One of its profitable lines is pesticides providing Scala with an ideal background to zap some of the remaining pests within FIFA.
Scala thinks that not enough credit has been granted by the media and public at large for what has been achieved since FIFA was dragged, kicking and screaming, to confront the need for reform two years ago.
He points to the new ethics ‘police’ system, the return of World Cup hosting decisions to congress from the exco and the imposition over it all of his own audit and compliance panel.
For that credit failure FIFA has only itself to blame after decades tolerating the intolerable.
The 2013 congress saw FIFA make up for lazily lost time over racism and discrimination, echo calls throughout sport for more governmental help in the fight against matchfixing and the welcoming of three woman on to the exco (Lydia Nsekera voted in for four years with Moya Dodd and Sonia Bien-Aime co-opted though some artifice will be needed to extend their appointments beyond a year).
Blatter has pronounced the reform process completed apart from “a few small details.” However Mark Pieth, the governance consultant brought in during 2011, believes Mauritius marked only the end of the beginning, if even that.
The outstanding issues are not heavy-detail stuff. However, they are all about perception. This is a point which continues to elude much of the FIFA family though, notably, not Niersbach.
Such perceptions issues are three in number:
1) Remuneration: Blatter and the exco continue to ignore Pieth’s insistence that they should publish what they receive in terms of pay (in Blatter’s case) as well as expenses and allowances (this would also apply to departmental directors including secretary-general Jerome Valcke).
If it’s good enough for major public companies (and banks), says Pieth, then it’s also transparently essential for FIFA to prove – in his own words – that “they have nothing to hide.”
At some stage, hopefully sooner rather than later, Blatter and Co will have to grasp this nettle. It will doubtless raise a seven-day storm and then FIFA can move on, much more healthily.
2) Integrity checks: the confederations, including UEFA naughtily, want these undertaken at their end rather than FIFA’s. Zwanziger seems to think that Scala’s audit and compliance committee, as well as the ethics investigator Michael Garcia, provide sufficient back-up.
FIFA is a multi-million organisation. Of course it should be in control of commissioning the necessary external specialists to undertake its own integrity checks.
This is almost too blindingly obvious and shame on UEFA, in particular, for not supporting it.
3) Age and term limits. Doubts have been raised that an age limit would be discriminatory but no such hindrance arises over term limits.
Both issues have been deferred until next year because of a lack of consensus among the national associations. Undoubtedly they would have fallen short of the three-quarters majority needed for a statutes change and then the subject would have been off the agenda for another four years.
This delay irritated UEFA because Michel Platini sees the deferment as keeping the path clear for 77-year-old Blatter to stand for a fifth presidential term in 2015.
However UEFA did not help itself. Its own proposal on reform was for no age limit and a term limit to apply only to the FIFA president and not to members of the exco. In the end UEFA had only its own illogicality to blame for its own grumpy abstention in the vote.
This was, however, the issue which brought Niersbach to his feet.
He said he deplored the failure to reach an agreement on age and term limits though he packaged his words so diplomatically that some delegates probably missed the barb.
However, the main thrust of Niersbach’s complaint was not so much about age and term limits as about FIFA’s failure to understand that it needed to prove to the outside world that it was changing.
He told Congress: “For the public at large this would have been a good signal [especially] because this congress had been announced as the final decision of this first package of the reform process.
“A much stronger signal would have been sent out for the image of FIFA,” said Niersbach and added: “FIFA is all of us. We all are FIFA, not only the executive committee in Zurich alone.”
Until FIFA bites the bullet on pay and expenses, integrity checks and age/term limits it will not even start to regain public confidence.
Seeing is believing and not enough, right now, has yet been seen by the fan in the street.