You’ve got to hand it to Sepp Blatter. FIFA takes a minimal step forward on the road to reform and he not only hails it – via Twitter, via FIFA.com, via press conference – as a giant step for football-kind but carries most of the media along with him.
Blatter is 76 but, at an age when most men have long since retired, his political and PR brilliance sparkles as brightly as ever.
What’s equally impressive is how he has managed to distance himself – ‘Sliding Doors’ style – from the president who turned a complacent blind eye to the activities of too many members of his executive committee down the past 14 years.
So, let’s hear it for New Blatter: the reformer, the man on a mission to ensure that his legacy – if, that is, he steps down in 2015 – is only positive (with none of the ISL-type skeletons which have haunted Joao Havelange’s retirement).
Review the media coverage of Friday’s Zurich press conference.
Blatter laid a perfect foundation, conditioning his audience, by flooding social media with predictions of the beefed-up Ethics controls.
You would have thought this was the only issue for which consultant Dr Mark Pieth, his Independent Governance Committee and assorted task forces, had been working since last October.
It wasn’t . . . but, barely noticed, it was one and only issue on which the reform process has made decisive progress.
Much of the media coverage focused on criticism in Pieth’s 20-page report of FIFA’s disciplinary laxity since the vote-rigging scandal ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes in December 2010.
“FIFA savaged over handling of corruption claims,” screamed one headline, missing the point entirely.
Pieth said nothing but echo the criticism headlined loudly and insistently by the international media ever since the days when Jack Warner & Co were playing fast and loose with World Cup tickets (never mind TV rights) in pre-ethics committee days.
He doesn’t need paying for that.
Pieth also sidestepped whether the past should be dug up. There is no specific reference to a re-examination of the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding (despite earlier suggestions to the contrary from IGC member Lord Peter Goldsmith).
Even on the ethics reforms Pieth has not had it all his own way. He proposed a nominations committee which would vet all prospective senior appointments.
Vetting duties, instead, will be undertaken by the reconstructed and expanded Audit and Compliance Committee (whose chairman is going to be one seriously powerful individual).
As for the decisive way forward, the International Football Association Board is merely to be asked, politely, to reform itself. Given that four of the eight votes are British and six are needed to approve any item of business, this is heading nowhere.
If the British are to lose their vice-presidency, as is likely, then they will not relinquish their share of IFAB power. Clearly, from this, Blatter does not expect it, either.
Last autumn Pieth said he would walk away from the reform process if FIFA did not follow his lead. It’s enough to keep him on board that Blatter and the exco have approved, by and large, his revamped two-chamber Code of Ethics.
But, let’s face it, everyone knew drastic action could not be put off any longer wherever a vastly improved formula came from.
However . . . Pieth has also recommended:
1, president and exco members serve no more than a maximum of two terms of four years each (The report contains no explanation for the reasoning which is important since three terms might be of more practical use in terms of knowledge transfer);
2, a closely audited system for administering development funds;
3, an accountably transparent tendering system for TV rights, marketing, licensing and hospitality, ticketing and sponsoring;
4, tighter controls over the financial dealings of all 208 national associations;
5, amendments to current statutes being “presented” to Congress in Budapest in May.
Note: No decisions have been taken on the first four issues and, while draft statutes will go forward to Congress, that is only for “discussion,” not decision.
FIFA’s official statement said that “other items presented by the IGC and task forces will be further discussed according to the roadmap.”
Not exactly a rush to judgment.
So, to repeat, what did the exco’s Great Reform Meeting come up with? One substantive item: a rebuilt Code of Ethics procedure.
All the other issues, few of them desperately contentious to outsiders? Zilch.
Ergo, the only credible reason for keeping them close must be disagreement behind closed doors. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing surprising. Nothing to be embarrassed about. So . . .
Why not bring all these issues forward for public debate?
Why not let the entire football family into the secret?
Why not bring transparency and democracy to bear (a Pieth principle)?
After all, judging by his latest twinkle-toed PR performance, Blatter is perfectly capable of ‘selling’ whatever outcome he ultimately wants (and running rings around the good doctor in the process).
By Keir Radnedge