By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 30, 2012) US Soccer Players — FIFA’s leadership wants change and they want it now, or at least they want a cleaner separation between what was and what is. They tried that originally by stressing the bad actor, putting it on the individuals even when the number was enough to suggest overarching trends. That didn’t work, so we moved to the outside investigator stage. On Friday, the Independent Governance Committee (IGC) established by FIFA in the wake of the 2011 election scandal released its first report.
Reading the report, it will be interesting to see if FIFA decides what they really need are term limits to go along with an investigatory ethics committee that can take a proactive position. Add to that transparency in how money is distributed, World Cup hosts selected, and changing how FIFA conducts its sponsorship business. In other words, changing completely how FIFA self-selects and defines their role within global sports business.
Big steps for any organization, and the concern as always should be gauged by the excitement from the existing administration. FIFA shouldn’t be excited here. The IGC report openly criticizes how they’ve been doing business in total, regardless of how much revenue that business has generated. Remember, that’s been the validation for the last two decades. Even when FIFA missteps like they did with the ISL scandal, they managed to recoup enough revenue to stabilize their business and ultimately end up in an improved financial position. In other words, FIFA found a way to generate significant revenue after their business was threatened. It’s worth remembering that the problems within FIFA that got us to this point are almost exclusively about excess money.
So where does this leave FIFA? Potentially giving up significant power and control to the Independent Governance Committee. That’s to be expected considering the circumstances. Someone has to ensure that necessary changes are not only implemented on paper but enforced in practice. FIFA itself would probably admit at this point that they have no choice but to cede that role to a third-party. Too much has happened, and part of the point of the IGC report is limiting the ability of anyone involved in FIFA’s bureaucracy to return to the old ways of conducting FIFA business. Change is across the board in the IGC proposal, and for good reason. This can’t be a partial project if it has any chance of working.
And more to the point, where does this leave the rest of us? Should FIFA actually adopt the recommended term limits, that alone would shakeup world soccer. Transitions of power can still create multi-decade hegemonies even under term limits, but it would be significantly harder than simply reelecting the same person term after term. Apply these limits at Confederation and Federation level, and the career FIFA bureaucrat becomes an anachronism.
These are the major reaches, the kind of thing that becomes very difficult to see passing as proposed. What FIFA has already focused on is the revamped ethics committee. That’s the inside baseball part of the proposal that props up the old bad actor scenario. The individual FIFA functionary will act in the best interest of the organization rather than in his or her own interest because the ethics committee works. Under the current proposal, that committee would be split between investigatory and prosecutorial roles – what the report calls "the establishment of independent and professionally competent judicial bodies lead by internationally renowned experts in the field."
So we move from a system of self-censure to one of outside-censure. Put into practice, that should be enough to dissuade the kind of open graft that has hampered FIFA’s ability to simply move on from last summer’s problems. The bad actors still loom, but there’s an effective way of punishing them in isolation.
Is it any wonder this was the part of the report quickly stressed by FIFA leadership?
Earlier today, FIFA president Sepp Blatter distributed a series of tweets: "Historic day for FIFA’s reform process; two-chamber Ethics Committee approved…. One chamber investigates and the other chamber acts as a judge…. I proposed this in June 2011. It is also the main point made by Pieth’s Independent Committee."
Again, this moves the discussion from the whole of FIFA as the problem, to individuals acting in their own self interest. It doesn’t matter when, as we saw last summer, those individuals as a group take out the leadership of a Confederation. The focus is still on the individual.
It’s clear from the IGC report that they see the inherent problem with that and it’s not supposed to be a stopping point. The changes to the ethics committee come first because they failed to do what was necessary last summer. The IGC makes that clear, examining the ethics committee failures at length at the beginning of the report and concluding with: "Overall, the IGC came to the conclusion that the existing structure and processes of the Ethics Committee are not sufficient to properly manage allegations of misconduct."
So did just about everybody else following the story last Summer. The press conference following the decision to suspend the other presidential candidate still looms large. That was the famous lecture on journalistic civility while avoiding any substantive answers to obvious problems. The message was clear, FIFA was moving on. That didn’t work, so now we have a report with a major headline "Ethics Committee Reform" while the real changes exist in theory after page 7.
Hopefully, FIFA gets that far and responds with more than basic self-interest. The big step is not reforming how ethics investigations are conducted. It’s in reinterpreting what FIFA is and what it should be.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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