‘A culture of change is seeping into FIFA’
Important modernising reforms have been introduced at FIFA, but the world football body still has much to do and must now apply the changes it has made to its rules, says the Swiss professor brought in to lead FIFA’s reform panel.
According to Mark Pieth, chairman of Zurich-based FIFA’s 13-member Independent Governance Committee, the reforms passed at the 63rd FIFA Congress on Friday in Mauritius were just the beginning of the organisation's attempts to clean up its act after one of the most troubled periods in its history.
“A culture of change is seeping into FIFA. It’s a long process. FIFA is a self-governed institution and up until recently it didn’t feel the need to do anything,” Pieth told swissinfo.ch.
“This decision does not mark the end of the process for FIFA. They have some new rules now but it’s essential to implement and apply them.”
Earlier, delegates from 208 of the world governing body’s 209 members backed the introduction of new integrity checks on senior officials and welcomed three female members onto its exclusive committee as part of several new reforms.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter was upbeat about the wide-ranging reform process started two years ago.
"I am happy to say that FIFA has weathered the storm. We have emerged from troubled waters," he told delegates, adding that the ship had reached "transparent" waters in Mauritius after a rocky, scandal-hit few years.
Blatter initiated the reform process after the crises that engulfed the organisation in the wake of the joint bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and the scandal that surrounded the presidential election in 2011.
More to deal with
However, a number of reforms remain on the touchline, with the issues of term limits and age restrictions for senior officials pushed back to next year's congress. Those reforms could affect any plans the 77-year-old Blatter may have of standing again for the leadership role in 2015 - even though he has said he won't.
The question of whether to reveal Blatter and other officials’ salaries also wasn't dealt with in Mauritius, although Pieth challenged Blatter and other senior executives to reveal their earnings as part of efforts to bring greater transparency to the world football body.
“A key remaining issue in transparency is the remuneration of key officials. These did not come overnight for other organisations either, but FIFA needs to catch up," he said, adding that although not fundamental reform issues, they sent “a symbolic message”.
Pieth said he was nonetheless pleased with the overall amount of reform work that had been achieved so far, especially the creation of an independent judiciary body and audit and compliance committee.
The new centralised integrity checks will be made for officials standing for the presidency and some committees. But members of the top executive committee that are elected by their continental confederations will be vetted at the confederation level with help from professional independent consultancy firms, and not centrally.
Another key reform pushed by Pieth’s team allowing independent observers into FIFA executive committee meetings was dropped as FIFA executives “fought back furiously”, said Pieth. But a solution allowing Domenico Scala, the head of Fifa’s Audit and Compliance Committee, to freely observe any committee meeting - including executive committee sessions - was an “adequate substitution”, he declared.
The Swiss lawyer, who wants to stay on for another year to oversee the implementation of changes, compared his two years of work at FIFA with complex governance changes he had tried to introduce at the United Nations following the oil-for-food scandal in the 2000s.
“But like the proverbial supertanker, it takes a long time to turn things around,” he noted.
Pieth said one positive development was the growing group of “above board” football officials interested in “raising integrity levels” emerging to replace members of the executive committee.
Over the past two years, around a third of FIFA’s powerful executive committee either left their posts or were suspended for ethics violations. FIFA’s honorary president Joao Havelange recently resigned after it was found he took bribes in the 1990s.
Despite this, “people who are part of the problem are still present” added Pieth, without revealing any names.
Despite their recent efforts, FIFA and Pieth’s reform team still face strong external criticism.
Guido Tognoni, ex-FIFA Secretary-General, told Swiss TV this week, “Mark Pieth has good intentions but to me he’s like Sepp Blatter’s poodle. He must bark loud but he’s not allowed to bite. He had a promising approach but, of course, he’s banging his head against a block of granite.”
Alexandra Wrage, the president of the anti-corruption organisation Trace International who resigned from Pieth’s team over frustration at FIFA’s resistance to change, expressed her continued disappointment via Twitter just before the conference opened.
Wrage also told reporters recently that FIFA “did not fully understand the extent of reputational damage that they were trying to repair”.
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