Scandal-hit Fifa given anti-corruption roadmap

Fifa is considering reforms AFP

World football’s tainted governing body, Fifa, must institute radical changes to help avoid future scandals, according to a renowned anti-corruption expert.

This content was published on December 1, 2011 minutes

A critical report has recommended the appointment of external executives, an overhaul of financial governance and anti-corruption systems, plus changes to presidential elections. But some observers say the report does not go far enough.

The main criticism is that the report only looks into the future, ignoring serious allegations of past misdemeanors.

Fifa has been mired in allegations of corruption surrounding the appointment of World Cup host countries and the election of Joseph “Sepp” Blatter for a fourth presidential term.

One high ranking Fifa executive was expelled earlier this year and others have been suspended amid lurid media tales of bribery. Despite these punitive actions, many people suspect Fifa is still riven with corruption.

Blatter has vowed to clean up the organisation and appointed an independent governance committee to look at the way it is being run. Recently appointed chairman, Mark Pieth - an experienced Swiss anti-corruption expert – released his initial findings on Wednesday.

The 40-page report uncovered a series of weaknesses in the way Fifa is governed that leave the organisation open to corruption.

Follow the money

Many of the corruption allegations concern the distribution of Fifa money to the 208 national football associations that make up its membership base.

“The members are the owners and supervisors of Fifa and at the same time they are the beneficiaries,” Pieth told “Since there is so much money going out to the members, there is a risk that some of this money will directly benefit individuals who are taking decisions.”

One way to reduce the risk of such corruption would be to appoint external directors – perhaps from the business community - from outside the organisation to cast an independent eye over decisions and to “break up this insiders’ club”.

Another way of combatting the actions of dishonest individuals would be to make Fifa’s ethics committee more independent and allow it to weed out unsavoury characters from positions of influence.

Pieth also paid attention to the presidential election process - which was sullied this year with cases of bribery – and to the largely undefined power that the president wields.

Checks and balances

“There has to be a system of checks and balances,” Pieth told “How do you elect a president, when should he indicate when he is running again, when does he have to step down from his post when he is campaigning, who is going to pay for his campaign?”

“Some of these points are addressed now, but not sufficiently, but others are not addressed.”

While the governance committee report came up with some concrete proposals, much of its content merely raised questions about various issues (such as weak anti-corruption compliance) without giving detailed recommendations of how to fix the shortfalls.

Pieth defended the vagueness of some parts of the report by saying it was just the beginning of a long reform process.

The remaining members of the governance committee will be announced later this month. Their combined work will be submitted to Fifa’s Congress next year and changes will be implemented within 12 months of that meeting.

Foul play

But many observers are concerned that the governance committee is deliberately ignoring past misdemeanors and serious allegations of foul play.

Transparency International, which issued its own critical report on Fifa in the summer, refused to take part in the governance committee because of this shortfall.

Fifa’s “credibility gap” would always remain as long as allegations remain in the open and the accused play a prominent role in the organisation, Transparency’s Sylvia Schenk told

“To regain credibility, there has to be an independent committee looking both into the past and future,” she said. “Otherwise these allegations will just keep resurfacing again and again.”

Schenk also called on a separate independent body – possibly from the private sector – to implement any reforms that come out of the governance committee’s work.

Blatter himself said he welcomed the report at its release in Zurich on Wednesday, but made no comments about its contents.

Earlier this year, he promised that Fifa would make public restricted court documents that allegedly show Fifa officials had taken bribes in the past.

The Swiss sports ministry and parliament are also looking into the past activities of the Zurich-based organisation.

Mark Pieth

Mark Pieth is a professor of criminal law and criminology at Basel University and a member of the Basel Institute on Governance – a body that advises the NGO and corporate world on anti-corruption compliance.

Pieth was head of the Swiss government’s Economic and Organised Crime section from 1989 to 1993. In this role, he drafted legislation against money laundering and organised crime.

In 2004, Pieth investigated abuses of the United Nation’s Iraq oil for food programme.

He has also worked on the OECD working group on bribery in international business transactions and for the World Bank.

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The Fifa saga

Football’s world governing body has been dogged by allegations of corruption for many years.

Fifa set up an ethics committee in 2006 to look into media allegations of corruption surrounding the sport.

In 2008 a judicial case in Zug implicated unnamed Fifa officials in a multi-million dollar kickback scandal involving bankrupt sport marketing firm ISMM-ISL. The identities of the officials have never been released, but Fifa has now promised to name names.

Last year, the heads of the Nigerian and Oceanic football confederations were suspended along with other Fifa officials following claims of bribery during the vote to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.

Sepp Blatter was re-elected for a fourth term as Fifa president in June 2011. His rival Mohamed bin Hammam was later banned for life after being found guilty of bribery. Jack Warner, a Fifa vice-president who also faced allegations of corruption, resigned. 

Blatter appointed opera singer Placido Domingo and former United States diplomat Henry Kissinger to a “solutions panel” to look into the scandals surrounding Fifa.

In October, Fifa announced the formation of four task forces to look at the revision of statutes, ethics, transparency and compliance and the running of the next World Cup in 2014.

On November 24, Mark Pieth was appointed as chairman of Fifa’s Independant Governance Committee that will recommend reforms of the organisation based on reports from the four task forces.

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