Monday, April 2, 2012

Follow-up on the Pieth Report

Writing at Bloomberg Businessweek, Tariq Panja has a very interesting interview with Mark Pieth, in which Pieth opens up a bit and takes a harder line on FIFA reform effort.  Here is an excerpt:
Mark Pieth, a Swiss law professor who headed a 13-member committee that Blatter asked to improve corporate governance after graft allegations, said in a telephone interview some officials were uncomfortable with changes that affect them directly.

FIFA efforts to reorganize itself came after public and sponsor reaction to corruption allegations over bidding for the staging rights to its $4 billion World Cup and then Blatter’s re-election to a fourth four-year term in which he was the only candidate. His only rival Mohamed Bin Hammam quit a day before the organization last year investigated him for bribing voters in the Caribbean.

“It’s possible that some of the issues will not be accepted,” Pieth, who works at the Basel Institute on Governance and investigated corruption in Iraq’s oil-for-food program in 2004, said. “I am anticipating that and I have to reserve my judgment over whether it’s fundamental stuff or minor stuff.”

Blatter doesn’t reveal his salary. The 76-year-old has been either the general secretary or president of the soccer body for more than 30 years. Pieth’s group said pay should be decided by a remuneration committee and made public.
Pieth admits to the difficulty of change:
“Of course we all have our hopes and ideals but this organization will have to be convinced to change,” Pieth said. “There’s nobody above them to tell them what to do. You have to be realistic. Anything else is pretty naïve.”

Blatter has been president since 1998, an election that ended with his beaten opponent Lennart Johansson claiming foul play. Since then other scandals have emerged including the revelation that some senior officials took payments from its bankrupt former marketing partner ISL. The allegations have tainted the soccer body’s image and overshadowed the work it does in promoting the game around the world.

“Impunity is one of the real problems whatever outfit be it state or intergovernmental organization,” Pieth said. “If there are allegations and the allegations are credible and nothing happens that hurts and that makes people really annoyed and I understand that.”
My own assessment of the prospects for reform (from an academic paper currently out for review) come to substantially similar conclusions:
Securing change is all the more difficult when a large organization sits largely free from formal mechanisms of accountability. FIFA is one such organization. In some respects it can hardly be called “large” as it directly employs only a few hundred employees. Yet at the same time its membership includes people from almost every corner of the world and has an impact on the lives of billions of people.

The review presented in this paper indicates that with only a few exceptions FIFA sits free from the formal mechanisms of accountability that are employed to hold international organizations to accountability to their own stated goals. The exceptions are FIFA’s formal accountability to Swiss law under its articles of incorporation and FIFA’s accountability to its sponsors, who benefit significantly from their relationship. However, to date both circumstances suggest little ability or interest to shape the governance of FIFA in a direction of reform.
Writing at Play the Game, Jens Sejer Andersen expresses a similar view:
So whether or not you are disappointed with FIFA’s response last Friday 30 March to the much awaited report from the Independent Governance Committee (IGC) headed by Swiss professor Mark Pieth, depends on the degree of optimistic illusions you have kept with regard to FIFA’s ability to reform itself.

Yours truly must admit having lost most of his seductive illusions after following FIFA politics for 15 years. So I cannot really declare disappointed just because FIFA did not make decisions which would come as a breath-taking shock if they suddenly materialised.

No, FIFA President Blatter did not go to the press conference Friday afternoon with a message that the 24-strong Executive Committee had decided to start serious investigations into the allegations of massive corruption that hangs over a very big minority among them.

No, he did not advertise in-depth research into suspicions about fraud and dirty tricks in the selection of World Cup hosts Russia and Qatar in 2010 and into his own election almost one year ago.

No, he did not change his claim that the Swiss courts still prevent him from publishing the ISL dossier with its revelations of how 140 million Swiss Francs were given to mostly FIFA leaders as personal bribes. On the contrary, he added one misleading statement to this misleading claim, when saying that publishing the ISL dossier would be a “criminal offense”.

And no, Blatter did not state that everybody at FIFA would follow all recommendations made by the IGC as rapidly as possible, defying the sensitive ego’s at the helmet of FIFA.

But what he did, as he has done over and over again, was to declare the day historic because the Exco had taken unanimous decisions to bring the reform process forward.

“Forward” in FIFA terms means taking the minimal steps required to create the illusion of not standing still.
 So has the reform process just ended or is it only beginning? Time will tell.


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