Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mark Pieth Turns Up the Heat

Writing in the Telegraph, Matt Scott provides some interesting details on the FIFA Independent Governance Committee and its chair Mark Pieth.

First, it is clear that the IGC was not so "independent" with Pieth indicating that the recommendations of the IGC were, in a sense, "pre-negotiated" with FIFA:
But Pieth has run into significant opposition within Fifa. “We were asking for independence in the executive committee,” he told Telegraph Sport.

“But they’re terribly afraid of that. It’s one of the major challenges. We’ve said you need to look at the board of a corporation, with independent directors.”

Fifa want merely to have independent observers on the executive committee. “This is very much an ongoing part of the process. It leads up to the next congress [in 2013] and they need an awful lot of convincing. They believe their organisation doesn’t need to change at all. The further you go from Europe, the belief is stronger.”

In his initial report, released in September, Pieth recommended installing a supervisory board of directors that included several independent non-executive appointees.

However, he has dropped that idea. Instead, Pieth’s new report said: “To support their supervisory function, the [independent] chairs of the audit and compliance committee and the nomination committee should participate in the meetings of the ex-co; they should therefore have a seat in the ex-co.”

Yet there is no guarantee that this diluted recommendation will be adopted, with Fifa not voting on the matter until 2013, a year after the date indicated in the initial Pieth report. He concedes this could present a further challenge. “They might lose the resolve [to reform] the longer it goes on,” he said.
A characteristic of independent advice is that advisors advise and decision makers decide. If the decision makers play an active role in shaping the advice that they are being given -- in effect "pre-negotiating" the decision that they will take through the advisory process -- then the advice can hardly be said to be independent. When advice is provided, if it is not taken, then that decision is a responsibility of the decision maker, not the advisor.

In the interview Pieth also suggested that he is willing to go beyond an advisory role to seeking to instigate change from outside of FIFA:
Pieth did signal that he has already sought to go over Fifa’s head to the Government of Switzerland, where Fifa is domiciled. Having previously described the perception of his nation as a “pirates’ harbour” for potentially venal sports governing bodies, Swiss-born Pieth said.

“There is one more chance. I have personally talked to the Government of Switzerland whereby it could set up a regulator.

“There are 60 sports governing bodies in Switzerland and you need to regulate them. They could say to the organisations, ‘If you want to stay here and not be taxed we must introduce a regulator.’

“I have been to see the director of the federal office of sport and his key staff on the regulations and they are coming up with a report at the end of this year.”
This revelation is particularly interesting as Pieth is apparently going well beyond his charge as chair of the FIFA IGC and becoming an actor in the process of seeking to reform FIFA. (Somehow I doubt that FIFA has quietly asked him to do this;-) Swiss law is indeed one of the mechanisms that can compel FIFA to reform, however, Swiss officials have in the past shown little interest to reform the governance of sporting associations.

More generally, an advisor who simultaneously takes on the role of an agent of change risks both his standing and formal position as an advisor (see my writings on UK drugs policy advice and US Bioethics Commission to cite two parallel examples). The odds of a FIFA-Pieth split seem to be going up.


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