Monday, October 1, 2012

An Interview with FIFA IGC Member Michael J. Hershman

Earlier this evening I caught up by phone with Michael J. Hershman as he awaited a flight to Malaysia from JFK. Hershman is President and CEO of the Fairfax Group and a member of FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee.

Here is how his homepage describes his expertise:
Michael Hershman is an internationally recognized expert on matters relating to transparency, accountability, governance, litigation and security. The Fairfax Group, founded in 1983, has been retained by governments, corporations, law firms and international financial institutions to assist on matters relating to the conduct of senior-level officials and/or the entities with which they do business. 
I asked Hershman a set of questions that I had earlier shared with him by email. He was generous with his time and took the questions straight on, offering lengthy answers. Below are my notes of the conversation, which should be interpreted as my paraphrasing of his responses. I have offered to Hershman to correct anything that I may have gotten wrong in my relating of our conversation.
1. What has been your role in the FIFA IGC? 
Hershman explained that he was one of 6 compliance experts on the committee, which now totals 12 members, down one after Lydia Nsekera assumed a role on the FIFA Executive Committee. He explained that the job of the IGC is to propose rules, regulations and policies for FIFA governance and especially the aiding in the writing of new rules.

He said that one of the roles of the IGC is to assess FIFA’s implementation of IGC proposals. I pressed him on this issue as the IGC has no real authority or sanctioning power, and he explained that the role is primarily advisory. The IGC has met with the heads of FIFA’s new ethics and judicial mechanisms to ensure independence and resources. I take it that such assurances are entirely in the reporting of performance back to FIFA leadership.
2. Mark Pieth has said that his role as IGC chair will end May, 2013. What will be the fate of the IGC and its other members after that? What would you like it to be? 
Hershman explained that no one knows the fate of the IGC after May, 2013. In fact, he is unclear when the committee's term of service actually ends. When he was first invited to participate he was told that he was being invited to serve through 2013, which he took to be the end of the year. He is not sure where the May date originates. He also does not know what will happen when Pieth steps down. There has been no discussion of a new chair following Pieth. It is his preference, which he believes is widely shared, that the committee continue its work until the job is completed. Pieth was quite explicit in Denmark that his term would be up in May, 2013.
3. How would you assess the state of FIFA’s reform process? 
Hershman told me that slowly but surely, progress is being made. Working from a blank sheet of paper, he said, takes time. Putting policies in place is half the battle, in addition, the will to change has to be in place. For FIFA to change will require a change in culture.

I mentioned Mark Pieth’s comments at the EASM last week and his apparent negative assessment for the prospects for change. Hershman cautioned that one of the jobs of the IGC is to keep the pressure on FIFA, which I understood him as saying that that Pieth’s remarks may have been as much strategic as substantive (Note: See here for a related discussion). On the other hand, Hershman explained that many of FIFA’s leaders come from cultures and societies where such change is not readily accepted.

He explained that as a consequence of the difficulties in securing change, the IGC has to accept compromises. He cited the recommendation of the IGC for independent members to be appointed to the FIFA Executive Committee. Instead, the new independent chairs of the Ethics and Judicial committees will sit as non-voting members on the Executive Committee when relevant matters are discussed. But the IGC wanted more than this.

He volunteered that he was skeptical at the beginning about the IGC mix of compliance experts and subject matter experts (which I would characterize as outsiders and insiders). But this skepticism has proven unfounded as the committee has worked well together and all recommendations have been unanimous. Hershman explained that when appointed he didn’t know FIFA from a hole in the wall and understood the game from kids soccer. So the presence of insiders has helped to educate him about FIFA and allowed for more intelligent recommendations.
3. Lord Triesman, former FA president, said earlier this week in Aalborg, Denmark that "FIFA as it stands is incapable of cultural change, its current leadership will have to go." Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? 
Hershman explained to me that he has done a lot of work in this area and has worked for many organizations with real problems. He has yet to find an organization that cannot change its culture, which I took to mean that he does not believe that leadership change in FIFA is necessary.

He said that FIFA is under intense pressure and recognizes that they have no choice but to change. As long as the IGC believes that Sepp Blatter is truthful in his commitment to reform -- and they do -- then the IGC is confident in the prospects for change. Blatter wants to leave a legacy of good governance and really has no choice in reform.

He knows that a lot of people believe that change would happen faster with different FIFA leadership, but the IGC has to work with the FIFA leadership as it exists, which means working with the current leadership. That said, Hershman said that the IGC has met face-to-face with Blatter on many occasions and he has given them no indication other than that he is dead serious about his commitment to reform.
4. Under its new investigative mechanism, FIFA has opened an investigation of Mohammed bin Hammam as part of an ongoing dispute. Are there other issues that should be formally opened to investigate? How does an investigation become formally initiated within FIFA anyway? 
Hershman explained that Garcia has formally opened an investigation of Mohammed bin Hammam and has re-hired the firm of Louis Freeh to conduct the investigation. That said, Hershman does not believe that Garcia does not have all the resources that he will need to do his work. There will soon be a whistleblower hotline which will bring more allegations directly to Garcia’s attention.
Garcia’s committee decides on priorities by majority vote. But because Garcia has plenty of experience in such matters as compared to other members of the committee, the committee seems willing to follow his lead. In response to my pressing him a bit on this point (as Garcia is the only independent member of that committee), Hershman emphasized that Garcia’s committee is not a FIFA committee, but an ethics committee which sets its own priorities.

In conclusion I asked Hirshman about how often he personally speaks to the media and the fairness of coverage. He singled out Graham Dunbar of the AP as a fair and accurate reporter. I asked if he had any interaction with strong FIFA critics such as Jens Weinreich or Andrew Jennings. He said not much, but that Jennings had helpfully shared some useful information early on in the process.

Hirshman concluded by making a case for the critical importance of academics to get more involved in sports management as they have been late to this area. The sports community has very little training in ethics or governance.

I thank Michael for his time and candor!


Post a Comment