Monday, November 3, 2014

Cut FIFA a Break?

FIFA officials often claim that they get an undeserved bad rap from outside observers. Without a doubt, I've personally met some fine people who work at FIFA, However, the organization's public behavior does not led itself to very charitable interpretations of its actions.

Here is a case in point.

Last week FIFA, in the midst over debate over the artificial turf fields planned for the 2015 Women's World Cup, posted a discussion with a so-called "independent" turf expert:
After the FIFA Executive Committee ratified the decision to use football turf pitches at Canada 2015, independent consultant Professor Eric Harrison travelled to Canada from 29 September to 8 October to assess all of the stadium and training pitches ahead of the event.
The independent expert was effusive in his support of artificial turf, as one might expect to find at, because FIFA wants the tournament played on that surface.

I study experts in decision making, and it would be hardly interesting or newsworthy had FIFA cherry picked an independent expert to profile who just so happened to share their views on turf. Such "expert shopping" happens all the time, and is to be expected.

However, what FIFA has done instead is to characterize an expert as independent who just so happens to be on the FIFA payroll. That is a big no-no in any setting. FIFA explained that its turf expert is a paid FIFA consultant in an interview with @figurethingsout (emphasis added):
FigureThingsOut – There has also been concern regarding FIFA’s latest review of the Turf in Canada. FIFA used Professor Harrison in the study and people are questioning how, as FIFA put it, “independent” Professor Harrison is when he’s worked with FIFA since 2000. Can you address their concern?

FIFA Spokesperson Professor Eric Harrison is not a FIFA employee and as such is considered as “independent”.

FigureThingsOut – Does FIFA pay Professor Harrison for all his studies dating back to 2000.

FIFA SpokespersonDr. Harrison is paid a consultancy fee for his technical advice. The research itself is carried out by universities or testing institutes.
Maybe FIFA just doesn't understand what "independent" actually means. The organization is often said to have "cultural" issues, and maybe it just doesn't understand. Perhaps we should cut the organization some slack as it gets up to speed on matters of late-20th century corporate governance standards?

Well, no. In the FIFA Statutes (here in PDF) we can find its definition of "independent," in the context of its Ethics appointments, which in part reads:
. . . shall not be considered independent if, at any time during the four years preceding his term, he or any family member (spouse, children, stepchildren, parents, siblings, domestic partner, parents of spouse/domestic partner and siblings and children of domestic partner):

• held any paid position or material contract (directly or indirectly) with FIFA and/or any Member, Confederation, League or Club (including any of their affiliated companies/organisations);
So under FIFA's own definition, its turf expert is clearly not "independent." And FIFA knows this, despite representing him otherwise.

So for the good folks in FIFA wishing that external critics will cut you some slack, this little example is a recipe for how not to build trust or goodwill among your outside observers. We do pay attention.


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