Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mark Pieth at EASM and What is Next for FIFA Reform

Speaking today at the 20th conference of the European Association for Sport Management, Mark Pieth, chair of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee, gave a feisty but ultimately resigned perspective on the organization's prospects for reform.

Pieth asserted that no one in positions of influence cares much about FIFA reform, and he specifically cited governments, including those of the OECD and the Swiss government (where FIFA is incorporated), and the businesses that sponsor FIFA. The implication, he explained, is that the only option is self-reform. Pieth is clearly committed to reform within the current system and with the current leadership, and has concluded as a consequence that reform potential is limited. This contrasts with Lord Triesman, former English FA chairman, who yesterday at EASM 2012 told participants that "FIFA as it stands is incapable of cultural change, its current leadership will have to go."

Theo Zwanziger, a current FIFA Executive Committee member who spoke before Pieth in the same session, was clear in his defense of FIFA's current leadership (a group of which he is a part). Zwanzinger said (through a translator) that there was no point in calling for a change in FIFA leadership, as new leaders would come to occupy the same institutional structures which are what needs reform. Pieth said nothing about the need for leadership change, and explicitly highlighted the importance of Sepp Blatter in the reform effort due to the power of his position. Far from an independent overseer calling for change, Pieth appeared much more as a defender of incrementalism in reform, based on what is deemed acceptable by the current leadership.

Pieth repeatedly defended his role on the IGC, explaining that if you know anything about the challenges of politics, things are "five times worse" inside FIFA, with many interests and coalitions working to block reforms. He said that his experience in pressing for reforms has been that, "at some point there is a wall, and they tell me to go away." It was not long ago that Pieth was drawing a bright line on what would be acceptable and what would happen if it wasn't:
If we are unsuccessful, we would have to walk away. ‘We’ve had it, goodbye.’
Now it seems that whatever FIFA decides to do will be acceptable to Pieth.

Oddly, Pieth repeatedly called on the audience (and he cited specifically civil society, fans, academics, journalists) to put pressure on FIFA for reform. While there is nothing wrong with outside pressure (and there has been no shortage of such pressure), I say this is odd because over the past year there has been no one in a more powerful position to influence change than Pieth himself. He clearly has far more assets at his disposal than he has deployed.

For instance, do you remember early this year when Pieth said this?
"We must see to it that the gangsters do not escape in the wake of reform detractors. Many of those who now sit on the Executive Committee will not be there much longer. They will resign because of scandals."
Such tough talk appears to be in the past. For Pieth to assert now that the power to affect change lies in some general conception of outside pressure is to minimize the potential that the IGC has had as an agent of change. Perhaps it also reflects Pieth's acceptance of the limited influence of the IGC going forward.

Pieth explained that his mandate to work with FIFA carries through only to May, 2013 and then he is moving on. It is not clear what FIFA will do with its IGC at that point. What does seem clear is that the current IGC is well into its lame duck phase and we should expect little from FIFA in adopting anything further related to its proposed reforms.


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