Friday, March 22, 2013

Deck Chairs on the Titanic and FIFA Reform

This week's FIFA Executive Committee meeting continued the process of winding down the FIFA Reform Effort and a return to more or less business as usual. FIFA reports the results of the meeting as follows:
FIFA’s governance reform process was high on the agenda of the meeting. In accordance with the agreed reform road map, the Executive Committee today reviewed the remaining governance reform proposals, which had previously been examined by the relevant working group of the confederation general secretaries and by the FIFA Legal Committee. In this regard, the executive agreed on proposals to be submitted to the upcoming FIFA Congress, which will convene in Mauritius on 30 and 31 May.
If that description seems a bit content-free, here is another perspective offered this week, from Alexandra Wrage, a member of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee, which was tasked to provideadvice on the reform process:
Wrage, who heads the American organisation TRACE and is a member of a FIFA reform group, told Tuesday's edition of Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung that there was a big danger that the reform process in the wake of corruption allegations would fail.

She was speaking ahead of FIFA executive committee meetings on Wednesday and Thursday during which reform proposals for the FIFA congress in May are to be completed.

"There is a danger that the reform fails. There is always concern that such a project ends in a way that the deck chairs on the Titanic are re-arranged - cosmetic changes without improvement," Wrage said.

Wrage accused FIFA leaders of open sexism when she was told there was no place for a woman in a top position on one of the two chambers of the new ethics committee.

"I was told very directly that a woman for one of the two top jobs on the ethics commission is not acceptable. I can not imagine a more blatant example of sexism," she said. . . 
The process is to be completed at the FIFA congress but Wrage has now joined chief controller Mark Pieth with open criticism on FIFA's lack of reform interest.

While Pieth was rebuffed in public by Blatter, Wrage said she would not tolerate any such a gagging order.

"I will certainly not accept when someone tells me when I can talk in public and when I can't," she said.

Wrage criticised the appointment of chief investigator Michael Garcia by FIFA despite several top-level recommendations from the reform group, attacked a 20-million dollar donation to the Interpol police organisation, and said that conflicting interests within the football family were also endangering reform.
At the press conference following the Executive Committee, FIFA's Theo Zwanziger explained that FIFA would not be implenting those actions deemed "indespensible" by the IGC (here in PDF):
German official Theo Zwanziger, who heads FIFA’s group responsible for changing the statues, said it was normal that Pieth wouldn’t get his own way on everything.

“He’s just a counselor,” Zwanziger said at a press conference today. “Since when can a counselor implement 100 percent of what he wants?”
Exactly one year ago Pieth described what would happen if FIFA refused to adopt essential actions:
[Pieth] has no idea how Fifa will react. “I’m at the moment pretty optimistic. But it’s very open. If it works out I’ll be patted on the back. If it fails I’ll be an idiot. I think we will know by mid-April whether they are serious.” And if they aren’t? “If we are unsuccessful, we would have to walk away. ‘We’ve had it, goodbye.’ This would be a dreary result. Sponsors, the media, everybody would be left with something they couldn’t really digest, and Fifa would just carry on. Who would force Fifa?”
Yesterday, Tariq Panja asked Mark Pieth what he would do next, after FIFA has rejected the key reform recommendations. Here is how Pieth responded:
Pieth said he’ll push for further changes before considering his future.
“I think whether I take that decision now or at the end of May doesn’t make so much difference because there are still a lot of options open,” Pieth said in a telephone interview, minutes after FIFA held a press conference to announce its proposals. “We are still working, and theoretically it’s still a possibility that national associations and confederations bring aspects that have been thrown out back into play.”
The recently rebuked Pieth also offered an apparent defense of FIFA's pace of change:
Pieth said he wasn’t surprised by the pace of change, or the resistance to it from some members.

“You can’t expect things will change from bloody bad to bloody good in one or two years,” he said. “That would be na├»ve.”
He also appeared to point fingers at who was blocking key reforms:
"It’s the Spaniards, they are the problem, and the British and Germans are siding with them.”
Yesterday, the IGC issued a press release (via Pieth's Basel Institute of Governance, here in PDF) which called again for the recommended reforms to be implemented, appealing to the FIFA Congress to overturn the actions of the Executive Committee. The press release offers some considerably stronger language that that offered by Pieth:
FIFA is at a cross-road: There is no question that FIFA is in urgent need of reform to survive the next decades.
Whether such quiet exhortation will have any effect remains to be seen.

Returning to Wrage's description of the FIFA reform process as "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" here is the opening paragraph to my recent paper on FIFA governance and accountability (here in PDF):
In an inauspicious coincidence, May 31, 2011 was the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Titanic and it was also the date on which Joseph ‘‘Sepp’’ Blatter the much-criticized president of FIFA . . . announced that he would see the organization through the latest charges of corruption that had been leveled against it, declaring, ‘‘I am the captain, we will weather the storm together’’ (Hughes, 2011a). Less than one year later, Blatter continued the metaphor, declaring that the storm had subsided, ‘‘we are back in the harbor. . .and are heading to calm, clearer waters’’ (Collett, 2012). In October 2012 Blatter announced that the reform process would come to a close at the May 2013 FIFA Congress (FIFA, 2012a).
With the FIFA Reform effort coming to an end and ignoring the "indespnsible" recommendations of the IGC, Sepp Blatter and FIFA sail on. In contrast, has Mark Pieth decided to go down with the ship? Or will there be a lifeboat arriving just in time to provide a rescue?

The troubled FIFA reform effort enters its last chapter. Stay tuned. 


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