Saturday, May 14, 2011

FIFA aka 'The Untouchables'

By Paul Frederickson
FIFA has come under scrutiny once again for corruption in its ranks. Cash for World Cup votes has become the latest in a long line of scandals that are further tainting the FIFA brand. There have been accusations against a number of FIFA delegates regarding these issues, in particular FIFA's Trinidad and Tobago football executive, businessman and FIFA Vice-president Jack Warner. In an May 11, article by Harry Harris of ESPN (1) it was stated that the English FA's, Sir Dave Richards:
"Confirmed to ESPNsoccernet that while it was never explicitly said that it was to be cash for votes, he is under no illusions that it could be inferred".
Furthermore the article advises that:
"Lord Triesman claimed FIFA vice-president Warner suggested the FA fund an education centre in Trinidad with the cash to go through him, and later £500,000 to buy Haiti's World Cup TV rights for the earthquake-hit nation, also to go through Warner".
This follows a Swiss investigation launched in December 2010. The Mail Online (3) reported that:
"Ueli Maurer, the Swiss minister for sport, announced yesterday that the Swiss Sports Agency had been charged with investigating wrongdoing among the near 50 international sports bodies based in the country, of which FIFA is one of the largest."
This article does not intend to investigate these allegations but discuss why, with all the talk of transparency, the monolith that is FIFA is largely unaccountable to its constituents. In the 1997 film, The Untouchables (2), Sean Connery's character famously says of an assailant, "Brings a knife to a gun fight". It seems that anyone who challenges FIFA is coming to a gunfight with a rubber knife.
Does anyone have the courage and will power to take on the might of the FIFA juggernaut?
Formed in Switzerland in 1904 there is no greater power in world football than FIFA. It controls the laws, finance and most tournaments of its 208 member nations. Of the 208 member nations there are 24 vote deciders for tournaments such as the World Cup.
From time-to-time countries have spoken out about issues that have directly affected their own country and this can often smell like sour grapes. But there has yet to be wholesale condemnation by FIFA's member nations which is something that may make the FIFA board accountable because they have to be.
More importantly, does anyone want to?
FIFA spends a lot of money around the world and there is no mistaking that money does talk.The money that FIFA spends around the world is extraordinary. From the FIFA 2010 financial report (4):
"FIFA will increase its investment in football development programmes over the upcoming 2011-2014 period from the USD 691 million that was in the budget for 2007-2010 to USD 800 million".
Furthermore, if a nation does make a stand they may well fear the backlash and alienation that may occur as a result of being outspoken. Not participating in FIFA sanctioned tournaments could be one such result. The subsequent loss of money through FIFA sanctions could destroy confederations and its member nations.
Below is the current FIFA Executive Committee, arguably the most powerful men in world football.
Joseph S. BLATTERSwitzerland Switzerland
Senior Vice President
Julio H. GRONDONAArgentina Argentina
Vice President
Issa HAYATOUCameroon Cameroon
CHUNG Mong JoonKorea Republic Korea Republic
Jack A. WARNERTrinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago
Ángel María VILLAR LLONASpain Spain
Michel PLATINIFrance France
Geoff THOMPSONEngland England
David CHUNGPapua New Guinea Papua New Guinea
Michel D'HOOGHEBelgium Belgium
Ricardo Terra TEIXEIRABrazil Brazil
Mohamed BIN HAMMAMQatar Qatar
Senes ERZIKTurkey Turkey
Worawi MAKUDIThailand Thailand
Nicolás LEOZParaguay Paraguay
Junji OGURAJapan Japan
Marios LEFKARITISCyprus Cyprus
Jacques ANOUMACôte d'Ivoire Côte d'Ivoire
Franz BECKENBAUERGermany Germany
Rafael SALGUEROGuatemala Guatemala
Hany ABO RIDAEgypt Egypt
Vitaly MUTKORussia Russia
Mohamed RAOURAOUAAlgeria Algeria

Secretary General
Jérôme VALCKEFrance France
This committee have the ultimate voting rights in world football. Many of the FIFA Executive Committee have been in positions of power for many years and are very hard to dislodge. Sepp Blatter is the classic example. Staring as FIFA's technical director in 1975, he became FIFA general Secretary from 1981 to 1998, and has been the ongoing face of FIFA as its President since then. He is now seeking re-election in the position once again.
Anyone who runs against a figure such as Sepp Blatter would need enormous influence, as the allegiances that the committee members have gained and wield are long running and financial. There is a fantastic story in Sport Illustrated (5) by an American journalist Grant Wahl announced his candidacy for FIFA president in February of 2011. After talking to many member nations he noted why it would be so hard for anyone to break the inner sanctum that currently presides at FIFA:
"Many of them voiced the same message I heard in that Paris hotel lobby: We don't really like the status quo, but nominating you is impossible. Nobody had the courage to do it. The prevailing mood was fear."
What can be done?
Sadly, reform at FIFA seems only to be able to be completed by FIFA themselves. Any form of transparency must be self-initiated. Whilst FIFA produces annual statements on finances, there is little accountability for how board members receive money. Voting on both the FIFA board and who hosts the various competitions is a convoluted and secretitive process with obvious political and financial implications and connotations.
Nations such as England, the United States of America and Australia were, at stages of the campaigning, front runners for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. In round 1 of the voting they received a total of 6 votes. As an Australian I might sound like I have sour grapes but FIFA's own evaluation reports of the 2018 and 2022 bids showed a number of concerns over Qatar's bid. Two of these extracts are shown below:
"The final number of accomplished projects would determine the number of supporters who could be accommodated. Furthermore, the concentration of the majority of rooms in just a few properties could lead to the risk that the exclusivity of certain constituent groups could not be ensured."
"Any delay in the completion of the transport projects could impact FIFA’s tournament operations. Moreover, it appears to be difficult to test a transport concept prior to the event under conditions comparable to the FIFA World CupTM. The fact that New Doha International Airport would be the primary air gateway for the entire tournament period also requires careful consideration."
Most dammingly, the report stated of the conditions in Qatar:
"The fact that the competition is planned in June/July, the two hottest months of the year in this region, has to be considered as a potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectators, and requires precautions to be taken."
If the final evaluations were not considered when the voting was completed then it has to be asked why they were conducted at all?
A starting point for future transparency would be solved if each member nation is given full voting rights above and beyond their associations. One vote for each of the 208 FIFA member nations. 208 voices would be much harder to manipulate and cajole. A fully democratic FIFA, now that truly would be the world game!
There is no doubt that football needs FIFA, but we also need FIFA to mirror the ideals of our great sport. Hard work, team work, skills and integrity. The cornerstones to any great team.
(1) Harry Harris, 'Richards: Warner proposals shocked me. May 11. 2011, ESPN Soccernet,'-demands?cc=3436
(2) 'The Untouchables', 1997, The Internet Movie Databases,
(3) FIFA hosts launch corruption probe, Mail Online, December 8, 2010,
(4) FIFA Financial Report, 1010.
(5) Grant Wahl, 'My story: What happened when I decided to run for FIFA president'. Sports Illustrated, April 1, 2011.
(6) FIFA, Evaluation reports on the bids for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World CupsTM Executive Summaries