Why FIFA Cannot Be Replaced Or Reformed

It’s curious how the ebb and flow of history has convinced the world that a public school game involving 22 people attempting to kick a ball into an opposing net requires a centralized, global administrative bureaucracy in Zurich employing 400 staff and overseeing 209 members associations whilst taking in an annual revenue of $1.386 billion (as of 2013).

Even though we’ve been dragged under a wave of complex and depressing allegations of corruption yet again —this time by the Times of London—few wonder at the need, in of itself, for a world football governing body, or whether this need makes corruption inevitable.

Instead, they focus on the individual characters involved.

And who can blame them? Nobody produces villains quite like FIFA.

There’s Jack Warner, the Trinidadian who was allegedly involved in illegal ticket sales, millions of dollars in bribes, mismanagement, fraud and influence peddling. Chuck Blazer, a bearded gadfly and former executive committee member who may have taken secret payments in offshore accounts. Ricardo Teixeira, the Brazilian former ExCo member whom Andrew Jennings informed Brazilian authorities may have taken as much as $9.5 million in bribes out of ISL, FIFA’s defunct, scandal-ridden marketing firm. Nicolas Leoz. Issa Hayatou. Peter Hargitay. Sepp Blatter. And of course, Mohamed Bin Hammam.  

We read their names in the paper and scowl at their visages online. Yet these juicy corruption stories tend to leave out the part about how these men (invariably men) came to hold the kind of absolute power that corrupts absolutely.

Warner came to prominence in FIFA in part by helping to grow the Caribbean Football Union, no doubt accelerating player development in the region. Chuck Blazer organized youth football in New York. Nicolas Leoz, as president, oversaw one of CONMEBOL’s most successful periods of growth and stability. Issa Hayatou’s presidency of the Confederation of African Football saw a push for five World Cup spots for African nations and helped facilitate better movement of African players to Europe. Mohamed Bin Hammam helped establish the AFC Champions League. Sepp Blatter was...president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders?

In other words, they’re (mostly) all accomplished bureaucrats. They helped along the ‘business of football,’ modernizing the sport in their respective regions.

We don’t question the value of this work, or our slavish devotion to the  ‘growth’ of soccer around the world. More tournaments! More World Cup spots and, better yet, more World Cups! Bigger TV rights deals! More sponsorship agreements! Bigger transfer fees requiring more oversight and more regulation! More autonomy for FAs from regional governments! More stadiums, more clubs, more players!

All this growth and modernization requires an organization like FIFA, run by people like Warner and Bin Hammam. A single, central government able to make sweeping decisions as one, to guarantee contracts, to sanction tournaments, sign off on changes to the Laws of the Game. Able to have the final say in any national football-related dispute. Immune from regional governmental interference, free from regional tax burdens.

All this makes FIFA effective in “growing” football, but it also provides a natural breeding ground for graft, kickbacks, and influence peddling. This is why calls to replace FIFA with “something else,” echoed in Simon Jenkins’ Guardian editorial today, are misguided. A new FIFA with the same responsibility and power will inevitably, over time, come to resemble the old one.

As for calls for IOC-like accountability measures, even if these were possible to implement (FIFA has enacted very few of the recommendations of recent reform committees), they wouldn’t necessarily ‘end’ corruption on the scale we’ve witnessed in recent years. Heather Dicther and Bruce Kidd, in their academic review Olympic Reform Ten Years Later, quote an International Federation member 10 years after IOC reforms in the wake of the Salt Lake City Olympic bid scandal as describing the situation now as “worse than ever.” The added hurdles of accountability measures only offered rule-bending lobbyists more involved work. Reform may simply make corruption more complicated, or further blur the lines between legal and illegal influence.

So what can be done? The devastating truth may be nothing. As long as we love football and the World Cup, and as long as we think football needs “growth” and cannot operate without strong, centralized governance, corruption will be here to stay.


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Source : https://www.thescore.com/news/514192

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