Sepp Blatter’s unruffled demeanour and calm pronouncements over the past few days have given the impression of a man barely touched by the storm raging around him. His re-election as Fifa president might explain his composure.
The general assumption a week ago was that Fifa’s reputation was already as bad as it can get. Events since Wednesday’s dramatic dawn raids on a Zurich hotel have emphasised just how grubby football’s governing body truly is. And yet, against all logic, Blatter presented himself as the man to clean up the mess. Even more bizarrely, at least from an outsider’s perspective, he has retained the support of a majority of Fifa members – primarily outside Europe.
Yet even putting aside the identity of its leader, there are inherent difficulties associated with fundamental reform of Fifa as a global organisation. After all, at stake are truly monstrous sums of money. The 2014 World Cup alone is said to have generated $4.8bn of revenue for the Fifa coffers. And because of Fifa’s commitment to developing the game around the globe, a disproportionate amount of its largesse is funnelled to national associations which cannot rely on their own Premier League-style returns. They are, in short, largely reliant on Fifa for their future sustainability. And stereotypes aside, the simple fact is that many of the poorer associations are in countries where corruption is rife throughout every layer of politics, business and law enforcement.
Fifa is not the only global sporting association to have come under the spotlight in recent times. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) became mired in scandal when board members were accused of accepting bribes during the bidding process for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The head of the Formula One Group, Bernie Ecclestone, settled a bribery action brought against him in Germany in 2013 without admitting liability. And while the International Cricket Council places itself at the forefront of the fight against corruption in sport, its effectiveness has frequently been questioned.
The task ahead, therefore, is hardly straightforward. But is everything lost? After all, the IOC slowly rebuilt its image after the Salt Lake City disaster: sanctioning members found to have acted improperly; controlling the Olympic bidding process more tightly; and introducing age limits and fixed terms for committee membership. Imperfections remain, but the IOC has become substantially more transparent and its reputation has improved accordingly.
The problem for Fifa is that it is only four years since its last attempt to prove that it could root out the wrongdoers. At the end of 2011, Mr Blatter announced the formation of an Independent Governance Committee (IGC), which made many recommendations, including the establishment of a two-chamber Ethics Committee and a new Audit and Compliance Committee. The majority of the IGC’s proposals were duly implemented – to what end now seems unclear.
Last year, Fifa members voted not to introduce age limits and restricted terms. Those were two of the few remaining IGC recommendations left unfulfilled and they will surely have to be reconsidered. Beyond that, Fifa must open up its finances – including in relation to salaries – to genuinely transparent scrutiny if it is to have a hope of regaining any degree of public esteem, at least in the West.
Yet therein lies the greatest question: do Mr Blatter and other top Fifa executives actually care what others think? And, if they don’t, is Fifa too big, too powerful and too rich ever to be brought to book by anyone else?Reuse content