KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— Only FIFA, in its present tragic-comedic state, could achieve the latest twist in its beknighted reform saga by landing itself in the middle of a battle between transparency advisers.
Transparency International, in either a fit of pique or long-delayed understanding of the danger of further involvement, has halted work with the world federation because it disagrees with the approach taken by governance expert Mark Pieth.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his executive, back at Congress on June 1, had finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, to confront the painful truth – evident for years to outsiders – that structural and political reform was long overdue.
Independently but simultaneously, both Transparency International and Pieth – a criminal law professor and occasional consultant to UN bodies – became involved in a recommendations race. TI was the winner before the ‘reforms revelation’ by Blatter in mid-October at the most recent meeting of the executive committee.
At the time Blatter said that TI, which had originally looked in on its own initiative, had been invited to come up with substantive proposals. Author Sylvia Schenk, TI’s senior adviser for sport, attended the press conference to hear her work praised and to hear Blatter even suggest that TI might play a role in one of the committees charged with overseeing the reform process.
Within hours she was being cautioned by experienced FIFA-watchers that TI should beware compromising its independence and credibility by venturing any further inside FIFA’s ‘magic circle.’
Pieth had been named by Blatter at his post-exco press conference in the same breath as TI. What was not made clear was that TI was acting totally independently while Pieth was a paid consultant. This appears to be one of TI’s objections – that he cannot be independent of the organisation paying him.
Schenk says the funds needed for an independent body should be provided by a wider group including sponsors and broadcasters . . . overlooking the fact that these are the organisations which fund FIFA directly in any case. In a telephone interview with agencies, she said: “All members of the commission are supposed to be independent. You can’t be independent if you have a contract with FIFA.”
The other objection stated by Schenk was that Pieth was concerned only with looking to the future and not in dealing with past misdemeanours and malpractice [His recommendations are at the foot of this article].
Pieth responded that he was “cheesed off” by Schenk’s comments. He said it was common practice for companies to pay outside auditors for an evaluation of their business practices. However – denying the very spirit of the recommendations of his report – he declined apparently to say how much he and his staff were being paid.
Not apparently prepared to put his money where his mouth is.
“We can’t start asking audit firms to do their job for free just to make sure they are independent,” Pieth said in an interview. “What you’ll get is something quite pathetic . . . I think Mrs Schenk is playing a turf war here.”
The worst year in FIFA’s history – which is saying something – was prompted by the decision to award the two 2018 and 2022 World Cups simultaneously, exactly a year ago today [December 2]. Allegations of vote-rigging in the bid process and then in this year’s presidential election led to the suspensions and/or departures of senior FIFA figures and Blatter and his exco having to submit to overwhelming pressure to introduce major reforms.
It seems almost beyond belief, however, that FIFA should waste six months in commissioning word-warring outsiders to write up a commonsense behavioural code familiar to just about every major multi-national corporation.
*The FIFA president should have a limited term in office as should FIFA exco members
* Independent members should sit on the FIFA exco, with a lead director to hold elected members to account
* World Cup votes are “highly visible and politically sensitive decisions and . . . a mix of corruption risk and conflict of interest concerns” so the voting procedure needs to be revamped
* Payments to FIFA member associations and people and/or organisations close to them need “close financial scrutiny”
* Payments to contractors and service providers should be analysed to ensure no corruption
* Cash for development projects such as GOAL should be controlled from beginning to end to ensure the money does not end up in the pockets of officials
* Specific rules need to be drawn up to clarify FIFA’s position towards gifts and hospitality, political and charitable contributions
* A “discrete disclosure channel” hotline to report corruption should be made available
* FIFA should adopt corporate anti-corruption and anti conflict of interest controls
* FIFA officials should be subject to due diligence to establish whether they are suitable for office.