What next at FIFA's Zurich headquarters?


— Next spring will be crucial in the battle for the soul of FIFA, according to the man commissioned to restructure the fiefdom of president Sepp Blatter and his assorted aides, officials and intercontinental colleagues.

Criminal law professor Mark Pieth made his observation in an interview with the Tages Anzeiger newspaper. The 58-year-old from Basel also observed that the self-contained power within FIFA meant that outside pressure – from public opinion, independent governance experts and sponsors – was essential to drive reform.

“I am not sure if the members of the executive committee have understood quite what has hit them,” said Pieth. Taking a positive view, many of the long-term committee members would inevitably be stepping down over the next few years, presumably for reasons of age and health.

The priority was reforming FIFA and the executive to create a system in which the corrupt practices of the past – with secret deals and no control on conflicts of interest – would no longer be possible. This is one aspect of the reform process on which Pieth and Transparency International disagreed.

For Pieth, the process is all about looking forward not back. He said: “We could spend two years diving into what happened in the past and working through all of FIFA. This may be necessary but it’s not my brief.

“The most relevant contribution I can make to FIFA is working to build a new future . . . It is not an issue for me whether Mr Havelange, for example, received so many millions or not. What is important for me is that the opportunity was available.”

Havelange, president of FIFA between 1974 and 1998, resigned from the IOC last week before an ethics inquiry could rule on alleged financial links with ISL which he had denied.

Pieth appreciated that FIFA, on paper, appeared to be “extremely democratic” with power apparently devolved down through Congress to the national associations.

“However,” he added, “the truth is the opposite. Everything is channelled upwards. This has something to do with an ‘old boys network’ – and with old boys! That is why we have said FIFA must consider introducing limits to the length of terms of office.”

Pieth also took advantage of the interview to try to cool the war of words in the media between himself and Transparency International which had withdrawn from its parallel work with FIFA.

He said: “I have absolutely nothing against the people of Transparency. I also think it is positive that they’re taking a critical stance.”

One issue for TI was that Pieth and his team are being paid for their consultancy work. He responded: “Auditors of company accounts are also paid and yet they are independent. In the world of governance, you need professional experts. Otherwise serious work would be impossible.”

And how long will that “serious work” take? Pieth said: “The real resistance to change comes from the internal institutions who have to live with a new system. The moment of truth comes next year between March and summer.”

As Pieth recalled, from an earlier interview: “The role of FIFA is to encourage people who are role models – and not people who steal.”


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