KEIR RADNEDGE reporting from PORT LOUIS
—– Sepp Blatter told FIFA Congress here in Mauritius today that the international football federation now led the world of sport in terms of governance after the two years of its reform process.
Blatter was making his keynote address in which he also warned about the urgent need to drive racism out of football and confront the threat posed by matchfixing.
The core of his speech was devoted, however, to the reforms undertaken since 2011 and the maelstrom of scandals ranging from votes for cash in the World Cup bidding battle to bribery allegations in the presidential election campaign.
The Basel governance expert, Mark Pieth, had been imported to lead an independent advisory panel. Many of its uggestions have been adopted though but not all.
Still, enough has been done for 77-year-old Blatter to proclaim that this 2013 Congress marked the conclusion of the mainstream reform process. FIFA and the game could congratulate itself on what had been achieved, he told delegates.
Hence, Blatter said: “This Congress ranks among the most important for the football community. As we complete our reform process, improving the way we work and setting the highest standards in good governance in sport.”
He admitted: “We have been through a difficult time. It has been a test for the world of football and for those who lead it.”
Then, picking up his 2011 metaphor of stormy waters, Blatter said: “As your captain I am happy to say that FIFA has weathered the storm. We have emerged from troubled waters stronger and now we can look forwards to a bright future, hopefully as beautiful, calm and transparent as the sea around us in Mauritius.”
He acknowledged ongoing skepticism, saying: “There criticised what we are doing and those who say we have not gone far enough – that we have evaded the difficult decisions and buried our heads in the sand.
“There are a few who will always criticise, no matter what we are doing.”
Blatter indicated that the reforms had met significant opposition from within the game and the organisation. That was a response to critics “who say we have not gone far enough.”
With what might be considered a veiled side-swipe at European federation UEFA, he added: “FIFA is based on solidarity, democracy and here at this congress it is one nation one vote as it should be: democracy.
“But reforming a great organisation is not about one person or interest group dictating, but about 209 nations moving forward as one, in harmony.
“It would be a lie to say it has been easy. It was not easy. Yes, we needed to change and to ask ourselves some tough questions and we found resistance, even in our own community. It hurt but, as any good football team, we have persevered and it has paid dividends.”
Major planks in the reform process have been the creation of a new ethics policing system, a tighter control on finances through the audit and compliance committee, handing World Cup host selection back to Congress and bringing three women into the executive committee.
Blatter added: “These are sweeping and sometimes hard-hitting reforms which will change our organisation for the better and place FIFA at the forefront of governance standards in the world of sport.”