KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH —- Sylvia Schenk pursuing Sepp Blatter is reminiscent of Claudio Gentile tracking Diego Maradona is that memorable film sequence from the 1982 World Cup: Relentless, tireless, always at his shoulder, ever alert, nagging, niggling, harassing across every inch of the pitch.
Blatter and FIFA thought they had shrugged off Transparency International three years ago after a swift body swerve and exchange of passes intead with Mark Pieth, the Basel governance expert.
Now Pieth has gone. His contract expired last December. But Schenk and TI are on self-appointed contract extension: Relentless, tireless, always at FIFA’s shoulder, ever alert, nagging, niggling, harassing across every inch of a pitch which, yesterday, happened to be FIFA’s own home ground in Zurich.
The occasion was a conference discussing ethics in sport. The incongruity of a clanging juxtaposition of event and host was not lost on TI’s sports adviser. She wasted no time tackling a world federation “which has been making promises but does not live up to them.”
The power of Shenk’s critique is that she does not subscribe to the braying sub-set who see everything in stark black and white. She knows 50 shades of football grey when she sees them.
“Not everything is bad and not everybody in FIFA is bad,” she said. refining her palette. “There is a public perception that FIFA is all corrupt but that’s not true. We have to look at it and differentiate between what’s going wrong and what’s going well otherwise we will not be able to change the situation.”
That situation, in her perception, was FIFA’s refusal to submit to the inner cleansing achievable only through the introspective admission of mistakes from top to bottom. Mostly top.
Pieth’s reform process had brought little more than cosmetic change.
Schenk aknowledged: “It’s very difficult to make an analysis of your own mistakes. FIFA has improved the statutes and the ethics commission but still I’m missing, from the very top, an analysis of its own mistakes and the taking of responsibility for what’s happening over the last 15 years.”
In the morning session of the conference Blatter had recounted with pride the evolution of FIFA’s ethics commission within his ever-ongoing ‘mission’.
Schenk was not impressed. Quite the opposite.
She rapped: “I was astonished to hear Mr Blatter saying FIFA had an ethics commission since 2004. What happened? What did they do?
“It’s nothing to be proud of, to have an ethics commission on paper and nothing really happening. They had one scandal after another so that doesn’t sound like analysing one’s own mistakes. That’s a deficiency I still see within FIFA. From the top downwards one must say: ‘Yes, that’s what went wrong and that is what we have to improve.’
“They want to improve efficiency by blaming individuals. There were leaders who had to be blamed and who did wrong – there still are some – but it’s also about the system and the culture.”
Schenk’s concern was that FIFA’s innate self-protectionism would turn the 2018-2022 World Cup bid inquiry into a spectacular own goal; that a culture of conservatism (at the least) would obviate the full disclosure essential to FIFA’s public, holistic healing.
She said: “Rules and laws are important but just to change laws is not enough. You have to change the culture. That work has only just started and there is still a lot to do.
“We need a change of culture and that means we need more openness so it is very important to publish the report – or at least the reasoning of the report – on what happened with Qatar and the allegations we have heard about.
“FIFA will not regain trust by just punishing some individuals and saying: ‘We are clean.’ That would still be a failure. It’s important to make public who has been punished and why – and who has not been published and why.”
Finally, to crown her counter-attack by shooting for goal, Schenk concluded: “How can you try to teach a player to stick to the rules if the leadership of the federation doesn’t stick to the rules itself?
“That’s why it is so important to fight corruption off the pitch . . . as well as on it.”
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