BRUSSELS: Absent fiends – rather than friends – came under heavy fire at the Brussels debate aimed at progressing a campaign to force root and branch reform of FIFA writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
But there was a marked divergence between, on the one hand, all-out foes of FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter and, on the other hand, critics rather of the game’s governance structures.
The debate had been organised under the banner of New FIFA Now by a group of British and European politicians led by Euro MEPS Ivo Belet from Belgium (Christian Democrat) and Emma McClarkin from Britain (Conservative) and British MP Damian Collins (Conservative).
Collins is a long-time critic of the FIFA administration with its track record of scandal from the ISL bribes case to the cash-for-votes issues surrounding both the 2011 presidential election and the World Cup awards to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).
Most notable by his absence from Brussels was the man who, for many present, personalised all that was awry within the world football federation.
Collins said: “We didn’t invite Sepp Blatter because we saw him as part of the problem rather than the solution . . . FIFA is unable or willing to lead a reform.”
Not only Blatter, according to Lord David Triesman, former chairman of the Football Association.
Blatter was a man who “presides over a deeply-flawed set of people,” according to Triesman who was forced by a newspaper ‘honey trap’ to quit as head of England’s 2018 World Cup bid team.
Observers present in Brussels included representatives from European federation UEFA, CONCACAF and the Qatar 2022 World Cup organising committee.
Full-on critics were led by not only Collins but by Triesman who urged FIFA’s World Cup sponsors and commercial partners – these include Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald’s, Hyundai and Budweiser – to put their weight behind the reform campaign.
The fuse beneath the latest outsiders’ explosive assault on FIFA had been lit by the confusion over ethics investigator Michael Garcia’s report into the 2018-2022 World Cup bid scandal.
Almost half of the members of the exco who voted for Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) in December 2010 had been banished subsequently from FIFA or jumped before they were pushed.
Triesman believed a re-vote to be essential “because if half of a jury had been found guilty of malpractice their verdict would be unsound.”
He also called on Swiss politicians and lawmakers to act against FIFA. Switzerland, he said, “is being discredited by FIFA.”
Triesman’s demand for sponsors to join the fight was endorsed by Jaimie Fuller, the Swiss-based chairman of Australian sportswear company SKINS.
Fuller, who played a leading role in forcing a changing of the guard in the international cycling federation after the Lance Armstrong dope scandal, said his invitations to five FIFA sponsors to attend had been ignored.
This only underscored the need for FIFA to demonstrate “the same transparency that we would expect from an NGO or public company.”
The transparency theme was picked by both FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne and by Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the Chilean who led the 2018-2022 technical inspection of all nine bids.
However both Champagne and Mayne-Nicholls argued for a progressive reform of FIFA and the structures of the world football pyramid rather than an overthrowing of the entire edifice.
Champagne, whose FIFA presidential challenge risks failing for lack of even five nominations, emphasised the need for a more equable financial balance within the world game. He wanted to see more power revert to the national associations with a level balance of confederation representation within the exco.
“We need to serve football better,” said Champagne who made his position clear by declaring that “anti-FIFA-ism is a danger . . . what we need is a stronger FIFA.” The fault lines ran far beyond the present president.
Mayne-Nicholls echoed Champagne’s comment to the extent of an observation that “FIFA is a billionaire organisation yet some national associations are really poor.”
The Chilean will decide next week whether to run for the FIFA presidency. He believed presidential term limits and full transparency of salaries were essential to “recover the confidence of billions of fans around the world.”
Mayne-Nicholls said: “Football is much more than a game lasting 90 minutes. It is the best way to add values and principles to our society.
“It can be a wonderful tool to help people to live in a better community. Honesty, democracy, solidarity, transparency, equity and playing fair are values that we must always have present in football and on our daily activities.
“FIFA must never forget that it is the game’s administrator, with the duty to create better standards for the game. FIFA does not own football. The game has no owner.”
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