BERN/ZURICH: An announcement about the first session of FIFA’s new reform panel has coincided perfectly with the world federation’s launch of ‘Operation Happy Sponsor’ writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Last week FIFA confirmed the composition of the committee under the chairmanship of veteran Swiss lawyer Francois Carrard, a former director-general of the International Olympic Committee; separately yesterday a meeting designed to reassure nervous World Cup sponsors about a commitment to governance reform took place in Zurich.

FIFA and the companies concerned – Anheuser-Busch InBev, Adidas, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Visa – refused to comment about the meeting beyond confirming it had taken place.

However it is hard to imagine that secretary-general Jerome Valcke and legal director Marco Villiger would not have pointed to the launch of the revived reform process as supporting evidence.

In an oxymoronic statement issued after the meeting, FIFA said it had met “commercial affiliates . . . at the Home of FIFA to discuss current matters. During the meeting, FIFA reaffirmed its commitment to transparency, reform, and collaboration with its valued partners. No further comment will be made on the internal discussions between the parties.”

The World Cup sponsors, concerned about the effect of fall-out from the FIFAgate corruption scandal on their own images, had issued individual calls for president Sepp Blatter to be seen to be putting his house in order before he steps down next February 26.

Separately, on conveniently the same day, Carrard’s office announced: “The first meeting of the 2016 FIFA Reform Committee will be held in the Swiss capital of Berne on September 2-3.” It is understood Carrard chose Bern as a neutral venue since FIFA is based in Zurich and European federation UEFA at Nyon, near Geneva.

FIFA’s reputation was tarnished by the ISL bribes scandal and plummeted further over the votes-for-cash allegations concerning the bidding and awards of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Further scandal

The executive committee’s vote, in December 2010, was followed by further scandal in the run-up to the presidential election of 2011 which saw Blatter re-elected after disciplinary action against Qatar’s Asian confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner, the Trinidadian who was then president of central and north American region [CONCACAF] and a FIFA vice-president.

A first attempt at reform was only partially effective. A strengthened ethics arm saw the suspensions and departures of a number of senior exco figures before seven FIFA-linked senior football and commercial figures were arrested in Zurich on a US Justice Department indictment on May 27.

Two days later Blatter was re-elected as president but then stood down under the weight of controversy with the Swiss judicial authorities launching their own inquiry into the awards of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and assisting the USDoJ in relation to suspected banking transactions.

No threat exists to the staging of the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia and the Swiss investigation is not expected to come up with significant results because of jurisdiction restrictions.

Nominations for the new presidential candidates must be submitted by October 26 with written support from at least five national associations. The only two ‘heavyweights’ to declare so far are Michel Platini, the French president of European federation UEFA, and Chung Mong-jong, the South Korean former Asian vice-president of FIFA.

** Bolivia justice authorities have raided the headquarters of the national football federation whose president, Carlos Chavez, is in detention on fraud charges, Chavez is treasurer of CONMEBOL, the South American confederation heavily implicated in the US Justice investigations.