This is not a celebratory letter. After all, nearly two years ago, FIFA seemed to have reached rock bottom. I am under no illusions: by the time I took over, the institution was unlikely to go anywhere but uphill from there.
This is a reflection on the first 12 months of the path that we chose for the long and climbing journey and how these months have prepared the ground for the long-term future of the organisation.
Following such a severe crisis, FIFA had no option but to change. I am not only referring to the election of a new president, but, much more importantly, to the adoption of a structure that could work to literally force good governance upon the organisation.
If this sounds harsh, it’s because it is. The times called for that. I was elected on 26 February 2016, on the same day as the revised FIFA Statutes were approved. As one of the members of the 2016 FIFA Reform Committee that drafted those proposals, I knew exactly what I was dealing with. As FIFA President, it was my duty to have a game plan ready so that we could start implementing changes right away, both as part of the reforms and in the everyday operations of the organisation.
As I look back, I do see mistakes – wherever there are people, there will always be mistakes – but the important thing is that we learn from them. What I can say without question is that every step that FIFA has taken during this year has been guided by an honest purpose. It is the purpose that has permeated my plans since the presidential campaign and it aims to serve one single beneficiary: the game of football.
This was the reasoning behind “FIFA 2.0 – The Vision for the Future”, the master plan for the institution, which I presented to the FIFA Council last October. Football is a magnificent sport whose positive influence is palpable in several different areas of society. This is indisputable. But, for me, something is very wrong if the core goal of FIFA is not to focus deeply on the game. If this is done right, the associated benefits will naturally follow.
FIFA exists to promote the game of football, protect its integrity and bring the game to all. Football, at all levels, must be the ultimate beneficiary of our resources, as well as of the efforts by the multicultural pool of talent that works for and with the organisation.
The full focus on football was already there when we presented the FIFA Forward Programme, which more than tripled our investment in football development. It was there when we started incorporating players and coaches – the FIFA Legends – into our activities and decision-making, and when we embarked on the long-deferred process of testing the use of technology in refereeing.
It was by looking at the evolution of the game worldwide and its potential to grow even further that I advocated the expansion of the FIFA World Cup™. There are more countries producing high-level talent now than there has ever been. It is only fair to increase participation: not just of 16 more teams in the final tournament, but of hundreds upon hundreds of players across the world who will start contemplating qualification as a genuine possibility. This will set in motion a virtuous cycle that, eventually, will lead towards our core objectives: more people playing football and the development of the game in more places around the world.
The expansion, some say in an accusatory tone, will bring more revenue to FIFA. It will and it must, as long as our institution is committed to reinvesting every cent that it makes back into the game and its development. Because this is what a world governing body should be – we exist to serve our members, and our administration must be fit for that purpose.
This is the rationale behind our efforts to change the face of the organisation. FIFA cannot afford to be perceived as an ivory tower, detached from where football actually happens. We must be the converging point of the different facets of the game and, to do so, we must be approachable. We must be present. We must be a human institution.
Part of the football community may tend to receive words like these as if they were empty rhetoric, and I can understand that. This is why I do not even think about calling for a celebration. For now we will just keep working and letting facts speak for themselves. They surely will.
The next time we look back and see football development thriving worldwide and the trust in FIFA fully restored, only then will we celebrate. And we will be ready to keep on working hard to drive things even further.
Yours in football,