KEIR RADNEDGE in LAUSANNE: Mark Pieth and his FIFA reform group have hit the panic button for fear that they are losing the argument within the world football federation.
A major roadblock thrown up by Michel Platini’s European federation UEFA provoked a remarkable outburst of protest last week from Basel governance consultant and that has been followed up by colleague Alexandra Wrage.
Anti-corruption specialist Wrage, a member of Pieth’s independent governance committee, complained in Forbes magazine about a “bunker mentality” at the heart of the world football federation.
Her own broadside underscored the warnings of FIFA watchers over the past two years about the erosion of an reform process set in train by president Sepp Blatter in 2011 after a string of high-level voting and bribery scandals.
Pieth’s IGC was effectively signed off last September when carrying through outstanding proposals for change were handed over to FIFA insiders led by ex-German federation president Theo Zwanziger and the general secretaries of the six regional confederations.
Hence Pieth & Co have been reduced to the largely impotent status of a lobbying group and that frustration has been evident in the attacks launched by both Pieth and Wrage (Interventions publicly slapped down last weekend by Blatter).
Wrage said: “[Our] recommendations include three points that illustrate the distance between FIFA’s current position on governance and widely established ‘best practices.’ To be clear, FIFA has not rejected these provisions, they’ve simply failed to implement them to date.”
Admitting that “the IGC has no means by which to compel change,” Wrage warns: “FIFA must decide how much it values good governance, the reform process and public opinion.”
One of the proposals rejected by UEFA – which possesses almost enough votes alone to block the reforms in Congress in May – was for a non-executive presence on the all-powerful executive committee.
Wrage said: “For 20 years governance best practices have required independent board members. No one questions the logic behind having members of the board who have no material interests in the organisation and so are not subject to inappropriate influence.
“The IGC initially recommended that two members of FIFA’s exco be independent. The IGC’s compromise position is that the Chairman of the Audit Committee should be an independent observer in all ExCo meetings. FIFA has resisted both of these recommendations.”
UEFA had also opposed a proposal that all prospective appointees be subject to a ‘fit and proper person’ check.
Wrage said: “For far more than 20 years, corporate best practices have held that a thorough and independent vetting process for board members at the outset will reduce the risk of embarrassment and wrongdoing over time.
“FIFA’s core values are ‘authenticity, unity, performance and integrity.’ In furtherance of this last core value, FIFA states that it ‘must be a model of fair play, tolerance, sportsmanship and transparency.’
“The IGC has proposed a neutral, centralized vetting process for members of the exco to uncover past misconduct or conflicts of interest that should disqualify the candidates from service. FIFA has done nothing meaningful to date with regard to vetting its candidates.”
Wrage also complained that FIFA was bucking the corporate trend for full disclosure of executive salaries. She added: “Even Switzerland is dismantling its long-standing bank secrecy. And still FIFA resists.”
Her final salvo warned that infighting is strangling the reform process. She concluded: “These recommendations are at risk of becoming casualties of the political process when their merits are obvious.”
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