INTERVIEW by KEIR RADNEDGE: Sylvia Schenk has been a consistent thorn in FIFA’s side over the past two years. Not because the 60-year-old lawyer, politician, former athlete and cycling official has anything against football or world federation president Sepp Blatter.
Schenk does, however, have a deep-seated concern for the credibility of sport which she pursues with independent vigour and candour as a board member of Transparency International.
On TI’s behalf she produced the original TI report which helped drag FIFA, kicking and screaming, into launching the current reform process. Not that the model adopted, led in its initial stage by the Basel governance professor Mark Pieth, met with Schenk’s approval.
She pulled TI out of the process and feels regretfully justified by subsequent events along what she considers a reform roadpath pitted with too many unnecessary and avoidable potholes.
Do you feel vindicated by events?**
I feel vindicated because there was a small window of time for FIFA – after all the pressure following of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awards and then the circumstances of the election of Mr Blatter – to change fundamentally.
When we talked to Mr Blatter I had the feeling he recognised this time window and wanted to do something. Otherwise he would have stopped talking with us after our first meeting.
So what went wrong?
It was the way they did it: with an Independent Governance Committee which is not really independent because it’s contracted directly by FIFA and because they said – at first, at least – that they would refuse to look into the past. That was the original announcement.
We said it would not work because then the pressure, to some extent, was taken off FIFA and so they managed to say: ‘Oh well we are working on it, step by step, our reform is going on.’
You have a problem with step by step?
No, certainly we needed a step by step approach. You couldn’t expect to change FIFA in a day or even a year but, nevertheless, the pressure faded away. It was as if they felt they could undertake only as much as they liked and not as much as they needed.
Was pulling out an easy or difficult decision for TI?
It was a difficult decision for us not to go on bringing our own influence to bear. I was left thinking that maybe we should have done on with them and could have been able to change the situation.
Now, I think it was more important that we could continue applying pressure from the outside and not being directly involved.
Even Mr Pieth, in some recent interviews, said more pressure from the outside was needed. Well, I’m doing my best (!) but I think he removed some of the pressure on FIFA.
Has nothing been achieved by the reform process?
There have been some small achievements, of course. It would have been a joke, otherwise. But what has been achieved is not as much as should have been possible and not as much as it really needed. They are still haunted by the past.
We are all told that Mr [Michael] Garcia [FIFA’s ethics investigator/prosecutor] is about to report on the ISL case but that should have been looked into and reported on right at the start and not nearly two years down the line.
This is not the only inconsistency. Look at the [Mohamed] Bin Hammam issue. Now I don’t know what he did do or did not: he says he was innocent.
In the end he was banned for life for ‘conflicts of interest.’ Yet other people in that World Cup bidding business were ready to accept money yet were banned for only two or three years. That’s not understandable.
If Mr Bin Hammam was banned specifically over something to do with the Asian confederations funds then they should have come right out and said so.
When TI stepped out there was a perception that you objected to Mark Pieth being paid by FIFA for his work. But surely consultants cannot live and work on fresh air alone?
Of course not. If people work day and night then they have to be paid. I’m not as naïve as that.
Our proposal was there should have been an independent committee above the process, having an overview but not really doing all the work. Then Pieth could have been contracted to do some reform work and a law firm could have been contracted to undertake investigations into what went on before.
The contract of Pieth and the law firm would have been with the independent committee and both would have reported to it instead of directly to Mr Blatter and the FIFA executive committee. Thus the governance committee would not have been directly responsible to the FIFA , it would have been above the whole process.
There are people out there – people of high international credibility – who could have taken that role.
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Part II (to follow): What Schenk expects from FIFA Congress in Mauritius in May
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** Interview conducted alongside the recent ICSS Security Sport Conference in Doha
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