INTERVIEW by KEIR RADNEDGE: Sylvia Schenk produced the original Transparency International report which helped force FIFA face the awful truth: Drastic reform was essential to rescue the world football federation’s reputation after multiple scandals over the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awards and the 2011 presidential election.
Schenko, senior adviser on sport to Transparency International, is not convinced about how the reform process has been carried through or to what conclusion it may be brougth at FIFA Congress in Mautitius in May. One of the key factors, for Schenk, was the initial reluctance to deal with the poison of the past including, notably, the ISL scandal which dates back more than a decade.
Do you hold out much hope for the reform proposals being set before FIFA Congress in Mauritius in May?**
All we know from the recent general secretaries’ meetings is that they found a compromise on issues such as age or term limits and things like that . . . but I think we already know the outcome. I’m not expecting too much news from this congress.
FIFA insiders have clearly had problems with who should carry out integrity checks. Is that an important issue?
It’s not a question of whether FIFA or the continental confederations are responmsible for the integrity check but whether it’s done independently. There are companies out in the commercial world and all they do is integrity checks for other companies, for example for board memebrs. It’s a well-known instrument in the world of business.
But if the check is carried out by a committee within FIFA or a continental confederation then this is not really being transparent. I would not trust either FIFA or the confederations on this.
What is needed for the work is a well-known independent firm because such a company – even when paid by FIFA or by a confederation – cannot afford to make a mistake because of the need to protest its own business credibility. But doing it with some committee elected by the FIFA Congress . . . ?
This is part of the problem in sports administration and not only football. It’s incestuous. Sports bodies always take someone from within their own sport. Look at cycling which took old cyclists for all the different positions. People who had been cyclists together 30 years ago know too much about one another; they will keep their secrets and will not attack each other.
Do you think FIFA’s critics expected too much too soon?
No, I didn’t – on the contrary I was a bit surprised when Mr Blatter made such an ambitious roadmap in terms of timescale at an early stage in the process. He was talking about doing something within months, an extraordinary congress and so on.
But I knew this was not about just having a wonderful compliance programme; if all you want is a compliance programme then we can write that in a week.
The real, basic issue is about convincing people of the need to change, taking people with you, changing the culture and that takes time. This is especially complex when you are made up of 209 member associations from among all the different cultures around the world.
Wouldn’t that take too long?
Time is not the priority. For example, an independent body with an overview of the process – as we proposed – would not have been subject to time pressure. It would have been able to say: ‘We need more time,’ and everybody could have understood that and accepted it from the high-quality level of the people we had proposed.
But now we have a situation where everybody is saying to FIFA: ‘You promised this and you promised that by 2013.’ That’s become part of the problem. It would have been much easier for FIFA without that sort of pressure.
Additionally there are always some things that could have been done with short notice. For example, after articles on the awarding of TV to InFront with Mr Blatter’s nephew as ceo in autumn 2011 I recommended establishing a clear procedure on conflicts of interest within FIFA immediately.
That could be done easily but is still missing.
Even if we had not achieved a really high level of reform in a shot time then it is better to achieve what you can and make sure everyone is convinced about it, than have some wonderful compliance programme but nobody living up to it.
Our approach was to take the time needed to go step by step, but make sure it was done properly and do so while also looking into the past.
Why was the past so important?
You had a bad situation in FIFA with several senior members convicted of corruption and ongoing corruption allegations – for example, the ISL case with regard to more members of the executive committee including president Blatter. If you had that in a company the shareholders would take away the whole leadership and insist on a new start with new – obviously clean – people. Then, maybe, you can say we are starting on reform and not looking back because no current leader is involved.
But with football and FIFA: If you keep the same people in the system then, first, you have to investigate the past to be assured of their own status. Otherwise the reform process can never have any credibility.
If there is not even an integrity check for people already in functions at FIFA, what kind of signal does that send?
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** Interview conducted alongside the recent ICSS Security Sport Conference in Doha
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