KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Mark Pieth has had enough. FIFA’s reform guru has said he will step down at the year’s end in an effective acknowledgement that his work has run out of steam.
Pieth, a Basel academic with extensive experience in the spheres of governance and anti-corruption work, was commissioned by FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2011 after one scandal after another had reduced the world football federation to a worldwide laughing stock.
FIFA, having struggled for years under the black cloud of the ISL illicit payments issue, was hit by a World Cup votes-for-cash scandal in its all-powerful executive committee and then by bribery accusations over the presidential race.
Pieth, whose position was criticised from the outset by Transparency International, pulled together an independent governance committee to oversee reform work. However, while some progress has been made, Pieth made it clear to FIFA Congress in Mauritius in May that he was not a happy man.
Barriers to progress
Canadian specialist Alexandra Wrage, of Trace International, had already quit the process in frustration at the barriers being raised by the regional confederations, most notably Europe’s UEFA.
Pieth is finally to make good his oft-repeated threats to walk away from leadership the reform process which will be taken over by Domenico Scala, the Swiss industrialist who has chaired the new audit and compliance committee since last year.
According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Pieth said: “I have always seen myself with the IGC in a midwife role. There are now the necessary independent structures in place within FIFA to carry on the work.
“The future will be a matter of self-regulation. If FIFA does not want to take it forward then it does not have to. We cannot force them.”
Referring to the conflicts within FIFA – not least the tensions between Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini – he added: “I would not take on this sort of task again in such a a circus with the various factions attack each other all the time.”
The main irritants for Pieth concerned a failure within FIFA to agree on age and/or term limits for the president and members of the executive committee as well as a refusal to publish senior individuals’ remunerations.
At Congress Pieth had told Blatter, the exco and delegates from the 200-plus national associations that clarity over pay was essential gesture to show the world at large – beyond football – that FIFA was serious about reform.
He warned them: “This step would send a crucial message that [the directors] have nothing to hide . . . These may not be the most fundamental of reform issues but they send a symbolic message.
“Overall a lot has been achieved [but] this last point illustrates that the reform process is not finished. It is unfortunate that some of the most essential reforms have been pushed aside for political reasons rather than the reform rationale.”
New ethics system
Pieth’s most solid achievement was drawing up the blueprint for the vastly expanded new ethics committee system with American Michael J Garcia as investigator/prosecutor and German Hans-Joachim Eckert as assessing/sentencing judge. Garcia was not among even Pieth’s first three nominations for the post.
The bumpy ride has also seen Pieth attack Swiss judicial, political and tax institutions for a reluctance to break with its traditions of corporate secrecy. He blamed a lack of regulation as encouraging many sports organisations to make their headquarters in the country for all the wrong reasons.
He said: “Switzerland needs greater control about the tax status of FIFA and other sports organizations in the country. It’s annoying that nothing’s being done.”
The FIFA reform role is not the only one which Pieth is relinquishing. He is also stepping down as chairman of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Working Group against Corruption.
These steps will leave him more time for his latest new role as president of the Supreme Court of the African Development Bank.