The man charged with helping FIFA recover from a series of corruption scandals likened his task to Baron Munchhausen “pulling himself out of the swamp” by his hair in Rudolph Raspe’s story about the 18th century nobleman.
The soccer body asked Swiss anti-corruption specialist Mark Pieth to help reform its statutes following a year of turmoil in which several top executives have either been found guilty, or accused of wrongdoing, during the selection process for the $4 billion World Cup and the organization’s presidency.
In his first press conference since being named chairman of FIFA’s 18-member independent governance committee last week, Pieth unveiled a 39-page document listing recommendations for change. It includes limiting term limits for members of FIFA’s executive committee, background checks and a conflict of interest policy.
“We’re coaches in bringing them back to the road of virtue,” said Pieth, chairman of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s working group on Bribery in International Business Transactions. “We are talking about serious stuff here. Not everyone will like this.”
The 107-year-old soccer body generates billions of dollars from sponsors and broadcasters for sports most-watched event, the World Cup.
The sponsors, along with fans, governments and national federations, expressed concern after a vote-buying election scandal connected to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups led to the suspicion of two senior officials. Months later, Mohamed Bin Hammam, the only candidate to challenge Sepp Blatter for FIFA’s presidency, withdrew after being accused of offering $40,000 to Caribbean soccer officials. He’s appealing a life ban, denying any wrongdoing. Several others have been given bans of up to two years.
FIFA will announce the other members of Pieth’s group at a meeting in December when a document naming officials who took money from the organization’s bankrupt former marketing partner International Sports & Leisure will be released.
Pieth, who is a professor of criminal law at Basel University, was chosen by the United Nations in 2004 to serve on an independent inquiry team examining alleged corruption in the Iraqi oil-for-food program. He said he’ll walk away from the FIFA project if the body isn’t serious about the reforms.
“We are trying to change something, but of course there’s a bottom line,” Pieth said. “If we are seriously unhappy I can say, ‘this is it, I’ve had it.’”
Blatter has been FIFA president since 1998. He says his next four year term will be his last. Other members of the executive body have held their posts for more than two decades.
That length of tenure creates risks, Pieth said.
“They start owing each other,” he said. “In future one will probably have to ask oneself how much time should one spend in such a job?”
Pieth said he wouldn’t be looking at allegations of past wrongdoing, saying that was for others. Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh is still looking into FIFA officials for alleged misdeeds. Freeh’s report led to Bin Hammam’s life ban, while Jack Warner, a FIFA vice president, quit the sport in the middle of the inquiry.
Blatter said he expects the reforms to be completed by June 2013.
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