Henry Kissinger said soccer’s governing body needs to “modernize” to protect the world’s most-popular sport amid allegations of corruption against some of its top leaders.
The former U.S. secretary of state said today that he was considering an invitation to join an investigation of FIFA aimed at improving the Zurich-based soccer federation that runs the World Cup.
“There’s been an enormous amount of controversy about FIFA at a time when the interest in soccer has multiplied around the world,” Kissinger, 88, said in a telephone interview from New York. “Given that soccer is such a beloved game, it’s important that there’s no doubt in the way it’s being administered. There’s a need for modernization: that would be my attitude and approach.”
Sepp Blatter, who was elected this week to his fourth term as FIFA’s president, is under pressure to reform the organization. His re-election opponent, Mohamed Bin Hammam, dropped out after allegations he offered cash to Caribbean officials for their support. Nine members of FIFA’s 24-member decision-making panel have been suspended or faced accusations of impropriety in the last year. Most of the allegations centered on bidding to host the World Cup, a quadrennial tournament that brings in more than $4 billion to FIFA.
Blatter, 75, proposed this week the creation of a “committee of wise persons” to advise FIFA’s newly formed corporate governance and compliance unit, and said Kissinger would be a member.
Kissinger said he’s worked with FIFA for years as part of three attempts, including the successful one for 1994, to bring the world’s most-watched sports tournament to the U.S. He said he believed Blatter would listen to his advice.
“I would certainly know how to communicate with him, and the results will be shown by the degree to which our recommendations are accepted,” Kissinger said.
The scandals have concerned sponsors that pay FIFA $343 million to be associated with the World Cup.
Visa Inc., the biggest bank-card network, and airline Emirates joined Coca-Cola Co. and Adidas AG to voice concerns.
Blatter, General Secretary Jerome Valcke and FIFA’s marketing division have spoken to two main sponsors and “not a single one will withdraw,” Blatter said this week. He was traveling today and unavailable for comment, a FIFA spokesman said, declining to give his name in accordance with office policy.
FIFA said the organization had approached Kissinger several weeks ago, and would give more information in “the near future,” according to an e-mailed statement from the press office.
Kissinger, a Nobel laureate who served as secretary of state from 1973 to 1977 under U.S. Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, said he’d tentatively agreed to serve on a panel to look at FIFA’s corporate governance. Kissinger said he’s waiting to hear from FIFA about other participants and the committee’s responsibilities before committing.
Kissinger worked to reform the International Olympic Committee after a bribery scandal that centered on Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Several officials were expelled and the IOC was forced to strengthen its ethics code after the effort, which Kissinger said was similar.
“At that time, it succeeded,” Kissinger said of the IOC effort. “It took about two years, but some results were achieved much quicker.”
Blatter said in his election campaign that the governing body must change after corruption allegations. Two executives in the selection of the 2018 and 2022 hosts were removed before the winning votes for Russia and Qatar following a newspaper report that they had offered to sell their support.
“We will put FIFA’s ship back on the right course in clear, transparent waters,” Blatter told FIFA delegates after his re-election. “We will need some time. We cannot do it from one day to the next.”
Kissinger worked on the U.S.’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup. He also chaired the advisory panel for the 1994 World Cup, which the U.S. hosted.