Sepp Blatter, president of soccer’s governing body, is nearing his last opportunity to reform the group before it risks having changes forced upon it by lawmakers, according to one of his former advisers.
A 13-person panel led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth will meet with FIFA’s board tomorrow to propose changes to the the way it does business after criticism from sponsors, fans and lawmakers following the 2010 selection of World Cup hosts and Blatter’s re-election to a fourth term six months later.
Sylvia Schenk, Transparency International’s sports specialist, advised Blatter following last May’s presidential election. She said he needs to overhaul the Zurich-based organization he’s run since 1998.
“It is Blatter’s last chance,” Schenk said. “If he does not succeed, someone else will have to do it and Blatter will be remembered as the president who left FIFA in a quagmire of corruption.”
Sponsors including Dubai-based airline Emirates, Coca-Cola Co. and Visa Inc. expressed unease at corruption allegations involving the soccer body, which makes more than $4 billion from its four-yearly World Cup. Russia and Qatar won the rights for the tournaments in 2018 and 2022 after a campaign in which two voters were suspended after offering to sell their support to undercover reporters. Since then almost half of the board have either been accused or sanctioned for impropriety.
Switzerland’s government may consider passing anti-corruption laws designed to curb excesses from sporting bodies such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.
“If it’s left to Swiss politics there will be a far stronger action,” said Roland Rino Buechel, a member of Parliament for the Swiss People’s Party. “The laws could change but if they really clean up then there will less chance of parliament acting.”
Blatter promised to publish a document by the end of last year naming executives who profited from payments from ISL, a marketing company that went bankrupt in 2001.
That process has been held up after two people mentioned in the case sought court action to block publication. Pieth, who works at the Basel Institute on Governance and investigated corruption in Iraq’s oil-for-food program in 2004, has been critical of the court’s failure to clear the document for publication and hasn’t even seen it privately.
“Blatter in October promised me to see the ISL file, then they became afraid,” said Schenk, who quit the reform program because FIFA was paying Pieth’s institution for his work and over concerns past wrongdoing wouldn’t be investigated. “The disclosure is still a significant point.”
Pieth declined to be interviewed until after he’s presented the report to FIFA. He has said he would walk away from the project if FIFA didn’t take the need for change seriously, saying there was reputational risk associated with advising the soccer body. His group includes former U.K. Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, former Watergate investigator Michael J. Hershman and Seung-Tack Kim, chief operating officer of Hyundai Motor Co.
“FIFA has to take it seriously,” Schenk said. “If not they will see the consequences in the near future.”
Soccer’s governing body will have to change because the Swiss population has started to pay closer attention to its actions, Buechel said.
“What’s been going on is harming the reputation of my country,” he said. “For a long time everybody was concerned with banks and the usual stuff and now they see that giving privileges to big sports federations and not telling them how we expect them to behave won’t be accepted any longer.”