Anti-Graft Adviser Says FIFA May Need Governmental Intervention

The anti-corruption adviser for world soccer’s governing body today said the Swiss government may be needed to reform FIFA amid concerns that proposed changes will be blocked by European members.

Law professor Mark Pieth was chosen two years ago to lead the 13-member Independent Governance Committee of FIFA. The group was formed following accusations that senior officials took kickbacks, the suspension of six executives accused of wrongdoing during the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and a life ban given to a challenger for FIFA’s presidency in 2011.

The University of Basel academic said he’s seeking the involvement of the Swiss government to reform oversight of some of the international governing bodies based in the country. Pieth said intervention is needed because “you have 60-plus such organizations and you’re basically allowing them to do whatever they want.”

In January, the sport’s European governing body, UEFA, said its members opposed a proposal by Pieth’s committee that any members selected to FIFA’s executive board be voted upon by the organization’s entire 209-nation membership and be subject to background checks by an independent body. UEFA said its members should decide who represents them on FIFA’s board and that “if integrity checks are required,” they be done by confederations.

“What we are seeing here is resistance to some of the toughest requirements,” Pieth said in a telephone interview today.

UEFA declined to comment on Pieth’s views. FIFA, which also declined to comment, will host a meeting with soccer’s six confederations on Feb. 26 to discuss the reforms.


Because of past scandals, independent integrity checks are critical to reforming the organization, Pieth said. Ex-FIFA President Joao Havelange and former executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira received as much as $22 million between them in payments from the collapsed ISL marketing company. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said the payments weren’t illegal because they were commissions.

“I’m a bit astonished,” Pieth said of UEFA’s position. “They know what the problems of the past are. I don’t have a lot of trust in regional integrity checks and I don’t like the use of the word ‘if’ in that declaration.”

UEFA said its 53 members unanimously approved its opposition to FIFA reforms and also rejected the Independent Governance Committee’s demand that FIFA board members have set-term limits. Pieth said that position wasn’t reflected in conversations he’d had with member nations.

“All sorts of people I’ve been asking who were responsible have come back and said ‘Well no, we didn’t agree to all this,’” Pieth said.

Next Meeting

FIFA at its Congress in Mauritius in May will vote on the final set of proposed reforms after agreeing to the first changes last year. Those included a new selection process for future World Cup hosts, the creation of independent bodies to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing and the creation of an audit and compliance committee to oversee the millions of dollars spent on soccer development around the world. A new hotline to report match-fixing allegations and corruption became operational earlier this month.

Pieth also criticized the English and German federations, saying he didn’t understand why they have backed UEFA’s position given their strong opposition to the way the international body has been run in recent years.

Softening Suggestions

“We came out with very straight-forward suggestions and UEFA together with the British association and German association is softening them and that astonishes me,” he said. Some officials were blocking reforms and thinking of “their own interest before the interests of the whole,” he said.

The German and English associations didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Pieth’s views.

Pieth said he’ll continue lobbying officials until it comes time to vote.

“Let’s see if we can get it by self-regulation, if not we will have to do it through the public domain,” he said.

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