FIFA's Lame Defense, Coca-Cola's Beautiful Game
FIFA held a press conference Monday to announce the date of the election to choose outgoing President Sepp Blatter's replacement, as well as some reforms to address the pressure from investigators and sponsors into its corrupt business practices. It was as underwhelming as you'd expect from an entity that has resisted reform for decades.
Right off the bat, we're stuck with Blatter in charge for another seven months, as the election won't take place until Feb. 26, 2016. It had been previously reported that the vote would be held in December -- itself too far off for many observers. Now, it seems Blatter is intent on dragging this out as much as possible, and giving himself enough time to somehow reposition himself in the public eye as FIFA's champion for change, an outright absurdity.
When he wasn't reminding us that he remains the "elected president," having won re-election in May, Blatter spoke about "the pressure which came to FIFA -- to me, a little bit, but mostly to FIFA" to reform, in remarks that were stunningly self-congratulatory. He touted the "very important decisions" of the Executive Committee for the date of the election and the reform process FIFA has resolved to revisit. "We've had a reform process since 2011, but there are still a few points which were not dealt with," Blatter said.
That's quite the understatement: FIFA's two-year roadmap for reform yielded few tangible changes, leading to the 2013 resignation of Alexandra Wrage, the anti-corruption expert leading the Independent Governance Committee, who panned the organization for ignoring the "uncontroversial recommendations" her group made. An independent analysis by Play the Game, an organization that promotes transparency in global sport that is run by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies, found that as of June 2013, the vast majority of recommendations had gone unimplemented, and criticized the governance committee for featuring too many FIFA members and not being truly independent.
It's laughable that Blatter was patting himself on the back for 40 minutes for establishing an 11-person "independent" task force to further pursue FIFA reform and review the proposals put forth by Domenico Scala, chairman of FIFA's Audit and Compliance Committee. Among these recommendations are term limits, centralized integrity checks and executive pay disclosure -- reforms that would be welcome but inadequate to deal with the corruption that pervades FIFA's power structure. Take the integrity checks, for example: Blatter insists that such measures must be taken by a "neutral" party, but then announces that the group responsible will be FIFA's ethics committee -- you know, the one that whitewashed its own report on the investigation into corruption in the World Cup bidding process.
"We are on the right track," Blatter proclaimed, praising FIFA for continuing business as usual even as its president remained silent for weeks, seemingly unaware that that's part of the problem. Answering questions from reporters, Blatter insisted that his sudden, stunning decision to resign back in June, just days after he won re-election, was out of some moral imperative -- not an attempt to save his hide from the FBI. "I had with my conscience to do something for FIFA -- not for me," he said. "This is my prerogative and this is my duty and mission now, is to defend the institution of FIFA, not to defend myself. "
I'm sure Blatter isn't at all concerned by the recent extradition of former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb from Switzerland to the U.S., just as I'm sure FIFA's reform efforts will be truly meaningful and effective. And I'm sure Michel Platini, the head of UEFA and the strong favorite to succeed Blatter, with the backing of four of six confederations, represents a clean break from the corrupt executives of the past, and that his support for Qatar's World Cup bid had nothing to do with his and his son's political and economic ties to the country.
But just in case I'm wrong, perhaps we should all support the calls from FIFA sponsor Coca-Cola, urging the organization to undergo immediate, independent reform, not the in-house hedge-trimming that was proposed on Monday. In a letter to the International Trade Union Confederation, the World Cup sponsor since 1978 wrote in favor of an "eminent, impartial leader ... to manage the efforts necessary to help reform FIFA's governance and its human rights requirements." It's part of an effort called "New FIFA Now" that is using international government and sponsorship pressure to force neutral reform. Indeed, it will be hard to take any reform effort seriously if it's carried out by the same faces and names who've been so embedded in FIFA's corruption for so long.
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