Pieth’s prudent paper and Blatter’s play for time

Blatter explains the split-up of the Ethics Committee to the media last Friday. Photo: –

As so often before, FIFA’s Exco avoided to make convincing reform decisions, but investigation into the past may become possible later this year comments Jens Sejer Andersen, international director at Play the Game.

To become disappointed you have to have built up expectations. So whether or not you are disappointed with FIFA’s response last Friday 30 March to the much awaited report from the Independent Governance Committee (IGC) headed by Swiss professor Mark Pieth, depends on the degree of optimistic illusions you have kept with regard to FIFA’s ability to reform itself.

Yours truly must admit having lost most of his seductive illusions after following FIFA politics for 15 years. So I cannot really declare disappointed just because FIFA did not make decisions which would come as a breath-taking shock if they suddenly materialised.

No, FIFA President Blatter did not go to the press conference Friday afternoon with a message that the 24-strong Executive Committee had decided to start serious investigations into the allegations of massive corruption that hangs over a very big minority among them.

No, he did not advertise in-depth research into suspicions about fraud and dirty tricks in the selection of World Cup hosts Russia and Qatar in 2010 and into his own election almost one year ago.

No, he did not change his claim that the Swiss courts still prevent him from publishing the ISL dossier with its revelations of how 140 million Swiss Francs were given to mostly FIFA leaders as personal bribes. On the contrary, he added one misleading statement to this misleading claim, when saying that publishing the ISL dossier would be a “criminal offense”.

And no, Blatter did not state that everybody at FIFA would follow all recommendations made by the IGC as rapidly as possible, defying the sensitive ego’s at the helmet of FIFA.

But what he did, as he has done over and over again, was to declare the day historic because the Exco had taken unanimous decisions to bring the reform process forward.  “Forward” in FIFA terms means taking the minimal steps required to create the illusion of not standing still.

Blatter’s strategy for the past two years has been to play for time, and as FIFA’s is not only economically independent – it is fabulously rich – and still not seriously threatened by its sponsors, fans, legislators and other stakeholders, Blatter has all the time he needs to fine-tune the art of postponing. 

The only single group that has voiced opposition and could be potentially dangerous if it chose to break away from FIFA – the European clubs gathered in ECA – was silenced a few days earlier when FIFA promised to reduce the international match calendar and set up a worldwide player insurance, so clubs can be compensated if a player is injured when performing for this national team.

Independent chairmen to be elected
In terms of anti-corruption measures the FIFA leadership did not make one single decision, technically speaking. They made proposals for the 2012 congress to be held 24-25 May in Budapest, handpicking a few suggestions from Mark Pieth’s report:

  • The Ethics Committe shall be divided into an investigatory and adjudicatory chamber, and the 2012 Congress must choose an independent chairman
  • The Nomination Committee that Pieth suggests to scrutinize candidates for FIFA positions will not be established, but its functions put under the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee
  • The Audit Committee will be expanded to an Audit and Compliance Committee which will also look at salaries, bonuses etc, and the 2012 Congress will also appoint an independent chairman for this committee

Though the progress is modest, it might in fact get one positive outcome if Pieth’s recommendations are followed: the new investigatory body should have a sufficient budget, independent staff of highly professional people and a right to investigate events of the past. 

This means that in the best of all worlds an independent investigation into the corruption charges may be able to set off in the autumn of 2012. Knowing Blatter and FIFA’s ability to manipulate proceedings, beware where your expectations will lead you…

A number of more contentious issues by Pieth and the IGC were simply put into “a big package”, as Blatter put it, together with proposals for the FIFA statutes task force headed by the recently retired president of the German FA, Theo Zwanziger. This package will not be dealt with until the FIFA Congress 2013 in Mauritius, so FIFA seems much more patient with itself than the outside world is. 

The delay also means that FIFA officials will have lots of time to weaken suggestions by Pieth to introduce term limits for FIFA position (typically max. 8 years), control over member federations’ budgets, much stricter guidelines for development aid, and streamlined procedures for distributing marketing and hosting rights.

IGC wants to oversee reform steps
As the U.S. academic Roger A. Pielke rightly points out in a very interesting blog posting, Mark Pieth himself seem to have weakened his messages when you compare his first report on FIFA with the recent IGC report. Also his latest statements in the Financial Times put a stronger pressure on FIFA than the newest report. Some of the ambiguities can be excused, though. The report is not solely signed by Pieth, but also a number of other committee members, including FIFA insiders. There may be tactical reasons to lower the voice in the report. 

It is noteworthy that the IGC report demands that all important steps in the continued reform, appointment of independent candidates, statute amendments etc., must be overseen by the Independent Governance Committee itself. There will still be many opportunities for Pieth to use the strongest weapon he has: To retire if things do not go his way.

This is, however, a weapon that can only be fired once. And the obvious risk for Pieth and anyone else with a genuine wish of FIFA reform, is that Blatter and his Exco succeeds with their delay strategy, draining stakeholders of energy and driving outside observers to a point of exhaustion where they will accept any decision that just appears as reform.

Then, of course, we will end up with very little disappointment. And very little change.


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