Almanac Soccer: Nine times zero equals 48. A look at Fifa’s World Cup decision

@hamishneal

Nine of the national bodies which voted for Fifa’s extended men’s World Cup of 48 teams from 2026 onwards don’t meet any basic governance standards as outlined by Transparency International in late 2015 which is another blow for the credibility of the expanded tournament and Fifa itself.

The reported unanimous vote made in Zurich on Tuesday will see the showpiece finals increase to 80 matches with some teams heading home after two games due to the new structure of 16 groups of three.

A vote for self-interest has clearly been made by a host of nations who, looking at basic governing principles, should have no role in the Fifa Council which made the decision.

In November of 2015 Transparency International produced a report ‘The Transparency International Football Governance League TableThe Transparency International Football Governance League Table’ for national bodies which, as I outlined at the time, was a poor look for the member nations of Fifa and also the six confederations. The report’s goal was to display which of the national bodies provided the “minimum amount of information necessary to let people know what they do, how they spend their money and what values they believe in.” The four criteria were: financial reports, organisation charter, annual activity reports and code of conduct/ethics.

The council is made up of 24 members each – ostensibly – representing their nation plus seven Vice-presidents, the Senior VP, secretary general and Fifa’s President Gianni Infantino. Of those with basic member status not only do nine countries (American Samoa, Congo DR, Cook Islands, Cuba, Cyrpus, Guinea, Ghana, Kuwait, plus the Turks and Caicos Islands) fail to meet any of the four TI criteria a further seven meet only one aspect meaning two thirds (16/24) of the council’s designated members can’t even meet 50% of the standards required for good corporate governance as outlined by TI. Between the seven vice-presidents and one Senior VP four of the eight only meet one of four criteria and just two (England and Canada) score four from four – or 100%. Only Italy and Japan of the 22 designated members score 100% which is a depressingly small figure.

Whilst these countries have voted for self-interest, with many having never competed in a World Cup, in the hope they will one day get to such an event (or benefit from a bigger slice of Fifa’s financial pie) it remains incumbent on those nations to prove they wouldn’t squander the extra money they may obtain. Fifa makes a major point now of improved governance under Infantino but nations should not be eligible for a place on the council if they can’t meet basic governance standards.

The world governing body has made a major point of not wanting ‘government interference’ in sport but I’d suggest nations which don’t meet TI’s criteria shouldn’t be allocated government funding and should be stood down from an Fifa role until such time as they do so. Interestingly the English FA (which scores 4/4) has been threatened with a withdrawal of government funding if it doesn’t reform to standards acceptable by the UK government. This move is largely due to the FA’s bloated council structure with 92 members from top flight to grassroots country FA members. England’s FA at least still meet TI’s criteria but their government is seeking assurances they implement an updated model within this context. If that impost was placed on other nations we could be talking about some time until reform. This is not before looking at TI’s guideline and final recommendations of its November 2015 report which include a recommendation to mandate a change to Fifa statutes to ensure the details of compliance to its four governance aspects are published by nations and confederations.

It is worth bearing in mind the figures are taken from TI’s report which was compiled from September to November 2015. The nations may have improved, however, in the current climate if a raft of member nations had updated their governance procedures one would assume they, and Fifa, would shout this from the rooftops. However, a Google search of ‘(insert country here) improve football governance’ shows up nothing of substance for the nations with a zero ranking. Interestingly Kuwait was actually suspended by Fifa for government interference in 2015 prior to the release of the TI report so they are really up against it.

TI also ranked the confederations at the time and none meet the criteria, which is perhaps unsurprising.

The lack of common sense displayed by the confederations when they vote members as designated Fifa council members was shown in Cairo in September with the Guinea and Ghana members, a reminder both got 0/4 in the TI criteria, were voted on as representatives of the Confederation of African Football. To be fair to the CAF reps it is a poor field they are drawing from in this confederation with (for example) 2010 World Cup host South Africa only meeting two of the four requirements (including no publically available financial records.) As pointed out by NewAfrican Magazine’s Osasu ObayiuwanaOsasu Obayiuwana the reportedly largest sponsorship deal CAF has ever signed hasn’t been revealed with a vague ‘guaranteed’ payment due by the negotiating company noted. Not only should governments play more of a role it is clear Fifa needs to mandate similar standards for confederations or they will continue to put up appointees of questionable ability from federations with an incompetent set of governance standards.

The vote for a 48-team tournament proves Fifa, who are actually registered charity, want more profit from World Cups (each participating nation who failed to progress past the group stage at the last World Cup got US$8 million with the winners getting US$35 million) but we know the financial boost national bodies get from this is not, largely, transparent to their members (i.e. grassroots players) based on TI’s report and there still needs independent oversight to implement any change. In the meantime… 16 nations could spend only four days at the World Cup in, probably, the USA in 2026 but how much of the extra money they get will actually go to worthy initiatives such as subsidised coaching/playing fees or a 3G pitch in every town/village remains to be seen.

Finally, with no hint of irony the next Fifa council meeting is to be held in Bahrain in May prior to the 2017 Fifa congress. Bahrain scored one from four in the TI governance rankings including not publishing any financial records.

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his ‘spare time’ (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

Comments

  1. So what. 32 teams or 48 teams or even 148 teams. Soccer’s still shit. aussie rules!!!!!!

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