FIFA and corruption: how reform starts with a 14-team World Cup

@hamishneal

As FIFA+ seemingly lurches from crisis to crisis, the latest being more arrests of officials in Zurich whilst they were meeting to discuss reforming the beleaguered organization, football fans have been left wondering how the sport’s governing body can be fixed. The cynical amongst us think a solution is too difficult, but a German-based organisation might have found the solution for us, or at least given us a leg up with how to implement one.

 

In November Transparency International produced a report which outlined the parlous state of football governance and finance in member nations of FIFA with a galling number of only 14 of the 209 meeting minimum standards for financial reporting, organisational operations and relevant anti-corruption aspects.

 

The global corruption watchdog, whose advisory council is made up of such luminaries as former President of the USA Jimmy Carter and ex Justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby, which normally deals in corruption with nations as opposed to transparency in sport, and came up with some interesting findings.

 

T.I. looked at financial reports, organisational charters, annual activity reports and code of conduct/ethics of the nations. The report was scathing in its assessments of the bodies responsible for the growth of the game across the world.

 

“This lack of transparency and accountability is unfortunately not limited to FIFA’s headquarters,” it noted in a direct challenge to the members nations of FIFA. “This problem is made worse by the lack of information such as audited financial statements by many associations.”

 

Amongst the headline figures:

 

– 178 nations don’t publish annual activity reports

 

– Four of FIFA’s confederations didn’t reveal annual accounts.

 

– 87 nations, including controversial 2022 World Cup host Qatar, scored zero in all four categories.

 

– 42 nations don’t have websites or ones that work!

 

When you consider that each of the member federations of FIFA gets at least US$2.05 million per year to fund activities it’s no wonder money goes missing, and no surprise FIFA is in the mess it is if national bodies are approaching their primary role in such a blasé manner.

 

Even amongst the nations who T.I. gave a clean bill of health to more can be done. The report stated: “FAs with a top score still need to reveal much more to the public about their organisation and how they spend the cash that pours in from FIFA headquarters and their own revenue generating activities.” That’s the nations that got four out of four! By T.I.’s own admission “we set the bar for transparency at a very low level.”

 

The report advised; “Any reform of FIFA will have to make (reforming member federations) a priority.”

 

The problems at FIFA come from the top and clearly this report is targeting the member federations, but remember it’s the nations who voted in the current group of executive members and approve ongoing commitments to FIFA initiatives, good or bad, so they must bear some responsibility for this mess.

 

It could be suggested many of the national federation representatives feathered their personal nests whilst a member of the ExCo (Executive Committee), so if their colleagues couldn’t figure out something was wrong they might not be corrupt but they are at least incompetent (or perhaps passively corrupt), which is grounds enough for them to be removed from their roles.

 

Greater scrutiny of finance and related transparency I feel in such a scenario would only be pushed through by a new FIFA regime if a bold move was proposed; barring countries from the World Cup – playing in it and hosting it.

 

Under the current structure of FIFA there are so many poor elements to unpick but any real change is only going to come from getting the nations to get their house in order as well. It’s hardly fair for the 168 national federations that don’t make their financial reports publicly available to tell FIFA and their ExCo members to ‘be more responsible with money and don’t take bribes’ when they are offering no transparency of their own with regards to where their own money goes.

 

Now a problem with the practicality of barring sides form the World Cup until they get their financial houses in order is that it would be less of a World Cup and more of a European Championship with invitations – sort of like the Eurovision Song Contest, only not as funny.

 

Currently 11 of the 14 federations which meet T.I.’s standards are from Europe. It would mean England, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden are all off to the 2018 event (which by default will be held in England). Only Japan in the Asian Football Confederation, New Zealand in Oceania Football Confederation, and Canada in Concacaf would be eligible outside of Europe. CONMEBOL (South America) and CAF (Africa) nations miss out altogether.

 

Selling a World Cup to USA broadcasters without a participating USA team is problematic, to say the least, and might result in a discounted rate for whoever is re-negotiating that deal. Should the current TV deal be ruled void by the broadcasters perhaps a skilled negotiator could pitch it to Netflix or similar. This could provide an opportunity for broadcasting executives in the ‘new media’ companies who understand the current digital media landscape to make out like bandits with a cut-price World Cup featuring (arguably) Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Joe Hart and Claudio Marchisio still on the pitch.

 

Clearly the prospect of a 14-team World Cup is somewhat odd. However most, if not all, people reading this would agree that something needs to change. At least this offers us a starting point.

 

Some sort of grace period would need to be instituted for nations so we would never get to the scenario of the reduced World Cup and the below would be my plan:

 

– Over six years the member federations could implement the proper financial and other organisational protocols and then progress to approval through an external body (we will get to that later.) This would give the relevant local, state, and regional footballing bodies in each country ample time to turf out ineffective board members/staff.

 

– If nations don’t display progress they are placed into ‘footballing administration’. Their local competitions could still continue (many competitions, the MLS for example, operate elements partially if not completely removed from the national body) so the domestic game still occurs but in the background they would need to work on key aspects as outlined to regain international eligibility.

 

– For nations that haven’t made financial records publicly available, they will be required to submit a minimum of two years completed records until that section is ticked off. These would have to be looked at by an independent auditor who is rotated yearly and hasn’t previously worked with that federation.

 

For some nations this would be an easy fix and our 14-team World Cup could get to 32 easily (and quickly) if nations like Chile made available financial reports, Scotland produced a Code of Ethics details, and the Ukraine produced annual activity reports and so on. For others the task is a little harder but no-one said organising 209 nations to do anything under a unified system would be an easy caper.

 

Some nations who never have a real chance of making a World Cup would simply have their development funds held in trust until such time as they meet a basic set of requirements. The money would still be there but a percentage could be taken off each year, increasing the incentive for them to right their ship as quickly as possible given they probably wouldn’t make a World Cup anyway.

 

FIFA already does this to a degree in requesting audited accounts from nations before paying them further financial assistance payments, but they have only done this since March this year and it’s not exactly targeting big nations with Trinidad and Tobago, who score zero from four in T.I’s rankings, amongst the nations to have funding halted. But there hasn’t been an over-arching plan which also takes in work around organisational charters, codes of ethics or go as far as to ban them from a world cup. The last major nation to be sanctioned was Nigeria in July of 2014 but that was largely over political interference, although they hadn’t paid their players as well. Either way FIFA overturned the ban five months later.

 

A bold plan like this will need strong and trusted leadership. The obvious candidate for my new FIFA Czar would be Barack Obama. The U.S’s current Commander-In-Chief comes out of contract in January 2017 (maybe the Democratic National Convention could send him out on loan in the upcoming January transfer window?) and after eight years dealing with an unprecedentedly hostile congress on Capitol Hill, staring down Vladimir Putin, pretending to like Tony Abbott and dealing with all kinds of Middle East shenanigans, running FIFA might just be the perfect next ‘thing’ for the President after leaving the White House. I will happily shout him a round of golf every Friday if that sweetens the deal.

 

President Obama will need some help. Financially, T.I. have contributors from various national governments, primarily via their foreign affairs and trade departments, and are also supported by international accounting firms like Ernst & Young and Price Waterhouse Coopers. Those companies could be at the forefront of guiding the nations without adequate resources to improve their reporting, transparency and oversight standards. If neither of those firms want to get involved in this mess, the T.I. results show Scandinavian countries with a virtual clean bill of footballing-transparency health, so to speak. Perhaps a major body from that region could be responsible for this. T.I does, after all, have a Nobel Laureate on their board, so surely the Swedish-based groups have some connections. Or maybe a retired member of one of the Scandinavian FA’s could lead the reform project if President Obama is too busy.

 

Deliberately I have excluded elements such as the Women’s World Cup and youth World Cups because they don’t generate the kind of revenue of the men’s event and a dramatic move which excludes countries from these tournaments would probably do more harm than good, particularly for women’s football.

 

A problem with this plan could be that in December 2011 T.I. cut its ties with FIFA, so whether such a distinguished organisation would want to go back to the well again when they could be spending their time on ‘proper’ (non sport-related) activities would be a matter for them. However T.I. themselves have posted five recommendations in their report but this plan goes further and attempts to incentivise nations with a penalty which would hit them hard financially and reputation-wise.

 

So there you go. A 14-team, not 40-team, World Cup. New Zealand in a group with Italy who they nearly beat in 2010. I’d be happy with that. But I’d prefer the real deal, like everyone would.

 

 

 

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. Where did Australia go wrong Hamish? How come we’re not amongst the lilywhites? Don’t tell me; it was our World Cup bid under Sir Frank Westfield. BTW, did he ever repay those millions to the Long Suffering Australian Taxpayer he squandered in their name?

    But what about the game itself? Surely it’s just too open to corruption — one umpire, eleven players, low scoring, international TV audience, on-line betting. It’s a match fixer’s dream. Two flies crawling up a window pane, now there’s a real bet. Those Aussie bush flies would take some beating, eh?

    But the obvious question here would have to be, how come it’s taken this long to come out into the open? The Camels in the Qatar Bazaar were laughing about it half a decade ago.

  2. I like it – a bit like US college athletes cannot play unless they are passing their academics.

  3. Great thoughts here Hamish. It reminds me of the circumstances in play when Bernie Ecclestone challenged the authority of Jean-Marie Ballestré, the head of what was then FOCA and established Formula 1 as we know it today. Arguably things aren’t exactly rosy for the sport under Bernie, but he shook things up and challenged the establishment of the day. #Imajen the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and MLS growing the stones to establish a Federation that refused to recognise FIFA. There’s two of the three largest TV audiences right there.

  4. Great insight. I suspect these issues are played out in numerous sporting bodies to varying degrees. We get to hear about it when there is serious money involved and hopefully we can take note and learn. As you point out, there needs to be some sort of big stick wielded by trusted people to get results.
    Robbo

  5. Great article Hamish. Again it shows how rotten football and generally sports administration is around the world. Not surprised Australia did not make the list

  6. Hamish Neal says

    The Wrap, Australia scored two out of four. They don’t make publicly available annual activity reports or financial records. So that kind of links to your point. As for corruption linked to the sport or individual games you make a good point but that is a whole other issue of fixing!
    Dave Brown, a good comparison. The schools make a mootza off the athletes there…wait sounds just like Fifa.
    Steve, Club-driven is probably how it hapens, but which leagues do we trust to lead it?
    Robbo, Football gets the more attention absolutely but I’m sure others have their own issues.
    Vaughan. You hit the nail on the head.

Leave a Comment

*