News 27 October 2015

PTG2015: To be or not to be? For FIFA, that is the question…

Whether FIFA can reform its current structures by electing a new President or whether fundamental reform needs to be carried out first formed the main point of discussion at a packed final session at Day Two of Play the Game 2015 today in Aarhus, Denmark. Delegates also heard about the shocking scale of corruption at FIFA, which could total US$7 billion.

“To be or not to be is exactly the question for FIFA right now”, said Jens Weinreich, an investigative journalist. Weinreich, who has written many articles about corruption at FIFA, pointed out that the question of whether there would even be a FIFA Congress to elect a new President on 26 February 2016 was, for the first time, not in FIFA’s hands. He said that this was due to the US considering FIFA a criminal organisation under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act; due to the promise of a widening US investigation and due to criminal cases in South Africa.

Weinreich highlighted that if you add together the alleged corruption charges in the 161-page US Department of Justice (DoJ) indictment, you are left with a figure of US$200 million. Add the $145 million bribery allegations regarding FIFA’s former TV marketing partner for the World Cup, International Sport & Leisure (ISL), and you are left with a figure of $345 million. “In criminal science, it is generally accepted that about 5% of corruption charges are known”, he argued, which would mean that the total damages in terms of money taken out of football for alleged corrupt purposes could total $7 billion.

Approximately 250 delegates also heard from FIFA Presidential candidates Jérôme Champagne and David Nakhid, who both argued that FIFA needed reform, but differed as to the extent of those reforms. “Can FIFA afford another concussion?” asked Nakhid, who argued that there are many things that FIFA does right, and the role of the new President is to be clear on what needs to be changed. Champagne argued that a good President without structural reform, or structural reform without a good President is not enough – you need both.

“FIFA, as a global organisation, has expanded to all corners of the globe”, said Nakhid. “Commercially, FIFA has reached expansive growth. But where is the depth? When you play expansive football without depth, that is when you are caught in possession of the ball. This is where FIFA is.”

Both candidates pointed to the inequality of wealth in football as an area that needs addressing, but were less clear on how those inequalities would be addressed. Champagne highlighted that the 20 richest clubs, all of which are based in Europe, bring in €7.2 billion in revenue, yet around 100 national associations exist on revenues of less than €2 million per year. “The model going forward is not sustainable”, argued Nakhid, who complained that the imbalance in the transfer market had led to a “scramble like refugees” in an attempt to reach Europe, which benefits Europe in terms of choice of footballing talent. However, Nakhid reassured Europeans that it wouldn’t be taken from UEFA’s revenues. “I posit that it would be disingenuous to take money from UEFA”, he argued. “We need to raise the money up for the remaining 85%”.

Jaimie Fuller of NewFIFANow explained how his organisation had pushed sponsors by highlighting their brand values against the actions of FIFA, such as Visa’s values of probity and trust against the bribery allegations surrounding FIFA, or McDonalds’ respect for the UN Charter on Human Rights held against the treatment of Nepali workers in Qatar. “When you sponsor FIFA, you are endorsing this”, he pointed out. “FIFA needs an administrator. It is exactly the same thing, however you are not dealing with financial bankruptcy, but dealing with moral bankruptcy”. Fuller invited the two Presidential candidates to a new launch event for NewFIFANow on 27 January 2016.

The Presidential candidates also expressed disgust at the way in which FIFA is being run. Champagne referred to FIFA’s Executive Committee as a “stock exchange”, where the Presidents of the six football confederations trade blocks of votes. Both said that they had been asked by national associations not to reveal which ones had supported them, as the associations are afraid about what will happen to them should they reveal their support. Both candidates agreed that their race to become FIFA President is unlikely to be a clean campaign. “We have decided to be here”, said Nakhid. “That speaks volumes”.

“The Havelange and Blatter way cannot be the future” argued Weinreich. “A fundamental change is needed”. Weinreich and Fuller said that this could only be accomplished by a completely new federation, while – perhaps predictably – Champagne and Nakhid were keen to retain aspects of FIFA which they regarded had been successful, but to reform the organisation through a strong, new President with a vision for change. UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino today confirmed his candidature, as did Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. It will be an interesting race, if it takes place at all.

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