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Final Report on the FIFA Governance Reform Project: The Past and Future of FIFA’s Good Governance Gap

Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup left many people thunderstruck: How can a country with a population of 2 million people and with absolutely no football tradition host the biggest football event in the world? Furthermore, how on earth can players and fans alike survive when the temperature is expected to exceed 50 °C during the month (June) the tournament is supposed to take place?

Other people were less surprised when FIFA’s President, Sepp Blatter, pulled the piece of paper with the word “Qatar” out of the envelope on 2 December 2010. This was just the latest move by a sporting body that was reinforcing a reputation of being over-conservative, corrupt, prone to conflict-of-interest and convinced of being above any Law, be it national or international.

Interestingly enough, by 2011, FIFA itself was increasingly becoming aware of its loss of popularity. After his (third) re-election, President Blatter began to promote the idea of a “Solutions Committee to help promote reforms within FIFA”. In August of that same year Prof. Dr. Mark Pieth, Chairman of the OECD Working Group on Bribery, was asked to analyse the existing governance structure and to make recommendations for its improvement. His review, published on 19 September 2011, recommended FIFA to e.g. introduce a conflict-of-interest regulation foreseeing the removal of FIFA officials in case of breach and to set term limits for FIFA officials such as the President. As a result of the review, President Blatter decided to appoint an Independent Governance Committee (IGC), to be led by Prof. Pieth.

The project called the ‘FIFA Governance Reform Project’ was to “oversee the creation and implementation of a framework of good governance and controls for FIFA to ensure the organization’s integrity with the ultimate goal of restoring confidence amongst FIFA stakeholders, including fans and the wider public”[1]. The IGC’s first report, published on 20 March 2012, contained a set of recommendations that were very similar to what Prof. Pieth had recommended in his previous review: FIFA had to become more transparent and independent judicial and financial/compliance oversight bodies had to be established.

Initially, FIFA followed the IGC’s proposals by establishing an Ethics Committee and an Audit & Compliance Committee. However, The IGC stated that the reform process was far from completed, highlighting that there is still an urgent need to update internal regulations on compliance, conflict-of-interest and the internal organization in general. To the IGC’s growing disappointment, it soon became clear that FIFA was proving very reluctant to modernize in accordance with good governance requirements.

On numerous occasion the IGC stressed the need to introduce further transparency and accountability throughout FIFA[2]. To achieve this, FIFA officials would have to undergo an integrity check performed by an independent body prior to their (re-) election, the President and the Members of the FIFA Executive Committee would have to be be subjected to limited terms in office and two independent Members would have to attend the meetings of the FIFA Executive Committee. A major setback for the IGC was the unanimous declaration  of all 53 Member Associations of UEFA of 24 January 2013. UEFA was of the opinion that no term limits for members of the FIFA Executive Committee and that integrity checks on candidates shall not be performed by FIFA but by the Confederations, such as UEFA. Quoting IGC’s own report, this was a signal that the reform agenda was likely to be high-jacked by rivalling interest groups within FIFA, supported by those fearing to lose their long-time privileges and networks[3]. The fact that on the eve of the FIFA Congress of 2013 UEFA demanded a decision to be taken on the limited terms proposal, knowing that the motion would fail to meet the ¾ majority vote, meant that it would do everything in its power to prevent the IGC’s recommendations of being implemented. Feeling frustrated, several members of the IGC decided to leave the Independent Governance Committee after it became clear to them that FIFA was not serious about the proposed changes[4].  

The remaining Members of the IGC, whose mandate terminated at the end of 2013, published their final report on 22 April 2014. The 15 page report specifies a detailed chronological summary of the IGC’s work, including why FIFA gave it the task to provide recommendations and what recommendations had been implemented. More importantly, however, the report also mentioned all the difficulties the IGC encountered while performing its mandate and it highlighted once again the recommendations, which had not been implemented by FIFA: term limits for FIFA officials, integrity checks for all members of FIFA standing committees performed by FIFA itself and improved reviews of key processes, such as the World Cups bidding process[5]. Not surprisingly, the IGC strongly advocates that these recommendations are implemented nonetheless. Furthermore, the IGC insisted that the new Ethics Committee should be able to investigate events that occurred before the Governance Reform Project was started, especially Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.  

The next FIFA Congress will take place in Sao Paulo on 11 June 2014, one day before the World Cup kicks off. As the supreme and legislative body, the Congress has the right to vote on proposals for amendments to FIFA Statutes and Regulations and is therefore competent for implementing scores of the IGC’s recommendations. Taking into account UEFA’s position at last year’s Congress and FIFA’s overall reluctance to reform itself in accordance with good governance standards, chances of a significant change are very slim. But, with the whole world looking at FIFA due to the World Cup, this could well be a golden opportunity to push FIFA to endorse the IGC’s remaining recommendations and finally become the transparent and accountable sporting governing body that the football family deserves.

[1] Final Report by the Independent Governance Committee to the Executive Committee of FIFA, 22 April 2014

[2] See for example: Media releases of 8 February 2013  and 21 March 2013

[3] Final Report by the Independent Governance Committee to the Executive Committee of FIFA, page 10

[4] See for example: Media release of 24 April 2013

[5] Final Report by the Independent Governance Committee to the Executive Committee of FIFA, page 12-13

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