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Time to Cure FIFA’s Chronic Bad Governance Disease

 After Tuesday’s dismissal of Michael Garcia’s complaint against the now infamous Eckert statement synthetizing (misleadingly in his eyes) his Report on the bidding process for the World Cup 2018 and 2022, Garcia finally decided to resign from his position as FIFA Ethics Committee member. On his way out, he noted: “No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organization”. It took Garcia a while to understand this, although others faced similar disappointments before. One needs only to remember the forgotten reform proposals of the Independent Governance Committee led by Prof. Dr. Mark Pieth.

FIFA is the world’s government of football. It decides who should get to organize the World Cup every four years, but it also imposes the rules applying to international transfers of football players and redistributes a massive amount of money to the various layers of the football pyramid. Those are no mundane tasks. But, despite its relentless display of an entrenched culture of bad governance and corruption, the timidity of public authorities in confronting FIFA is striking. In fact, opacity and a dramatic lack of accountability characterize FIFA’s decision-making processes.


FIFA’s Opacity Culture

Transparency is one of the key requirements of “good governance”. Transparency implies that the public sphere can scrutinize the acts of government and criticize them in full knowledge of their contents. To the contrary, FIFA’s daily governmental work is marred in opacity. Disciplinary decisions, as the one handed out on Tuesday, are never released in full. Thus, it disables any critical checks on the way justice is rendered by FIFA’s disciplinary bodies. The two Garcia reports, the first on the ISL Corruption scandal and the second on the World Cup 2018 and 2022 bids were not publically released (Michael Garcia did not complain over the non-publication of his first report). In an ironical twist, FIFA regulations bar FIFA from releasing these reports supposed to restore credibility of FIFA in the eyes of the world. Hence, FIFA publically trumpets investigations into the most controversial and sensitive issues, while knowing that the findings will be buried forever. But beyond the Garcia reports, opacity is a pervasive feature of FIFA’s governance. For example, the two academic studies ordered by FIFA on the legality and desirability of third-party ownership were similarly kept in a drawer, despite the fact that they are to serve as a basis for upcoming legislation on the matter. In this way, FIFA is able to keep the public debate at bay. Maintaining the public uninformed on the substance of legislative or judicial decisions is the surest way to avoid any controversies and to distance the world government of football from its “citizens”. 


FIFA’s Accountability Deficit

Accountability is another keyword for anybody interested in Good Governance standards. In short, it implies that a decision-maker can be held responsible in front of a forum (legal or political) for the decisions she (or most likely he in the case of FIFA) is taking. FIFA has a huge accountability deficit for two reasons: internally no strong accountability mechanisms have been put in place; externally no societal accountability is imposed. Internally FIFA has been at pain to paint the emergence of its “independent” Ethics Committee as a revolution. However, the Garcia Report saga was prompt to display it as a farce. The Ethics Committee’s investigation as such seems to have been fundamentally flawed, suffice here to recall that the Russian Federation got away with a simple “computers destroyed”. If the Ethics Committee is incapable of inquiring seriously into those matters, it should simply be discarded as an instance of whitewashing. Moreover, despite Blatter being a finalist for this year’s edition of the world’s most hated human being, he will most likely be re-elected by FIFA’s member (the leaders of the national associations) at the upcoming congress in May 2015. Indeed, FIFA’s members are accountable to nobody as FIFA shields them from any national legal or political challenges on the pretext of protecting the autonomy of football.

As pointed out by Garcia, FIFA is incapable of reforming itself and until now it has been immune to the pressure of public outrage. All the expertise of the world would be incapable of changing this state of affairs, unless it is matched with hard legal constraints. This pressure has to come from the states, the first among those being the Swiss state. The Swiss public authorities have the duty to use all legal tools available (especially criminal law) to clean up this Swiss association seated in Zurich, they should collaborate with Europol, Interpol and the FBI in doing so (the new anti-corruption laws are a first step in that direction). In the end, the Swiss state is the sole capable of putting an end to FIFA’s corrupt politics. Would this be an inadmissible intrusion in the autonomy of sport? Even the IOC acknowledged, in the background paper to the Agenda 2020 recommendation, “autonomy has to be earned” and must be exercised “responsibly and in accordance with the basic standards of good governance”. There is no way FIFA can be seen as complying to any good governance standards. The time to clean-up FIFA has come.

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