Sepp Blatter's so-called reforms at Fifa lack real bite

Dan Hough says on closer scrutiny, the proposed measures to improve football governance will do little to lift the world governing body out of a serious corruption scandal

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 July, 2015, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 July, 2015, 12:29pm

Sepp Blatter has announced how Fifa plans to improve its governance procedures and weed out corrupt practices. The ideas outlined on Monday might sound plausible, but they lack two crucial things: independent oversight and faith that those in charge of implementing reforms are really capable of carrying them through.

Fifa, the world governing body for football, is trying to move on from the worst set of scandals in its 111-year history. Fourteen current and former officials of the organisation are being investigated for a legion of alleged misdemeanours, and the great and the good within appear to realise that Fifa simply cannot carry on pretending it is business as usual. It's with that in mind that Blatter, the current president, announced a set of reforms.

He began by saying he would not stand for president when the next election for that position takes place on February 26.

The reforms themselves stem from the first executive committee meeting since a tumultuous Fifa congress in late May, and they consist of five key parts: transparency over the salaries of top executives; term limits for those executives; a task force, headed by a neutral chairperson, to investigate what further ethics reforms are needed; Fifa's 27-person executive committee will, in all likelihood, be reduced and will also be elected by the 209 national federations (not through the six regional confederations); and enhanced integrity checks are to be brought in for executive committee members.

At first glance, these moves may look reasonable and forward-thinking. But the more one analyses what they are likely to mean in practice, the less convinced one becomes that they are going to mean anything substantive. Blatter has, for example, now clearly and unambiguously stated that he will be standing down; but he still has seven months to ensure that his successor - who will be chosen by the same people who were exceptionally reluctant to get rid of Blatter in May - does not tread all over his legacy.

It is easier to be slightly more positive about bringing in transparency in terms of what Fifa officials earn and in limiting the time they may spend in office. However, if actually revealing how much the big hitters in an organisation earn is seen as a flagship reform, then that alone tells us plenty about how much else needs to be done.

The task force might also sound like something to be welcomed. Tough questions being asked by tough-speaking experts can only be a good thing, no? But even in Blatter's speech, he began to sow the seeds of doubt about what sort of independence this task force will enjoy. The chairman, for example, is going to be chosen in consultation with the presidents of the regional confederations. They are very unlikely to opt for someone who they think is going to publicly read them the riot act.

It is also unlikely that the 209 national federations will opt for radical thinkers when choosing who should sit on the new executive committee. Whether there will be enough transparency to bring with it cultural change remains very much to be seen.

Finally, it appears the integrity checks will be carried out by Fifa's own ethics committee - a committee that has proven to be toothless thus far and is, again, clearly not a body with independence in its DNA. Anyone who has seen how the Premier League in England conducts integrity checks on owners of its clubs will be, at best, deeply suspicious about whether this process is going to lead anywhere at all. Remember, too, that the 209 member associations still need to approve all of this.

In truth, much of what Blatter announced isn't different from what has been discussed before. Previous Fifa congresses and meetings rejected many of these ideas already. What we probably are seeing is evidence that changing the culture of an organisation takes time, effort and no small degree of soul-searching. If this is evidence of Fifa's progress thus far, then we are still a long way from getting anywhere near where we really need to be.

Professor Dan Hough is director of the Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex in Britain