Fifa elections

Never mind presidential election – Fifa’s vote on reform proposals could be far more important

The embattled organisation will hopefully take some steps towards more open and transparent governance on Friday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 February, 2016, 9:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 February, 2016, 9:42am

The cliche is “a cesspool of corruption”. A mere pool would be a pleasant upgrade for Fifa, currently buried under a Pacific-sized ocean of excrement after Sepp Blatter’s reign.

As many have pointed out, there is likely no point in hoping that any of the five candidates to replace the Swiss big cheese in Friday’s presidential election will be a massive upgrade. The fact that even persistent claims linking a candidate’s name to torture and other human rights abuses are not enough to dent his campaign tells you all you need to know about Fifa politics.

The candidates have also been markedly uninterested in engaging with actual football supporters, spurning opportunities to take part in televised debates etc. Why would they, when the people who actually pay for the game – whose money for example helps Uefa candidate Gianni Infantino jet around the globe in a private jet to gladhand with football association bosses – have absolutely no say in its governance?

“Vote with your conscience,” Blatter told delegates this week, stunning those who assumed he had never heard of that noun. There’s probably plenty of people at Fifa who have the good of the game at heart, though it does seem at times that almost anyone who’s set foot in their luxurious Zurich HQ has at least attracted the interest of anti-corruption investigators.

Perhaps the best result many of us will hope to come out of Switzerland as football’s not-so-great-and-good gather again is yet another dawn swoop by police. Guests at the Baur au Lac, the luxury hotel which has recently become a popular spot for authorities to drag football officials into paddy wagons, may not need to ask reception for early wake-up calls. While Sheikh Salman is favourite at bookmakers offering markets on the election, I was disappointed not to be able to find odds on ‘match abandoned – police stopped play’.

But perhaps there is a small glimmer of hope to be found at this week’s shindig.

As well as the presidential election, another vote will take place which is probably more important: asking Fifa’s 209 member associations (well 207, Kuwait and Indonesia are suspended and can’t vote) to pass wide-ranging reforms.

The key proposals are as follows: a separation of Fifa’s political functions from day-to-day management by scrapping the executive committee and replacing it with a council and general secretariat akin to a corporate board; integrity checks on all candidates for the council; minimum numbers of independent members from outside football to key committees; more women involved in those committees (no mention of whether they will have to wear sexy short shorts as Blatter once suggested female players should); term limits for officials; and, most intriguingly, full disclosure of officials’ salaries.

We might finally find out just how much Blatter made from world football (not including any possible off-the-books ‘bonuses’ of course), with some claiming he was paid 8 million a year (HK$69 million), comparable to many of the world’s top players who actually bring joy to fans.

The cynical will suggest that these reforms are just Fifa’s attempt to present itself as committed to change, in a bid to get some of the heat from judicial authorities and governments off its back. And the cynical may well be right. However, since the organisation is not going to be razed to the ground and replaced by something altogether new and open, as many would like, the reforms are the next best thing. “The draft statute reforms do cover a lot of required checks and balances that could limit the type of corruption we have seen in the past,” Gareth Sweeney, a researcher for anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, told Reuters.

They are common sense proposals and a good starting point for the incoming president
HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe

Now it’s up to member associations to pass them; 75 per cent of the 207 eligible FAs have to say aye. “I am confident the reform measures will be approved by the congress,” said Hong Kong Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe, who was at an Asian Football Confederation meeting in Kuala Lumpur last week where attendees had the proposals explained to them (and were likely urged to vote yes).

“There was consensus at the AFC meeting and I’m sure other confederations will be the same,” he added. “They are common sense proposals and a good starting point for the incoming president.”

In the past, in the unlikely event anyone in football would have had the gall to propose such reforms, it’s doubtful whether even 7.5 per cent would have approved – but now it seems likely that football’s powerbrokers recognise they need to be seen to be doing something positive for the game. For that, at least, we should probably be thankful.