How to fix FIFA

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

World football's governing body "needs far-reaching, fundamental reform". [thierry ehrmann/Flickr]

Anne Brasseur spells out exactly what Sepp Blatter or his successor must do to “lance the boil” and clean up football’s world governing body.

Anne Brasseur is president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – the human rights watchdog which has long been pressing for improved FIFA governance.

Like so many others, I am pleased that FIFA’s controversial president – finally – has stood down. Whatever his past failings, in his resignation statement he got one thing right: FIFA needs “far-reaching, fundamental reform”. Almost everybody agrees, but the question is, what exactly needs to change?

The body I head, which brings together 318 legislators from 47 European nations, has been looking hard at FIFA’s internal workings for the last two years. We have looked at its management structure, its statutes, its accounts. We have quizzed FIFA officials, including Mr Blatter himself. We have listened closely to FIFA’s critics, especially the dogged investigative journalists who have done so much to uncover wrongdoing there. We have invited experts in sports governance to tell us what should change. Our final report, which we adopted in April, contains a clear set of urgent recommendations for Mr Blatter or his successor.

Firstly, FIFA’s basic structure must change. As things stand, it plays the role of both regulator and commercial franchise-operator. It cannot be both. We have recommended that FIFA’s regulatory and business roles be separated, with the creation of a subsidiary company to manage the business side, and we have called for all commercial contracts (television rights, marketing, ticket sales and sponsorship) to be subject to transparent tendering procedures that meet the very highest international standards.

Secondly, FIFA must become much more open about its finances and its decision-making processes. The world body manages billions of dollars, money which belongs to the sport, not to its ruling mandarins. Top officials’ salaries, per diems and other perks should be made public, as should the expenses of the president and executive committee members. And crucially, given the concerns about the Qatar and Russia World Cup bids, voting on the hosting of FIFA events should be decided by open ballot.

Thirdly, if future scandals are to be prevented, FIFA needs a much more robust and independent procedure for policing itself. It should overhaul its code of ethics so that accepting or promising commissions is strictly forbidden, spell out clear sanctions for the worst infringements, and ensure that past misdemeanours (including by officials who have already left the organisation) can be probed. Anonymous whistle-blowers should be better protected. FIFA’s ethics committee needs to be more independent, its adjudicatory proceedings should be held in public and its conclusions always promptly published in full.

Fourthly, the men and women running world football must be seen to be cleaner than clean. Integrity checks on members of the executive committee – as Mr Blatter himself has acknowledged – should be carried out not by the member confederations but centrally by FIFA itself. The world body could also usefully follow the practice of the Olympic movement and limit the terms of office of the President and other leading executives.

On Mr Blatter’s watch, scandal at the heart of world football has become almost commonplace, while the manoeuvring at the top has come to resemble a “Game of Thrones”. The FIFA president is a victim of his own game, but once he has gone, the structure which gave rise to him will still be in place – unless we seize this opportunity to overhaul FIFA’s governance, and make it a worthy guardian of “the beautiful game”. The operation is long overdue, but now is the time to lance the boil.

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