FIFA bashing is becoming an art form in the media these days and unfortunately wanton pot-shots often obscure the importance of reform to football’s top body.
This week, Michael Garcia, FIFA’s Chief Independent Ethics Officer, has warned his employers of the drastic need to reform. Garcia’s comments follow his investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process, possibly the most controversial bidding process in FIFA’s history.
Garcia spent months conducting research into the processes and finally handed in his investigation to Fifa’s ethics adjudicator Hans Joachim Eckert last month. Garcia hoped the investigation would spark an open discussion into improving transparency in FIFA. His hopes were unfounded. In a move that sums up FIFA’s biggest problem, the governing body decided to keep Garcia’s report confidential. Deeds, not words, as the old maxim goes.
Garcia himself is less than impressed. A lawyer by trade, he recently gave a keynote address at the American Bar Association event held in London in which the American held nothing back.
“What is required is leadership that sends a message that the rules apply to everyone; leadership that wants to understand and learn from any mistakes or missteps the ethics committee may have identified; leadership that makes it clear to everyone – this is what we’ve set up the ethics committee to do, this is why they do it, and this is what they’ve done.”
The message was aimed directly at Sepp Blatter, the current head of FIFA. The man whom many hold responsible for FIFA’s internal secrecy. Garcia is not alone either in his desire for greater openness within FIFA. A number of FIFA Executives, such as Jim Boyce and UEFA President Michel Platini have called on FIFA to publish Garcia’s report and settle the questions raised about the legitimacy of the Russian and Qatar World Cup bids.
Blatter has turned a deaf ear to such calls, insisting that the report will and must remain confidential. Furthermore Blatter claims that no member of the FIFA Executive Committee has made a specific request for Garcia’s findings to be made public.
It’s very much a case of same FIFA, different controversy. The past twelve months have seen an onslaught of criticism levelled at the governing body on a variety of levels. Some critics are angered at the World Cup bidding process, others at FIFA’s stance on racism. What’s common to all of these complaints is the desire for FIFA to listen to its members and make clear the reasoning behind its decisions. In a world where social media has torn down barriers between nations, FIFA has attempted to enforce a veil of secrecy around its decisions.
Will FIFA heed the latest calls to reform? The answer appears to be no. FIFA was told yet again to reform and the response remained the same. Sepp Blatter, so often the hate figure in the press, has once more ensured that FIFA’s internal decisions will remain internal. That’s not good enough for critics and it’s not good enough for the sport.
FIFA’s reputation will only be restored once its open with the public about how she governs. It’s the least to expect from a sports body.
Transparency does not mean disaster. Michael Garcia has argued passionately that other sports bodies have demonstrated the value in upholding transparent policies in the past. Take the IOC’s publication of a report into the 2002 Winter Olympics that was controversially awarded to Salt Lake City. The report admitted that bribery had occurred in the bidding process and that lessons had been learned. The report allowed the IOC to draw a line in the sand and resolve questions that the media had been asking. Rather than destroy the IOC’s reputation, it improved relations between the IOC and the general public.
Transparency does not mean disaster. The sooner FIFA learns that, the better.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Marcello Casal JR/ABr [CC-BY-3.0-br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.