Fifa will not allow women to sit on a key ethics committee to investigate allegations of wrongdoing within football’s governing body, independent advisers on reform have claimed.
Two officials are alleged to have informed the advisers of this policy during a lunch at Fifa’s annual Congress in Budapest last month barely an hour after members voted to set up the two-chamber committee with powers to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and adjudicate on them.
The sex discrimination allegations will plunge Fifa into a new controversy at a time when the scandal-riddled body is seeking to persuade critics of its commitment to reform.
The Independent Governance Committee, set up by Fifa president Sepp Blatter to combat accusations of inertia over dealing with investigating corruption allegations, recommended the reform and nominated four women for the eight seats on the investigatory and adjudicatory chambers.
But Alexandra Wrage, an IGC member, said she was told at the lunch the nomination of any female candidates was “entirely unacceptable”.
Ms Wrage told the Financial Times: “They sat down next to me, two senior Fifa executives. They said, ‘you are pushing too hard, leave this for another time. You’ve made a lot of progress, you should be content.’ It was so clear-cut, it was expressly stated.”
Ms Wrage, who advises companies on anti-bribery compliance, declined to reveal the identity of the officials who, she said, had created an atmosphere of “unapologetic chauvinism”.
She added: “I was gobsmacked. We were making progress in this environment. I guess you have to admire their candour.”
Her account was corroborated by Guillermo Jorge, another IGC member, in an email to the FT.
Mark Pieth, IGC chairman, said: “What this demonstrates is that this is an organisation which has a really long way to go. Gender issues are part of the governance issue, and they don’t seem to understand that.
“If you were to defend that attitude, you would say they are a boys’ club and they are in a transition phase.”
The IGC is expected to hold a conference call in the next few days to discuss how to respond. Ms Wrage said she was uncertain whether she could continue serving on the IGC.
Mr Pieth added: “What doesn’t surprise me is that this organisation has a problem with women in their ranks. That is typical. Obviously I’m saddened that we have to deal with this issue as well, but it just means more work.
“They need a kick from outside. I think it’s serious.”
Mr Blatter said at the end of the Budapest gathering that Fifa, which has been the subject of numerous bribery and vote-rigging allegations, was “firmly committed” to reform. He lauded Fifa’s decision to appoint its first woman to its all-male executive committee.
A meeting of the executive committee scheduled for next month is set to approve chairmen for the ethics committee chambers. Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, is tipped to take up the chairmanship of the investigations unit.
In a report published in March, the IGC criticised Fifa’s handling of past allegations and said the new ethics committee should review them.
Fifa said in an emailed statement: “Fifa has no comment to make on such allegations. The decision regarding the chairman of each of the two ethics committee chambers will be taken at the next executive committee meeting on July 17 and Fifa will not speculate on the candidates before that date.”