Oh, they do like to be beside the seaside. Fifa, the governing body of world football, has been holding its annual congress in Mauritius for the past couple of days. The island state in the Indian Ocean is no football power, but hey, it’s paradise, and hard to get to for Fifa’s army of critics. It was the location on Friday for Sepp Blatter, Fifa’s president, to declare that, after two turbulent years, Fifa had been reformed. As a result, he said, it offered “the highest standards in good governance in sport”. And its future was “hopefully as beautiful calm and transparent as the sea around us in Mauritius”.
Now, could everybody just move on, already?
Fifa has certainly learnt to speak the rhetoric of reform. It had to be seen to be doing something after the scandalous way that Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. In truth, though, the attempt at reform has run up against the organisation’s inbuilt self-preservation mechanisms – its non-profit status in Switzerland, its hierarchical management and its laughably exaggerated sense of its own cosmic significance. There have been a few concessions to reality – “integrity checks” for personnel and allowing women on to the executive committee, for example; term and age limits are being discussed. But these rather miss the point.
Fifa’s big problems – governance and accountability – have not been addressed. Fifa might look like a non-governmental organisation – albeit one that has every government in the world in thrall to the allure of football – but it acts like a cross between a secret society and a large corporation. As Roger Pielke Jr of the University of Colorado notes in a paper on accountability at Fifa, football is not an especially big business (Fifa’s revenue in 2012 was just $1.2bn). But Fifa’s decisions – on where World Cups are staged, for instance – have huge implications for public and private investment. Yet there is little transparency and accountability in those decisions, as the Russia/Qatar furore showed.
As with companies and sceptical investors, Fifa will be reformed when the football world accepts that it has been reformed, not when Mr Blatter announces that it has happened. There is a ways to go yet.
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