New FIFA Needs New Direction

From internal scandals to human rights abuses in World Cup hosting countries, the new FIFA is facing critical issues. In interviews with the former General Secretary M. Zen Ruffinen and journalist Jamil Chade, FanVox, a social enterprise empowering fans, asks how willing and able are the new men in charge to improve the tarnished image of global football’s bosses?

The start of a new year marks the best time to makes changes. “I will go to the gym”, “I’ll start eating better”, “I’ll go on a course”, “I’ll join this club”. Unfortunately, from a football fan perspective, we know that willpower cannot so easily change aspects of global governance and that reform doesn’t come about quickly. Nevertheless, changes have been happening at FIFA. In 2016, a new president was elected as well as new staff and a new General Secretary appointed.

Late last year, we talked to M. Zen Ruffinen, sport lawyer and former General Secretary at FIFA from 1998 to 2002 and to Jamil Chade, correspondent of the O Estado do S. Paulo paper in Europe. We’ve been seeking to get an overview of the management of FIFA, their reform, and the issues still remaining. After the tax scandal which led to the eviction of several FIFA members and the resignation of Sepp Blatter, FIFA has been looking for a new start. The legacy is heavy and change must come.

Russia 2018 & Qatar 2022

The immediate future will be marked by the Russian and Qatari World Cups, two controversially awarded tournaments whose bids, as J. Chade pointed out, got the lowest rating based on the candidature dossiers. As a consequence, FIFA and the respective local organizing committees are now facing complex issues. Let’s remember that the host of the 2018 World Cup is being criticised for the high level of racism in Russian football and by the discrimination against LGBT in wider Russian society. In Qatar, the unknowns are not only of a political nature but involve strong worries about the heat which players could have to deal with (the tournament may be contested during winter), and the condition of workers on the sites of the host venues.

We asked our guests what could the “new FIFA” do if the Qatari authorities and local organization committee can’t guarantee the human rights of people involved in the construction of infrastructure around the country and we got pretty much the same answer from both: FIFA is bounded by the contracts that have been signed at the time of the awarding of both World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Withdrawing is unlikely to happen as the legal actions that would result could be so severe as to mean the end of FIFA. Chade highlighted how:

FIFA tends to set itself as the victim as they often claim that they never forced anyone to be a candidate for a World Cup and therefore are not responsible for the situation in their respective countries.

It is now official that the World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams as wanted by new president Gianni Infantino and discussed in the last FIFA council meeting. Both Ruffinen and Chade agreed that this reform would add nothing to the game from a technical point of view and stressed the issues it would involve from an organizational and logistic point of view. M. Zen Ruffinen spoke about his experience of the organization of the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by Japan and South Korea and highlighted the difficulties that a joint tournament involves. Raising the number of participating teams to 40 or 48 will necessarily increase the number of joint candidatures for obvious logistic reasons. Jamil Chade added that only a few countries would be able to organize such a big tournament on their own, opening the door to bids from the biggest countries China and USA and that the logistical issues would increase to the detriment of players, fans and the level of the game. This gives us a clue about the main focus of FIFA for the future who apparently don’t intend to do anything to solve the political and social issues that will mark the next two World Cups.

In the face of this unsatisfying situation, we have been trying to understand what could be done to solve the severe issues facing the management of global football and who has the power to do so. From an institutional point of view, M. Zen Ruffinen stated that although FIFA headquarters is based in Switzerland, the Swiss authorities have no power to dictate to them to take any measure impacting their activities happening at the other corner of the world. FIFA is seen as a private entity, rather than an institutional one and it is therefore rather unlikely that any government or intergovernmental institution would intervene in their management.

With less than two and six years respectively until the kick-off of Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, football must deal with these two competitions despite all the logistic, organizational, and human issues that are involved.

FIFA structural issues

To better understand how FIFA can change direction, how it can be reformed to manage football in a transparent and ethical way, Zen Ruffinen gave some interesting insights about the key issues that FIFA has been dealing with internally. M. Zen Ruffinen worked at FIFA from 1986 to 2002, 16 years in which global football has evolved drastically. From 86 collaborators when he entered to over 170 when he left without counting people working in marketing (which is run by another dedicated company), FIFA became bigger and bigger, richer and richer thanks to the income mainly from the sale of TV rights and partnership deals.

FIFA is an organization counting 211 affiliated national associations. Each of them having different interest and points of view on how global football should be managed. “The problem that FIFA has been facing and is probably still facing to a certain extent is that it is a world organization that on one hand has a lot of power, political and financial power and on the other hand has members which are very different depending on their geopolitical position. This leads to a very specific configuration to consider when managing the organization to take care of the interest of associations that have totally different points of view on how FIFA should be managed and this leads to some conflict, problems and the perception of corruption that people have on one side of the world are not the same at the other side and this created a lot of problems”, M. Zen Ruffinen stated.

He added that with its rapid expansion, FIFA turned into an organization with very specific and specialized competencies and this has allowed it to escape governmental rules to manage its interests the way it and its members preferred the most.

What we perceive as corruption from the outside, has been there for quite a long time, and while FIFA itself knew that some reforms had to be made, many federations were against it as they were afraid of losing their privilege.

One constant issue that FIFA is having to deal with big and small federations, poor and richer ones. The solution that M. Zen Ruffinen came up with is for FIFA to reform the structure of decision-making and to split the executive committee into two chambers, like a bicameral parliament where the decision of one chamber will be balanced by the other in order to avoid privileging any association over another.

World Cup Organization

The reason for this situation is politics. Talking with Jamil Chade about the last World Cup in Brazil, it emerged that the use of funds for the organization of the tournament was not sustainable in a country where so many social issues are yet to be solved. When asked about the matter of FIFA setting up high standards to organize a tournament regardless of the capabilities and characteristics of the host, he said the issue is not about the standard as he is convinced that Brazil is able to organize a tournament on a par with Germany or the Asiatic tournaments. For him it is about priorities and about considering the legacy that the tournament will leave in the country. He took the example of the site of Manaus, Arena Amazonia, whose local teams compete in the Brazilian 4th division, and which attracts small crowds that don’t justify the building of a 44,000 all-seater, multi-use stadium. He highlighted furthermore how the selection of the venues of the 2014 World Cup had been made to satisfy political interest and despite using public funds, did not consider a positive legacy for the Brazilian population.

At FanVox we believe that FIFA must change and we asked M.Zen Ruffinen about the importance of fan involvement as an input to its reform. He replied that it is extremely difficult to have fans involved in the decisions of FIFA, as FIFA’s moves are under the eyes of everyone on a daily basis. He suggested that a way for fans to have a role in FIFA decision is to be federated, to create national fans federations that would be represented in FIFA and that would have a voice in executive decisions. This would take time but he remembered that, 15 years ago, the voice of professional players was hardly considered until the recognition of an association of professional football players, FIFPro. He would imagine a similar solution as the only way for football fans to be involved in FIFA’s decision process.

Uruguay 2030

Looking beyond 2022, we asked Jamil Chade about a candidature that is particularly appealing for football romantics: Uruguay 2030, which would be the centenary World Cup. He agreed that for this to happen, it would involve an in-depth reform of FIFA and of the way FIFA awards the organization of the competition. Could this be an occasion to create a new FIFA, closer to people’s needs, and which will work to make a significant change for people’s lives and be highly profitable for communities? He said that if FIFA doesn’t manage to undergo the necessary reform in the next few years, something would have to happen.

In the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, 13 teams competed in three venues in one host city. It is obvious that Uruguay will not be able to organize a tournament with 40 or more teams in 12 or more modern stadiums by itself, even if they were to present a joint candidature with neighbour Argentina. What a great occasion it would be for FIFA (or for a new FIFA) to look in-depth into the World Cup structure and format in order to showcase the local pride and to give a relevant legacy to the hosting country of the World Cup. To truly foster that FIFA Mission: “to develop football everywhere and for all, to touch the world through its inspiring tournaments and to build a better future through the power of the game.”

Fanvox is a social enterprise that empowers fans to influence positive change in football. They undertake research projects aimed at improving football governance and develop bespoke supporter involvement consultancy along with digital tools. Visit them at http://fanvox.net

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