14 June 2014

Last week at FIFA

The FIFA Congress in São Paulo was incredible. The pampered pomp of FIFActors was matched by the pantomime and platitudes of the delegations. This was high theatre played out with the military precision of a clown show and a Potemkinite dedication to reality.

I came away from the FIFA congress knowing that there is almost no chance for reform of FIFA from the inside or outside. Here´s why:

The roll call of every FIFA affiliate took half an hour. Everyone was present. As shifting crosshairs zipped across the jumbo high definition screen zipped crosshairs to each of the 209 delgations, I was reminded of the global reach of football and the instrumental politics of FIFA conjured up by João Havelange. Blatter learnt from the master and has managed to keep control of global football through his political performance as a doddering grandfather. He is a man that inspires underestimation and continues to use this to his advantage.

Following roll call, the voting machines were tested but did not work. Delegates were instructed to use cards to would be held up for voting: green, white, red. A group of eight “scrutineers” which included footballing powerhouses Guinea, Vanuatu, Honuras and Jamaica was instructed to head to a corner of the conference hall. When votes happened they leapt to their feet to scrutinize the votes. As it turned out, being a scrutineer is akin to being a buccaneer.

FIFA is fantastically rich. It has 350 staff members and cash reserves of more than 1.4 billion. 2013 was the most lucrative year ever. It will bring in 4.5 billion from the World Cup of which 1.5 is profit. Every year, FIFA hands a check for 250,000 dollars to its member associations. This goes a long way in St. Kitts and Nevis, but not so far in Japan. These two countries have the same voting power in FIFA. Because there is so much money and FIFA is a non-profit of some kind, the money has to be re-invested. In a stroke of pre-lunch genius, the financial officer (of Julio Grondona´s financial committee) announced that each federation would now receive 750,000 a year and that the confederations would receive 4.5 million each per year. Time for lunch!

After lunch Blatter put a vote to the congress. Should there be an age limit for FIFA officers? Claro que não. Scrutineers? Claro que não.

Second vote. Should there be term limits for FIFA officer? Claro que não. Scrutineers? Claro que não.

Thus a pre-lunch delivery of money to federations and confederations paved the way for Blatter to run for a fifteenth term as president even though the most powerful confederation, UEFA, is calling for him to resign. Following these “votes” the honorable members from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Togo(?) took to the floor to sing Blatter´s name to the heavens. Blatter is a hero to the small guys, reviled by some of the big powers but that doesn´t matter. In Blatter´s democracy the kletptocrats and small tyrants rule the world.


Anonymous said...

How did you manage to gain entry and why didn't you get a picture with Sepp Blater?!


Russ said...

Christopher, you seem unduly scornful of the smaller FIFA nations. Yes, they are supporting the graft and corruption of Blatter's regime, but supporting someone who provides their own association with much needed cash - and unlike the major powers, they do need it - is hardly a surprise. That is politics, and it is up to the reformers to offer something better.

Nor should you assume that the alternative is better. Let me tell you about how cricket is run and structured.

The ICC is notoriously resistant to new members. Until 1965 it had just 7, when it introduced associate membership, to go with the full members. 50 years later it has 10 full members, 31 associates, and 65 affiliates. As a structure that represents their comparative development it is not without some merit, but it is grossly unequal:
- Only full members can play test cricket (the most valued form of the game), be part of the future tours program (around which all fixtures are made)
- Full members have automatic entry to the world cup - no qualifiers, or opportunities for smaller nations to play them
- On average, full members play less than 10 fixtures per year (in total) against the rest of the world. They play upwards of 150 amongst themselves.
- After a brief flirtation with globalising, the world cup has shrunk from 16, to just 10 teams in 2019. Only the threat of a legal challenge prevented the world cup being restricted to the full members only. Even then, 8 teams will be granted automatic places.
- The ICC is fabulously profitable - some $1.6b over the next 8 years. Of that, $215m will be distributed to 96 members, Around $570m will be distributed to the BCCI (India), another $300m to Australia and England. None of whom need it, but who had the power to insist on it. Cricket Brazil will receive $80,000
- Qualification tournaments are now available for barely half of all members - a cost saving move, apparently. The ICC Americas Women's tournament has been scrapped completely.
- There is no guideline for or any prospect of any new nations becoming full members.
- The ICC board consists of the 10 full members, and 3 associate representatives, a 2/3 majority of FMs is needed to pass votes. They don't bother to count the associate votes. As of July, an 5 member executive committee will be formed to inform the board, with representatives of India, Australia, England, and two others, further entrenching the inequities.

There is no shortage of corruption in cricket administration, it just has a different character, a less global one, where the few have no interest in helping the many develop the sport. For all its faults, a lot of FIFA money still ends up going to the right places. And part of the reason for that is that the executive can't ignore smaller nations. There is probably a nice middle ground - rugby union is perhaps the closest - but don't underestimate the benefits of a properly global body. The alternative is far worse.

Christopher Gaffney said...

Thanks for the comment Russ. I do not mean to be scornful of the smaller nations, they known where their survival as footballing nations comes from. I also agree that there are other systems that could be worse. What was most clear to me is that the current system at FIFA has made it almost impossible to change and that was incredibly frustrating to see in person. It is indeed up to the reformers to offer an alternative and I am not sure what that would look like, but it is impossible to believe that meaningful reform will come from inside FIFA.


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