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Rebuilding football FIFA corruption may not just disappear with Sepp

Chappelet says FIFA’s governance rules are inappropriate for the amount of money passing through the organisation

(Keystone)

The president may be gone but bringing FIFA to heel will still require enormous effort both within the organisation and externally, according to a Swiss authority on the governance of sporting bodies. 

On Tuesday, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter finally bowed to mounting criticism of his leadership and resigned the FIFA presidency. But corruption will remain unless Switzerland tightens up its laws and FIFA improves its governance structures, Swiss academic Jean-Loup Chappelet told swissinfo.ch. 

At the heart of the corruption scandals lies money ($5.7 billion in FIFA revenues between 2011 and 2014) and human greed. “When there was not much money in football, there was no problem,” Chappelet said. “In recent years too much money has met the bad side of human nature.” 

“FIFA’s governance rules are not adequate for the amount of money that is now around. They are good enough to run a small association, but not an institution of this size,” according to the expert on sports organisation management at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration in Lausanne. 

Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth, who advised FIFA on corporate governance in 2011, also fears that many member associations have little incentive to bring in genuine change. 

“The trouble is that you can’t speak about a single FIFA,” Pieth told swissinfo.ch. “Only a minority of people within FIFA want to see reform, but the majority do not.” 

Speaking to Swiss public television, SRF, Pieth added: “FIFA now has a unique opportunity to improve its reputation. But it can also blow this chance. If someone from ‘system Blatter’ is now elected [to replace him], it will come to nothing.” 

in depth

Reforming FIFA

Having football's governing body headquartered in Zurich has been both a benefit and bane to Switzerland. With Swiss president Sepp Blatter suspended, swissinfo.ch looks back at his legacy and the challenges now facing the organisation.  

Garcia report

Four years ago Pieth recommended that FIFA create two independent ethics chambers; one to investigate alleged wrongdoing and the other to prosecute offenders. But the way that his reforms were implemented hardly left Pieth with much cause for optimism. 

Relations between two ethics chambers rapidly dissolved into squabbling and recriminations, leading to the resignation of chief investigator Michael Garcia. 

FIFA has so far declined to publicise Garcia’s report into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, but did hand it over to Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office, which opened its own investigation this week. 

So how do you best govern a huge non-governmental, non-corporate organisation, made up of hundreds of separate international bodies, which distributes billions of dollars across the globe? 

“Corruption exists in governments and corporations, not just sporting bodies,” said Chappelet. “The best preventative measure is a strong system of checks and balances.” 

Several reforms are necessary before FIFA can be trusted to run its own affairs properly, he said. Top of the list is to limit each president to a maximum of two four-year terms in office. This would prevent any one person from wielding too much power and influence within the organisation. 

However, Chappelet rejects proposals from some quarters to limit the voting powers of smaller members and weight votes more heavily in favour of larger associations. This would put an end to the patronage system that has been blamed for fuelling corruption, some commentators say. 

“It depends on what you think about democracy,” said Chappelet. “Democracy is a bad system, but is there a better one?” 

Diluted laws

FIFA’s failure to get its own house in order has attracted the interest on external legislators and investigators. The Swiss Federal Prosecutor (at FIFA’s own request) and the United States Department of Justice opened separate criminal investigations into alleged FIFA corruption this week. 

And, having changed Swiss laws in December to include heads of large bodies, such as FIFA, as politically exposed persons (PEPs), the Swiss parliament is currently debating how to stiffen corruption legislation to make non-corporate sinners more accountable under criminal law. 

The proposed reform would allow a criminal probe to be opened against a non-corporate body without a complaint having first to be made to the Swiss authorities. But on Wednesday, Swiss senators were accused of attempting to water down the proposal when a majority insisted the change would only apply in cases that threaten public interest. 

This disappointed Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga. “There is no reason to make exceptions to the automatic prosecution of private corruption,” she said. “This restriction will pose application problems as how do you decide what is meant by ‘public interest’?” 

The bill will now be debated in the House of Representatives before it can be made into law. 

International sporting bodies contribute some CHF1 billion to the Swiss economy each year, according to a recent study from the Lausanne-based International Academy of Sports Science and Technology. But Swiss regulations governing their conduct are “weak”, said Chappelet. 

“Swiss laws covering associations contain very few checks and balances,” he told swissinfo.ch.

Fifa scandal : latest twists and turns

May 27, 2015: US justice officials announce a lengthy investigation into FIFA that has uncovered decades of bribery totalling more than $150 million. Federal racketeering charges are unveiled against 14 people, including nine current and former FIFA executives; seven are arrested at Hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich where they had been preparing for a FIFA congress. Officials are charged with buying and selling votes to deliver the 2010 World Cup to South Africa and soliciting kickbacks from sports marketers. Swiss authorities seize documents from FIFA offices as part of a separate criminal investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

May 29, 2015: FIFA President Sepp Blatter is re-elected to a fifth four-year term.

June 1, 2015: The New York Times reports federal authorities believe Blatter’s top lieutenant Jérôme Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, was behind the $10 million in bank transactions that are at the centre of FIFA's corruption scandal. Valcke denies this.

June 2, 2015: Blatter announces he will resign and calls for new elections to choose his successor.

June 3, 2015: US justice officials release transcript of 2013 hearing with former FIFA executive committee member (1997-2013) and US citizen, Charles “Chuck” Blazer, which showed that Blazer and others in FIFA agreed to accept bribes in bidding for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups and other tournaments. According to US officials, Blazer's cooperation helped build the sprawling corruption case against FIFA figures.

June 3, 2015: In a paid political address entitled "The gloves are off" broadcast in Trinidad and Tobago, former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, a central figure in world football's deepening scandal, vowed to tell investigators all he knows about corruption within the organisation and said he feared for his life. Warner is among officials charged by the US Department of Justice. He also featured on a recent Interpol wanted list.

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