A small window of opportunity to save football


It now has its own moniker – the “Blaxit”.  This is what describes Sepp Blatter’s resignation as president of Fifa and the move to replace him with a brand new chief.

With FBI investigations, allegations of wrong doing and numerous reports on bribery, Fifa has the appearance of being a deeply corrupt body.  A body that does not just need change, but a complete overhaul if it is to regain credibility.

Whilst much has been made of the man at the helm, it is a cultural issue which has allowed bribery to embed itself over two decades into arguably the largest sport governing body.

But the problems with Fifa are more fundamentally based on the organisational structure than on its leader.

During each world cup cycle the organisation generates billions of pounds through merchandising and television rights.  A proportion of that money is then paid to each one of the 200 plus national football associations.  However this money is seldom tracked and whilst the aim of the money has been to develop grassroots football and the national game, it is alleged that some of it finds its way into the personal bank accounts of football officials.  This is one reason given as to why Blatter is so easily elected and loyally followed.

Fifa can behave in this way because they are in effect a charity based in Switzerland.  As a not for profit organisation there is no requirement to either publish accounts or meet basic governance requirements that a public company would be bound by.

If Fifa changed this and ran itself as a public company, it would be able to bring about change quickly.  Standard accounting principles would have to be adhered to, with a proper system for adhering to regulatory requirements being adopted.  The accounts would have to be audited by credible accountants and signed off.  The board make-up would also change, ensuring that there were a number of independent members. Above all, money would be followed and tracked.

In 2002 the International Olympic Committee was hit by a bribery scandal surrounding the Winter Games at Salt Lake City.  This led to a report being commissioned, which was the catalyst for huge organisational transformation.  The former US Senator George Mitchell was asked to inspect the operating model of the organisation and put forward changes to the governance structure.  All of these were adopted.  Fifa must now do the same.

The concern is that the organisation is entrenched in the Blatter way – you only have to look to the fact that employees at the head office gave him a 10 minutes standing ovation on the day he announced his resignation.  If he is allowed to handpick his successor then the problems will continue.  But unless the individual federations change tack, they will stick with the current system and select another person in the same mould.

Time is of the essence; the spotlight is on Fifa and change is required now.  There is an appetite and some goodwill towards it.  But if Blatter drags out his exit, the leadership election becomes a coronation and change is not seriously made, the reputation of Fifa, and ultimately the world cup and football in general will be irreparably damaged.