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Saving football = good governance + anti-corruption

There are two battles going on to save football. One is against match fixing and the other is about good governance at FIFA, football’s world governing body. Both have a strong media component, both are important and both are interlinked.

If the element of chance is taken out of football, games will become irrelevant and fans will drift away. The big business that is football and the joy that it brings to billions of people will disappear. If FIFA does not embrace reforms it will be ill-equipped to tackle football’s response to match fixing.

The next three months are key for reforms at FIFA. On 26 February the working group on governance discussed what reforms the Executive Committee will put to the vote at the FIFA Congress in May when representatives of the 209 football federations meet in Mauritius. The results were inconclusive.

FIFA did not announce an agreement on the key principles of good governance put forward by the Independent Governance Commission it set up to advise on reforms. These included the appointment of independent FIFA board members from outside football and rigorous vetting of all candidates for FIFA office.

FIFA executive board member Theo Zwanziger described FIFA’s version of vetting as “not a case of digging around in the private lives of candidates or of punishing the slightest infraction.”

This does not bode well for the future of football. FIFA’s executive committee has been the focus of so many corruption scandals in the past decade that any attempt to soft-pedal due diligence now sends the wrong message. If those at the top of FIFA cannot be seen to fully embrace good governance, then delivering integrity and accountability throughout its ranks becomes much harder.

Transparency International’s reform recommendations for FIFA

We stand by the recommendations made in August 2011 in Safe Hands when we first called for governance reforms at FIFA. Since then FIFA established an Independent Governance Commission (IGC), to advise on the reform process, which Transparency International declined to join because the terms of reference did not include investigations into past scandals and the commission was part of FIFA. The IGC issued seven ‘indispensable’ reforms, which include having independent people on the executive committee board. But important elements are still missing. We would include the following recommendations:

  • The vetting of people up for election to the FIFA presidency and all FIFA standing committees should be done by a firm not associated with football, such as an legal, accountancy or human resource specialist, not by a committee set up inside FIFA, as the IGC now says.
  • The vetting process should be rigorous.
  • The investigations and adjudications carried out by the two offices of the Ethics Committee should be published in full.

For example, the adjudication handed down to former executive committee member Mohamed Bin Hamman, banning him from football for life, did not give adequate reasons for the punishment. If the investigation into the awarding of World Cups in 2018 and 2022, which controversially went to Russia and Qatar, is not transparent, few people will believe its outcome and FIFA will lose credibility.

Two sides to corruption

Fixing a match always involves people inside the game: a bribe giver needs a bribe taker. This means the players, officials, owners and leagues, federations and FIFA are also involved in the fight against match fixing. This is where the governance of football becomes so important and why FIFA and the continental and national federations it leads must bear some of the responsibility and some of the blame.

Transparency International believes that good governance– whether it is in the private, public or third sector – is a prerequisite for stopping corruption throughout an organisation. Senior management must have the correct systems in place, monitoring mechanisms and code of conduct and they must be seen to be governed by these.

FIFA’s credibility and the success of the fight against match fixing will rest on its commitment to good governance, which is why the leadership need to commit to serious reforms if this is to be sustainable. This is particularly true with prevention and education programmes, where the message is one of strengthening integrity and developing accountability systems to help those most vulnerable to corruption to say no.

Policy makers seem to understand this. The European Commission has a Working Group on Good Governance and is also funding a series of education and prevention projects to pilot programmes against match fixing.

Transparency International has teamed up with the Deutsche Fussball Liga (DFL) and the European Professional Football Leagues in six countries on one project, which involves a pilot programme that Transparency International Germany started with the DFL last year. It combines the appointment of an independent ombudsman, which the DFL did last year, with workshops to introduce players and coaches to the dangers of match fixing and what they can do to stop it.

Many organisations involved in sport and football are coming out with guides and eLearning tools to bolster prevention. FIFA, UEFA, and SportAccord are among them.

Criminal Pursuit

The spotlight in the past weeks has been on the bribe giving side of match fixing. The world was shocked when Europol, the European policing body, announced that it had found evidence of fixing in more than 600 matches, including World Cup and Champions League ties, with hundreds of people involved. Interpol, which has $20 million contract with FIFA to focus on match fixing, is hosting a series of conferences around the world highlighting the dangers and the consequences of match fixing.

To catch the criminal groups behind match-fixing requires cooperation between everyone involved in the sport, plus governments and law enforcement agencies. It is a global battle, as we have seen in reports recently linking crime syndicates in Asia with players, officials and leagues across the world.

FIFA is calling on governments to become involved and for countries to introduce a homogenised legal framework that makes both prosecuting and sharing information about match fixing and fixers across borders easier. This would be a welcome step.

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