17 January ~ Should FIFA be reformed from within, or is it now so rotten that only a wholesale revolution can save football’s world governing body? Since the start of 2012, two vastly differing manifestos for action on FIFA's desperately needed reconstruction have stated the case from both angles. A group of investigative football journalists have said that FIFA can only bring its house in order once it has swept out the old guard and brought all its miscreant cronies to book. Meanwhile, the former FIFA director of international relations, Jérôme Champagne, has gone public with his detailed analysis of all that is wrong with FIFA, and all that needs reforming. But he still believes the current regime must instigate change.
First, the journalists. FIFA invited its long-time nemeses Jens Weinreich, Andrew Jennings and Jean François Tanda to co-operate with the Independent Governance Committee, FIFA's own self-investigative body. The three refused, because they think it is absurd that tainted FIFA president Sepp Blatter should oversee reform. Their stance is admirable and based on solid, uncompromising principles. However, one comment on their blog noted that the journalists could have caused "a pretty sensation" on the committee, and attracted a lot more media attention than they garnered through a single blog entry.
The three writers published a list of demands for immediate FIFA transparency, including the clarification of Blatter’s involvement in all past and unresolved controversies over payments to FIFA’s erstwhile marketing arm; the publication of all salaries and bonuses paid to Blatter and senior administrative staff such as Jérôme Valcke; the publication of the bonuses, fees and expenses paid to its executive committee members; a thorough investigation into the allegations of handling offshore accounts against FIFA finance committee chair Julio Grondona; and full investigations into the FIFA-related activities of former Concacaf henchmen Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer.
Champagne, meanwhile, thinks that Fifa is often unfairly criticised, but still acknowledges the pressing need for wholesale change. A former Blatter loyalist, he was ousted from FIFA two years ago amid rumours that he had been preparing to challenge for the presidency at last year’s election (Blatter won, unchallenged). Champagne won’t talk about why he left FIFA. For the past two years he has maintained his silence, but his blueprint suggests he has spent a lot of time thinking about his former employer. The measured language is, one might suggest, quite presidential.
It is a hugely interesting read, given that it synthesises many of the arguments made by the independent football media for the past 15 years about how creating a caucus of elite European clubs has deeply damaged the game. One of the main side-effects of deregulation and globalisation, Champagne notes, has been the plundering of players from countries beyond Europe. The worldwide broadcast of a handful of European leagues and the Champions League has ravaged the club game in Asian, African and South American markets, draining talent from - and interest in - the local leagues.
Champagne also sees a general loss of faith in football due to the prevalence of greed and corruption at the game’s highest levels. This has lead to a lower participation at the voluntary and amateur levels, and moves the game away from its roots. On the plus side, the amateur level of participation is still high, while new countries such as Niger and Venezuela have become more successful, and the game is still expanding in massive areas like India, China and the USA.
Governance issues are also receiving attention in areas such as match-fixing (for example, Fenerbahce’s Champions League expulsion), or the ban on the transfer of minors. Nonetheless, says Champagne, the redistribution of FIFA’s World Cup wealth is no longer enough to counter the game’s top-heavy elitism at club level, while only strong governance from Zürich can help right football’s current crisis.
Champagne’s reform programme includes recognising that “today’s inequalities in football jeopardise its very future and that their correction or at least their reduction is a strategic objective.” He believes in increasing aid to less wealthy nations at the expense of the wealthier; in establishing a "World Fund" to tax TV rights payments and redistribute income to help local leagues; in the involvement of federations, clubs and players in the FIFA decision-making process; in re-affirming the role of national federations, but ensuring they act in the best interests of the game as a whole; in expanding representation of non-European continents and the women’s game; in reforming FIFA’s governing structure, its administration, and the role of the president; in a proper review on the future use of technology in refereeing decisions, new laws, and the role of the International FA Board; and in autonomy from EU law in certain instances due to football’s "specificity".
Finally, Champagne advocates a re-connection to "the people of football", including an openness to different cultures (allowing Muslim women to play in headscarves, for example), a renewed commitment to fighting racism and gender inequality, and "a strengthened communication" with clubs, players and fans, "who are so central in the passion around football, but so often neglected."
Champagne has sent his agenda to all 208 FIFA-affiliated football associations. He is clearly a man who, at the very least, wants to open up the major issues for an intelligent debate. While the unstinting work of excellent journalists like Weinreich and Jennings will continue to be an invaluable check on football’s power-brokers, the failed attempt by Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl to be listed on the FIFA presidential ballot last year illustrates the limits of the media’s influence.
Champagne, meanwhile, enjoys the benefits of having been on the inside. He knows how FIFA works, but at the same time is an outcast in the eyes of the old guard. The re-emergence of this progressive, independent mind looks for the moment like very good news for football. Ian Plenderleith