FIFA should turn the page

June 05, 2015 12:20 am | Updated November 16, 2021 05:03 pm IST

Just a week ago, on the day of his election as FIFA president for a fifth term, Joseph S. Blatter remarked: “We don’t need revolutions, we need evolutions.” After resuming office he went further and said: “Why would I step down? That would mean I recognise that I did wrong.” However, days later, >in a widely welcomed move he resigned, saying the organisation needed a >“profound overhaul” . It is unclear what prompted the hard-nosed football administrator, who displayed such Machiavellian ability to stay in control of the body even as it was engulfed in a series of corruption scandals. Whether it was because the noose was tightening around the FIFA general secretary and his second-in-command, Jérôme Valcke, alleged to have authorised $10 million in bribes for World Cup bidding votes, and fears that it would finally reach him, or pressure from the Michel Platini-led UEFA, or ultimately his own conscience, remain questions. Mr. Blatter believed he was a part of the solution and not the problem, although hardly anyone accepted that. In politics it is said ‘perception is reality’, and in the political theatre that FIFA had become over the years it was no different. Any effort to turn FIFA around would have rung hollow with him at the helm. Accountability has to begin at the top, and Mr. Blatter’s resignation is the first step towards that.

Going forward, the need is to transform the way FIFA works. In 2011, before starting his fourth term, Mr. Blatter engaged Mark Pieth, a Professor of criminal law at Basel University, to create a road map for reform. His recommendations included fixing term limits for the president and executive committee members, proper scrutiny of candidates nominated to the executive committee and greater financial controls. None of these has been acted upon, and the time to do so is now. The deeply entrenched quid pro quo system between Mr. Blatter’s regime and regional football associations, with the development funding route turning into a tool to buy votes and thereby creating divisions within the footballing fraternity, has to end. But that shouldn’t mean a throwback to an era when Europe dominated the football scene: that was precisely the reason why Mr. Blatter was so popular in the developing world. It is imperative that a truly democratic system is put in place. And the leader should work not just for his backers but for everyone. The selection process of World Cup hosts should become more transparent. The mess that a flawed system can create is there for everyone to see in the fact of Russia and Qatar having become hosts. It is high time the lessons were learnt.

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