Tuesday, 8 March 2016

FIFA Secures both a Mandate for Change and a Leader intent on Reform

I attended the Extraordinary FIFA Congress held in Zurich on 26th February and it was indeed ‘extraordinary’ in many senses.
At the end of a momentous and historic day, the optimism in the Congress hall was palpable. In a few hours FIFA made massive strides forward and started a much-needed fight back. Although much of the focus, particularly from the media, was on the election of a new President, in actual fact perhaps the most important decision taken was the adoption of a set of reforms. The support from FIFA Members for the package of measures to transform football was almost unanimous (96% if memory serves me correctly). This reflects the desire of Member Associations across the world to leave behind the bad old days and embark on a change process that will rebuild credibility and reputation. Some of the more important reforms agreed are:

·         Clear separation between “political” and management functions: Establishment of a new FIFA Council (replacing the FIFA Executive Committee) which will be responsible for setting the organisation’s overall strategic direction, while the General Secretariat oversees the operational and commercial actions required to effectively execute that strategy. This Council will be larger than the Exco and include wider representation.

·         Term limits for the FIFA President, FIFA Council members and members of the Audit and Compliance Committee and of the judicial bodies (max. 12 years).

·         Election of Council members supervised by FIFA and in accordance with FIFA’s own electoral regulations; all candidates subject to comprehensive eligibility and integrity checks conducted by an independent FIFA Review Committee.

·         Greater recognition and promotion of women in football with a minimum of one female representative elected as a Council member per confederation; promotion of women as an explicit statutory objective of FIFA to create a more diverse decision-making environment and culture.

·         Disclosure of individual compensation on an annual basis of the FIFA President, all FIFA Council members, the Secretary General and relevant chairpersons of independent standing and judicial committees.

·         Enhanced control of money flows.

·         Universal good governance principles for confederations and member associations.

·         FIFA’s commitment to human rights to be enshrined in the FIFA Statutes.

·         New Football Stakeholder Committee to ensure greater transparency and inclusion through broader stakeholder representation (including players, clubs and leagues).

One of the main reasons why FIFA’’s reputation was in tatters was because of the flawed leadership. There is no doubt that the former President, Mr Joseph S Blatter did lots of good work during his 40 years at FIFA. Unfortunately he will be remembered less for that and more for the controversies and poor decisions taken towards the end of his tenure. His ignominious fall from grace should be a lesson to all people in positions of influence. Never become complacent and never compromise the principles of integrity.

With the reforms agreed, the Congress moved on to the crucial business of selecting a new leader, someone who would oversee the implementation of the reform package. Initially, five candidates stood for election, two from Asia. One candidate, Tokyo Sexwale from South Africa, withdrew after giving a heartfelt and entertaining speech. In the first round of voting a candidate needed to secure a two thirds majority (138 votes) to be successful. No-one achieved that number and so it went to a second round where a simple majority (104 votes) was required. Mr Gianni Infantino, a Swiss Italian lawyer and UEFA General Secretary achieved this number comfortably and was duly elected. This was a remarkable achievement given that he had only announced his intention to stand around 6 months ago when UEFA President Michel Platini was banned from involvement in football by the FIFA Ethics Committee.

Mr Infantino ran an excellent campaign and clocked up a prodigious amount of air miles visiting Confederations and individual football associations. He has a very clear vision for FIFA and football and this was well articulated in a concise and well-presented manifesto. I met him on a number of occasions and was always struck by his humility, passion for football, knowledge of the game and communication skills (he is fluent in five languages). I am sure that the other candidates could all have done a good job leading FIFA but I am also convinced that Mr Infantino will lead FIFA into a new and better era. In my opinion he is someone who can restore FIFAs reputation and bring about a paradigm shift in the management of the world’s most popular sport.  I am sure that he will use the reforms agreed by the Congress as the starting point and that even more radical proposals will be forthcoming. I do not believe that he is Europe-centric and as far as I am concerned I know he will work closely with all Confederations and Associations including the AFC and the HKFA.  

The ‘extraordinary’ Congress was undoubtedly historic. FIFA now has a blueprint and a mandate for change. Equally importantly, football has a new leader capable of, and intent on implementing far-reaching institutional and structural change. Everybody involved in football; administrators, players, fans, the media, indeed all stakeholders, can now have hope for the future of our beautiful game. I know I do.

Mark Sutcliffe, March 2016