The truly depressing thing about the latest FIFA corruption scandals is that it is almost impossible to see FIFA change.
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke believes in the corporate world the questions raised about the governance of the world body would by now have forced Sepp Blatter to step down as FIFA president. But the sobering truth is the vast majority of FIFA officials live outside Europe and do not share his view.
Indeed, far from wanting to remove Blatter they are getting ready to re-elect him now that the 78-year-old Swiss has decided he would like another term when his present one expires next year. This is testimony to Blatter, the ultimate Teflon sports official, able to brush aside even the most damaging of charges. But it also shows what a curious organisation FIFA are and why change from within is impossible.
It is, of course, not easy to change sports bodies that started essentially as clubs, as FIFA did, and have become multinational conglomerates. But even such institutions can change as Juan Antonio Samaranch demonstrated when it emerged IOC members had been bribed by cities bidding for the Games. And it is worth recalling that those charges pale in comparison with the ones swirling round FIFA now. Back in 1998 there seemed such little hope that the IOC could reform themselves that Governments across the world, including our own, declared the IOC were not fit for purpose.
However, Samaranch recognised that corruption was the symptom of a much deeper problem. Within three years he had remodelled the IOC and, what is more, gracefully retired, installing his protege Jacques Rogge as the governing body’s president.
As Rogge put it: “We were not in denial. Samaranch understood it was not enough just to take care of the corruption but he had the vision to see that we had to review the whole functioning of the IOC. Samaranch understood that we had to move from a sports club to an international organisation.”
Blatter, in contrast, likes the way FIFA is: a United Nations of 209 football bodies who may be united by their love for the game but have very different views of how it should be administered and often see concern with transparency and public accountability as western ideas not applicable to their societies.
Events this week leading up to today’s Congress have shown how well Blatter can exploit these different value systems.
So speaking to a meeting of CAF, the African confederation, Blatter denounced the recent exposure of FIFA corruption in the British press as racist.
True, the Sunday Times revelations only detailed alleged bribes paid to African officials to support Qatar in the battle to host the 2022 World Cup — allegations vehemently denied by those behind the Gulf state’s successful 2022 bid. But I am sure had the paper discovered emails linking European or British officials to corruption charges these would have been trumpeted even more. However, in this African audience Blatter knew his baseless accusation would raise all the old memories of colonial racism and within hours CAF unanimously passed a resolution denouncing the British media as racist.
Blatter also knows that what matters for these confederations is how much money they get from FIFA. And in doing his rounds, Blatter has made sure to mention they will double their income from this World Cup. As long as the Swiss can keep this money wagon rolling there will be no pressure for change and he will just be able to go on and on.