The idea that football can learn from the Olympics has often been articulated not least after the London Games. Then the idea was even endorsed by Sepp Blatter. However, the question that was being talked about during London 2012, at least as far as Blatter was concerned, was how could football deal with what Blatter and others in the game call simulation but what most of us term as cheating. In other words the question of a player who dives in the hope he will get a free kick or a penalty, or falls down and pretends to be injured when he is not just to make sure an opponent gets a red or yellow card. The contrast was drawn with the Olympics and how Olympians during 2012 behaved in an exemplary, honourable and sporting fashion in contrast to most football players.
As is usual when such issues are raised all the right noises were made but once the London Games were over the whole thing was forgotten.
Yet, with the Olympic movement now gathered in Sochi and the IOC having its usual pre Games session, what may be called the Olympics of the suits, there is one other question which we need to consider: can football learn from the Olympics as to how to bring about change and fundamental reform.
That football, and particularly FIFA needs reform, can hardly be denied. The case was made yet again by Jerome Champagne, as he announced his candidacy for the FIFA Presidency. His main beef was that the system whereby the President is elected by the Congress but the executive members are elected by their respective federations means at the heart of FIFA we have a dysfunctional system. Or, as he put it, it is like President Obama, having won the election, finds his Cabinet chosen for him by Congress. Given how dysfunctional the American system of government already is it is not hard to imagine the utter chaos this would create.
There is merit in his argument. And as far as he is concerned the solution seems obvious. This is that the executive should also be elected by the Congress. This is, of course, what happens at the IOC. IOC Presidents are elected by the same IOC general assembly as the members of the executive who serve under him. It is easy as the IOC does not have continental federations. The existence of such bodies forming part of FIFA, means executive members come from organisations which are effectively controlled by football’s version of war lords.
The result is change in the IOC can come and has, in the recent past, come quite quickly. The IOC Salt Lake corruption scandal of the late 90s was as bad as FIFA’s ISL corruption saga. But whereas the IOC dealt with it and has come out stronger FIFA cannot claim to have got rid of its ISL stench. It may think it has cleaned FIFA house but the outside world is yet to be convinced. And, similarly, the IOC has tackled the drugs issue and, to a large extent, succeeded in doing so by setting up WADA. Let us recall that is was the creation of WADA, even as the IOC was coping with the Salt Lake crisis, that prompted the Americans to set up their own anti-doping agency. True, they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to that particular water-hole but it was this organisation that unmasked Lance Armstrong.
And as the IOC members meet in Sochi they are much taken by the moves the new IOC President, Thomas Bach, is making to reform the working of the Olympic movement. This demonstrates how easily and quickly change can come to the organisation. So, soon after he was elected, Bach made it clear he wanted to reform the movement. Bach did so after duly paying homage to his predecessor Jacques Rogge. Bach’s homage to Rogge was not on the scale of the one the Belgian made to his predecessor who on getting elected famously said he had learnt his politics from Juan Antonia Samaranch. However, Bach’s praise of Rogge was fulsome enough.
And having got that out of the way, as if to reassure his members that he is not a revolutionary but an evolutionary, he has clearly set out his stall for change. And to help in the process he has since his election in September taken his executive for a retreat to Montreaux for a brainstorming session and will have an extraordinary Congress at the end of the year in Monte Carlo to discuss his ideas. Extraordinary Congresses are not unusual for the IOC but as Craig Reedie, IOC vice president, perceptively points out, they usually take place to deal with extraordinary events, such as the Salt Lake crisis. Not the sort of reforms Bach is proposing.
Yet consider FIFA’s problem with regard to the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Three and a bit years after the decision we are no nearer a solution as to when it will be held. We are told this will be an executive decision. So why has Blatter not taken his executive to a retreat and thrashed it out? The question has only to be posed for realisation to dawn how ridiculous this would be for Blatter and FIFA. The result is we are left in the classic FIFA world of rumour and speculation.
Of course it will be argued it is easy for the IOC as it does not run any sport. It merely provides a platform for many sports to be organised every four years at a particular venue. The actual running of the sports is the responsibility of the relevant federation. This makes IOC elections more like club elections rather than FIFA’s intensely political elections.
But more importantly the IOC is a homogenous body. It is largely white middle class men with a sprinkling of women and other races. It also is effectively an organisation controlled by Europeans so that in its history, and it has been going much longer than FIFA, only one non-European has ever been elected President, Avery Brundage.
A FIFA Congress, in contrast, is more like the general assembly of the United Nations, a talking shop but incapable of taking decisions. And the warlords who control the continental federations like it like that.
It is how you can change such an organisation so that reform is not impossible that is the big question for FIFA. And it is worth noting that big organisations are not easy to change. So for years there has been much discussion that the UN Security Council representing the 1945 world no longer reflects the 21st century, no Germany, Japan, Brazil or India as members. But for all the talk, change is impossible to organise. So it with FIFA.
The contrast is the UN recognises the need to modernise the Security Council and has shown some willingness to change. FIFA does not give the impression that it feels it needs any fundamental change, let alone, like the IOC, set about discussing how it can affect change.