It won’t be that easy to f ix FIFA

Blat­ter’s exit is just part of a process, but some steps could be taken quickly.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - KEVIN BAX­TER ON SOC­CER

Re­moval of Sepp Blat­ter is a strong first step, but the soc­cer or­ga­ni­za­tion needs to be­come more trans­par­ent.

Now that Sepp Blat­ter has an­nounced he is step­ping down as pres­i­dent of FIFA, the process of fix­ing world soc­cer’s gov­ern­ing body can fi­nally be­gin. But it won’t be easy. The re­moval of one man, even if he is the pres­i­dent, is just the first step in a dif­fi­cult process of fix­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion as com­plex as FIFA, which is made up of 209 mem­ber fed­er­a­tions, from po­lit­i­cal pow­er­houses such as China and the U.S. to tiny An­guilla and the Cook Is­lands, whose com­bined pop­u­la­tions wouldn’t fill Dodger Sta­dium.

When the De­part­ment of Jus­tice un­sealed its 47count in­dict­ment against nine cur­rent and former high-rank­ing FIFA of­fi­cials last week, al­leg­ing crimes in­clud­ing wire fraud, rack­e­teer­ing, money laun­der­ing and bribery, it of­fered more than just a rare peek in­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The scope of the al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion and se­crecy also showed how truly re­form­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion may prove to be a Sisyphean task.

If it is se­ri­ous about pol­ish­ing its im­age and build­ing some cred­i­bil­ity, how­ever, there are sev­eral steps FIFA can take im­me­di­ately.

First, the or­ga­ni­za­tion must be­come com­pletely trans­par­ent. That means no more back-room deals like the ones that awarded the 2018 World Cup to Rus­sia and the 2022 tour­na­ment to Qatar, two coun­tries that may not have won those

bids in a more open vot­ing process. One quick and easy way to prove it is se­ri­ous about that would be to re­lease the de­tailed report pre­pared by Michael Gar­cia, former U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern District of New York, on the award­ing of those two World Cups, a report that Blat­ter quashed last fall.

A new com­mit­ment to open­ness should also in­clude a re­quire­ment that the closely held or­ga­ni­za­tion re­lease its an­nual fi­nan­cial state­ments to the pub­lic. That would make the $10mil­lion bribes al­leged by the Jus­tice De­part­ment in its in­dict­ments much more dif­fi­cult to hide. And it would drive out of­fi­cials whose first in­ter­est ap­peared to be not the sport but their per­sonal in­ter­ests.

It must find a new pres­i­dent who can both re­form and unite FIFA once Blat­ter, who is now the fo­cus of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI, has re­tired as pres­i­dent. High on that list is Jor­dan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hus­sein, a FIFA vice pres­i­dent and the only man to chal­lenge Blat­ter in last week’s elec­tions.

At 39, Prince Ali would be the youngest FIFA leader in more than a cen­tury — an ap­peal­ing trait given the fact that soc­cer’s fan base skews younger than those of many other sports. And with his coun­try strad­dling the de­vel­op­ing and de­vel­oped worlds, Prince Ali’s can­di­dacy would likely ap­peal to vot­ers in both places.

Fi­nally, the new FIFA needs a dra­matic ges­ture be­yond Blat­ter’s de­par­ture to show it means busi­ness. With the 2018 World Cup just three years away, it’s prob­a­bly too late to move that event out of Rus­sia. Be­sides, there is lit­tle to be gained by pick­ing a fight with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, who has al­ready la­beled the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s case against FIFA part of a U.S. im­pe­ri­al­ist at­tack on his coun­try.

The 2022 World Cup is a dif­fer­ent story, though. Award­ing the tour­na­ment to Qatar has al­ready proved an em­bar­rass­ment to FIFA, with in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights groups claim­ing for­eign work­ers brought to the coun­try to build World Cup venues are be­ing held in slave-like con­di­tions. And the op­pres­sive sum­mer heat in the Mid­dle East­ern monar­chy has forced or­ga­niz­ers to move the event from the sum­mer to late fall for the first time in World Cup his­tory.

So if the re­lease of the Gar­cia report and on­go­ing probes by both U.S. and Swiss au­thor­i­ties pro­vide damn­ing ev­i­dence of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in Qatar’s World Cup bid, FIFA should not hes­i­tate to redo the vote.

But though any at­tempt at re­form­ing FIFA will re­quire a thor­ough house­clean­ing, it should be done care­fully and with the un­der­stand­ing that the norms and cus­toms are not the same through­out the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mem­ber na­tions.

For ex­am­ple, bribes and kick­backs — al­beit on a much smaller scale then those al­leged in the in­dict­ments — are not only ac­cept­able busi­ness prac­tices in many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, but have be­come ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial to fund­ing soc­cer there.

So although the de­par­ture of Blat­ter alone won’t cure FIFA, it does make change pos­si­ble.

“This is the first of many steps to­wards real and mean­ing­ful re­form within FIFA,” Su­nil Gu­lati, pres­i­dent of U.S. Soc­cer, said in a state­ment. “To­day is an oc­ca­sion for op­ti­mism and be­lief for ev­ery­one who shares a pas­sion for our game.”

Pa­trick B. Krae­mer Key­stone/As­so­ci­ated Press

PRINCE ALI bin al-Hus­sein could be the an­swer for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that will need a new pres­i­dent.

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