By Mike Collett
BRUSSELS, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Sepp Blatter has one last chance to change FIFA’s culture and leave a positive legacy of transparency and openness, according to Bonita Mersiades, a leading light in the newly-formed ‘New FIFA Now’ pressure group.
FIFA’s controversies, scandals and troubles since the early 2000s have been well documented but Mersiades, while critical of FIFA president Blatter, wants to speak to him if he wins a fifth term as expected in May.
Mersiades, the former head of corporate affairs for the Australian FA, delivered a rallying call for a soccer revolution when the ‘New FIFA Now’ organisation was launched at the European Parliament building this week.
Before speaking to delegates she told Reuters in an interview: ”I think the exciting thing about today is first that it’s happening and, second, that it’s bringing together a fairly broad cross section of politicians and people from football and getting them committed to some form of reform.
”It’s a great thing. But we have to take this outside just the one person who is the FIFA president.
”And if Sepp Blatter is re-elected we should go and see him and tell him: ‘Sepp, this is your last chance for your legacy. Here is something that can save it’.
”If I was him and I’d been at FIFA for 40 years, as he has been, and I was standing for the last time, this is the time for him to make the difference he says he wants to make.
”He has always been concerned about his legacy, every time I have ever met him.
”Now we have to find the right solution, or the right mechanism, to get the type of FIFA we want that suits the 21st century.
”Even if he wins again, that does not mean that FIFA can’t change.
”Look at the Olympics, 16 years ago people said the IOC (International Olympic Committee) couldn’t get rid of their corruption scandals, but they have addressed those issues.
“Look at cycling, that has cleaned up too.”
One of the aims of the new coalition, organised by British MP Damian Collins, is a FIFA Reform Commission examining the way soccer’s world governing body is run.
“It (FIFA) needs root and branch change,” says Mersiades, dubbed by the tabloids as the “Australian whistleblower” after her anonymous evidence to the former FIFA ethics investigator Michael Garcia was compromised late last year.
Mersiades spoke to Garcia about corruption surrounding the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, but her identity was made obvious when German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert published a 42-page summary of Garcia’s 430-page report in November.
Garcia quit last month over the handling of his report.
But she told Reuters her experiences over the last five years had not changed her or her view of how FIFA is run.
Mersiades was adamant the time has come for change and was delighted the ‘New FIFA Now’ pressure group was up and running.
“The idea of a FIFA reform commission is the only thing we can do that is going to make a difference, and there are plenty of people who would like to see that happen,” said Mersiades who has written a book, as yet unpublished, about her experiences with FIFA.
”Whoever wins (the FIFA presidency) on May 29, I think we should be pushing ahead with the FIFA reform commission and look at a root and branch reform of the organisation.
“I think we are at a tipping point, They don’t own the sport they are custodians of the sport and they should run it at the highest levels of probity possible.”
In her speech soon afterwards she explained: ”What has brought me here today is the way FIFA (business) is conducted with deals, counter-deals and double deals and the subterranean behaviour of so many of the protagonists.
”It is not how football or any sport should be run.
”It is not how the World Cup (hosts) should be decided.
“But today isn’t about pointing fingers at Qatar, Russia, England, the USA, Australia or any of the other bids or even Sepp Blatter. It is about reclaiming football and that’s why it’s time to build a new FIFA.” (Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris)