BERLIN (Reuters) - FIFA could learn from the lessons of the International Olympic Committee’s own bribery affair as it battles to survive the biggest corruption scandal world football has ever seen.
U.S. prosecutors issued an indictment on Wednesday accusing nine FIFA officials, including two vice presidents, and five sports media and promotions executives of bribes involving more than $150 million over 24 years.
The IOC had to tackle its own corruption scandal in 1998 when allegations of bribes in return for votes to get the 2002 winter Olympics to Salt Lake City triggered an avalanche of change for the Olympic movement.
The multi-million dollar Olympics scandal, after years of suspicion over they way the Games were awarded, burst into the open after Swiss IOC member Marc Hodler exposed widespread corruption among members.
Some had sold their votes to Salt Lake City in exchange for, among other things, college scholarships, tuition fees, skiing holidays and cash bribes.
The affair triggered investigations within the IOC and in the United States and severely damaged the IOC’s credibility.
Under intense public scrutiny, it took action, expelling ten members or forcing them to resign, while 10 others were penalised in what then president Juan Antonio Samaranch called the organisation’s “worst moment”.
Since then the IOC has strictly controlled bidding, banning members from travelling to candidate cities unless they are part of the official evaluation commission.
Bid cities also have their access to voting members clearly defined in a two-year campaign process.
The election of Jacques Rogge, untainted by the Salt Lake City scandal, to succeed Samaranch in 2001 was further aimed at reinforcing the image the IOC was making a clean start. Samaranch, in a nod to the times, did not stand for reelection.
IOC Presidents can now stay on for a maximum 12-year stint as opposed to Samaranch’s 21 years in charge.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter is closing in on that record, having been at the helm of FIFA since 1998 and eyeing election to a fifth term on Friday at the age of 79.
Olympic bosses have put an age limit of 70 for IOC members as they sought to change perceptions that their organisation was essentially an exclusive old boys’ club.
Athletes have also seen their role increase in recent years, with three of six candidates for the presidency in 2013 being former Olympians. The current president, Thomas Bach, is a past Olympic fencing champion.
The IOC also continued to adapt with a string of reforms last year, aimed at making it more transparent while also reducing the possibility of corruption by reducing the demand on new venues for future Olympic hosts.
Strengthening their Principle 6 against any form of sexual discrimination will avoid a repeat of the criticism after Russia approved an anti-gay propaganda law ahead of the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics.
“Over the past year many people have asked me why there is a desire to make changes,” said Bach late last year. “My answer is that we are now in the position to drive change ourselves rather than being driven.”
There are many who say the IOC is far from perfect, a group of non-elected members running global sport unchecked. But it is a world apart from its tainted self under Samaranch in the 1980s and 1990s.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Ralph Boulton