Sept 1 (Reuters) - Struggling with a major corruption crisis, FIFA convenes the first meeting of a new reform committee on Wednesday. But few with knowledge of the matter - either inside or outside world soccer’s governing body - expect it to come up with the robust proposals for structural change that are being sought by prosecutors and sponsors.
FIFA is facing unprecedented pressure to reform following the May indictment by U.S. authorities of nine current and former soccer officials on bribery-related charges. Many of them had served on FIFA’s executive committee or in other FIFA positions.
But the committee’s Chairman Francois Carrard lost credibility with those seeking more radical change when he told the Swiss newspaper La Matin Dimanche that criticism of FIFA President Sepp Blatter was “unfair” and that the corruption cases involve “only a few rogues.” He also came under fire for claiming that soccer in the U.S. is “just an ethnic sport for girls in schools,” as he questioned why the U.S. was investigating.
FIFA was forced to issue a statement distancing itself from Carrard, a former director general of the International Olympic Committee. Sources close to FIFA told Reuters that there were also some calls from within the organization for him to be replaced as head of the committee.
The committee’s makeup also makes it less likely that it will be in any way transforming. The six regional soccer confederations, who currently control FIFA’s troubled executive committee, also dominate the reform committee - appointing all of its 12 members, although some have chosen people from outside of the game. Most of the soccer officials indicted had been officials in the confederations for North and South America.
“It’s hard to take seriously a reform committee of FIFA that is full of football and Olympic insiders and officials, all of whom have an implicit conflict of interest through their roles as well as a vested interest in maintaining as much of the status quo as they can get away with,” said Jaimie Fuller, a founder of the campaign group #NewFIFANow, which is seeking radical reform.
An attempt to get FIFA’s sponsors - such as Coca Cola Co , Visa Inc and McDonald’s Corp - to appoint two representatives to the committee failed. The sponsors decided they didn’t want to be part of a body so dominated by the confederations, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald’s all declined to discuss the latest developments in the FIFA reform process when contacted by Reuters.
Earlier in the summer, the sponsors were very public in their calls for significant reforms of FIFA but since then they have been less outspoken. They haven‘t, for example, backed up their calls with threats that they might pull out of sponsorship deals or not renew them, one source with knowledge of the situation said.
Some say that the cautious stance is to be expected given the importance of FIFA events, in particular the World Cup, as a vehicle for promoting their products to hundred of millions of consumers.
Andrew Woodward, former director of public relations for Visa’s Global and USA Marketing, said he believes the sponsors made a mistake by pushing demands for FIFA reform.
“They are paying for the right to sponsor a particular event ... they aren’t buying a share in the business,” he said.
Many of those inside or close to FIFA are also suffering from reform plan fatigue. There have been many reform initiatives in the past and most have led to little real change.
Indeed, FIFA already had a reform process in place when the committee was appointed. That process is led by Domenico Scala, independent head of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee.
In July, Scala presented a nine-point reform plan to the executive committee which included replacing that powerful ruling body with two separate committees - weakening the power of the confederations. The committee responded by setting up the new reform committee.
Scala, a Swiss businessman, is not a member of Carrard’s body and his ability to influence its decisions remains in question, even though he is supposed to oversee it.
Adding to the multiple layers of decision making, Carrard has said he will appoint a five person ‘advisory board’ to help him with his reform plans.
“The whole thing is ridiculous,” says Michael Hershman, a member of a previous attempt to reform FIFA - the Independent Governance Committee.
“Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and again and expecting different results,” he said, noting that there had been at least three previous reform attempts in recent years.
“They have a clear road map from those three efforts ... this is an enormous waste of time, energy and money,” he added.
Hanging over the entire process is the continuing investigation by U.S. authorities, and a parallel Swiss probe.
On the day Carrard was appointed to the chairmanship of the committee, Kelly T. Currie, the chief U.S. prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York told a news conference that U.S. authorities would continue to monitor FIFA’s response to the corruption crisis.
“We hope that reforms will be deep and they’ll be substantial,” he said. “Superficial changes at FIFA to its statutes will not be sufficient.”
Carrard’s committee is expected to provide FIFA’s executive committee meeting on September 24 with a report - just three weeks after its first sitting.
However the key deadline is December’s executive committee which will set the agenda for February’s congress, which will be attended by representatives from FIFA’s 209 member associations..
That congress will also choose a new leader for FIFA, who may well have other ideas about reform. Blatter announced in June that he was stepping down after 17 years because he said he had lost the mandate from the entire world of soccer.
All of those who have put themselves forward for that job, including Michel Platini, the head of the European confederation UEFA, have talked about the need for reform but as yet there has been little detail from any of them.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, who is considering whether to run again after losing to Blatter in a vote in May, said the entire process should be left to the new leader.
“All of this should belong to the new president. Although reforms are welcome and much needed, they are the mandate of the new president, not the old one,” Prince Ali said in a statement. (Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Martin Howell)