- Jeff Carlisle, Soccer
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Just a week after a leading member of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee resigned in frustration over the slow pace of reforms, the committee's chairman, Mark Pieth, reiterated the panel's intention to carry on.
Pieth, a professor of criminal law at Basel University, has led the IGC since its inception in 2011, when it was formed by FIFA to address corruption allegations related to, among other things, the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. But Pieth was dealt a blow last week when Alexandra Wrage resigned over the committee's lack of progress.
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Wrage, who is president of TRACE International, a non-profit specializing in anti-bribery compliance, stated that FIFA lacked the will to reform itself.
"At FIFA, there wasn't really any demonstration that they were all that interested in change," she said via telephone. "There was a great deal of fanfare. They of course started this process. They said the needed to restore confidence in the organization. Then they started slamming doors shut and shutting things down.
"There were a couple of successes. Getting the separate investigative and adjudicatory branches on the Ethics Committee, those were good steps forward. But on a whole series of issues that would normally be pretty uncontroversial, they just said, 'No.' Or a little worse than that. They didn't say no, they just dropped them from the agenda."
According to Wrage, among the proposals FIFA failed to act on were transparency in compensation and background checks on members. Another proposal on age and term limits will apparently be presented at the upcoming FIFA congress in Mauritius at the end of next month, but Wrage is highly skeptical that it will pass.
"Apparently [FIFA president Sepp] Blatter supports age and term limits, but he's just going to throw that issue out onto the congress floor," Wrage said. "A FIFA congress isn't really organized to debate the subtleties of a governance issue, and so a lot of those subtleties will be lost and I suspect those will die at the congress. You have to put a recommendation forward and then have people vote on it. You just can't expect somebody from the floor to hop up and say, 'I propose age limits.' It doesn't work that way."
Wrage's resignation has led to concern that when Pieth presents his recommendations at the congress, FIFA will simply declare victory and that the IGC's work is done. But Pieth indicated that while he was "saddened" by Wrage's decision and shares her frustration over the minimal progress that has been made, he isn't giving up.
"What we've said is that it's primarily the problem not of the individual changes of language in FIFA's statutes, it's a problem that the [reform] culture hasn't really seeped in," he said via telephone. "They really haven't had a change of culture yet. We came out with a different decision [from Wrage]. We said we'll just stay on. We'll not go away and fade away after this congress. That would make it so easy to just change a few statutes and carry on the way they've been going for decades. That would be crap. So we decided that we'll stay on and our major focus will be more on implementation and application."
Pieth added that part of his decision stems from a desire to support recent appointees such as Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, and Domenico Scala, who leads the Audit and Compliance committee.
"We can't just leave them there," Pieth said. "We should help them carry through."
But another reason why Pieth and his colleagues at the IGC want to stay the course is the recent turnover in the composition of FIFA's Executive Committee. Gone are disgraced ExCo members like Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer, Ricardo Texeira, and Nicolas Leoz. In their places are new members like Lydia Nsekera, the head of the Burundi FA, and an early member of the IGC. U.S. Soccer Federation president and current IGC member Sunil Gulati is another recent addition to the ExCo, having been elected at the recent CONCACAF congress to replace Blazer. It is widely expected that Gulati, like Nsekera before him, will resign from the IGC to avoid conflict of interest. But Pieth is convinced that Gulati will be of even greater value to the IGC from his new position.
"For us, Gulati is an absolutely straight person, and this is absolutely a big victory to have increasingly people with a dubious background being replaced by people who know what they are doing, who are going to promote compliance and governance," Pieth said. "Sunil is such a guarantor. He is coming in with people like [CONCACAF president] Jeff Webb. So I am quite optimistic that the ExCo is losing people who were in the old network and they've been replaced by independent newcomers -- I'm not saying independent from football but who have their own mind."
Wrage admitted that having people such as Nsekera and Gulati who are sympathetic to transparency and good governance on the ExCo "has to be a good thing." But given her recent experiences with FIFA, she was quick to point out that there are no guarantees that things will change, or that Gulati and Nsekera will be the allies Pieth expects them to be.
"There are some really powerful and entrenched interests and we'll have to wait and see," she said. "When Gulati was on the IGC and had his IGC hat on, he was a valued member of the group. His priorities may shift a little bit now that he's on the ExCo. I don't mean to make that sound needlessly negative. But moving from union to management, it's just hard to know."
Pieth remains undaunted.
He added, "We are saying, 'Yes, it's needed to put in more time, especially on the ground, in concrete, to make these things work.'"
Cooperation from FIFA will be needed as well.