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FIFA arrests and the need for transparency, accountability and trust

Professor Grant Jarvie is lead educator on The University of Edinburgh’s free online course, “Football: More than a Game.” In the wake of the arrests of key figures at FIFA, he discusses the need for transparency, accountability and trust in the sport’s world governing body.

Professor Grant Jarvie, lead educator on "Football : More than a Game"

It is a multi-billion dollar organisation with estimated reserves of $1.5 billion US dollars. It governs the world’s most popular game and is itself governed by Swiss law. It has had eight presidents, all male, since its foundation in 1904. And it has just had several officials arrested one week before the biggest sports tournament for women in the world.

Who is it? FIFA.

The FIFA arrests

The arrests on 26 May 2015 included top soccer officials. The focus of the alleged charges cover a 20-year period, with one law official quoted as saying:

“We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did.”

Those arrested include nine current or former FIFA officials, and four individual and two corporate defendants, including a former CONCAF general secretary.

The majority of the scheme involves corruption over media and marketing rights to matches and tournaments.

Tackling corruption at FIFA

The Justice Department and the FBI have not immediately commented. FIFA have been involved in corruption allegations before, but none involving charges of federal crimes in the United States court. On matters of general criminal law, the Swiss authorities have agreed to co-operate with the American courts.

FIFA Communications Director, Walter De Gregorio, insisted the organisation was continuing to reform, telling a news conference:

“This is good for FIFA. It hurts, it is not easy, but it confirms we are on the right track.”

The arrests happened two days before Sepp Blatter faces Prince Ali bin al-Hussein in an election, as he seeks a fifth term as FIFA President.

Obscuring the good football can do

There are numerous examples all over the world where football has shown to be a force for good, a force for change. It has the ability to carry messages to huge audiences about racism, poverty and inequality, but recent headlines tend to obscure the progressive work that is done by organisations such as the Homeless World Cup.

To get past these issues, we must address three issues:

1. Governance

Good governance implies transparency, accountability, justification for actions, evaluation of risk, and a high degree of trust both within and outside of organisations.

While FIFA governs world football, it does not govern the laws of the game. These are maintained by IFAB – the International Football Association Board.

2. Power, Money and Football

Different countries and federations have benefited from the current presidency. The Executive Chairman has overseen the distribution of resources to countries that, prior to his reign, had not benefited greatly from the re-distribution of FIFA wealth.

It will be interesting to see which way the six confederations vote in the presidential elections. The English FA and David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, have called for the President to stand down, but Asia have backed the current President, as has Vladimir Putin of Russia.

One of the criticisms of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was that large amounts of money went into South Africa, but also came out. The suggestion being that the circulation of money was a way for individuals to maintain and develop a power base.

3. World Cup bids

The issues surrounding recent World Cup bids are not about a lack of desire to spread the game around the world. Improved governance, transparency and reform will not bring back the lives of those workers who have been employed to build the infrastructure.

Will the players be comfortable in the knowledge that they could be playing in stadiums whose construction has involved the death of so many migrant workers?

You can find out more about football and these issues by joining our free online course, “Football: More than a Game.” It will be run for the second time from 22 June 2015 for six weeks, to coincide with the seventh FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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