By Mathieu Emery
New year, new hopes, new expectations. It is well known that January marks the time of the year were we feel that we can start over, maybe the best time of the year were we can make a change. “I will go to the gym”, “I’ll start eating better”, “I’ll go on a course”, “I’ll join this club”. When looking at the planet football from a fan perspective, unfortunately we know that willpower cannot change so easily aspects of the global governance and that change do not happen so quickly. Nevertheless, changes have been happening at FIFA. In 2016, a new President has been elected as well as a new staff and a new General Secretary appointed. We would like to take the opportunity of the January momentum to look back at the work done at FIFA since the election of Gianni Infantino at the head of the global football about one year ago.
During our last Fan Power Sessions of 2016, we talked to M. Zen Ruffinen, sport lawyer and former General Secretary at FIFA from 1998 to 2002 and to Jamil Chade, correspondent of the paper O Estado do S. Paulo in Europe. With them we have been willing to get an overview of the management of FIFA, their reform, and the issues remaining. After the tax scandal which led to the eviction of several FIFA members and of the resignation of Sepp Blatter, FIFA has been looking to take on a new start. The legacy is heavy and reforms have to be carried out.
Russia 2018 & Qatar 2022
The immediate future will be marked by the Russian and Qatari World Cups, two tournaments that have been awarded contemporarily and, as J. Chade pointed out, whose candidatures got the lowest rating based on the candidature dossier. As a consequence, FIFA and the respective local organizing committees are now facing complex issues. Let’s remember that the host of the 2018 World Cup, is being criticised by the high level of racism in Russian football and by the discrimination against LGBT in the wider Russian society. In Qatar, the unknowns are not only of a political matter but involve strong worries about the heat which players could have to deal with (the tournament may be disputed during Winter), and the condition of workers on the sites of Qatar 2022 is at the centre of the preoccupations of many stakeholders. We asked our guests what could the “new FIFA” do whenever the Qatari authorities and local organization committee weren’t able to guarantee the human rights of people involved in the organizations of infrastructures around the country and we got pretty much the same answer from both: FIFA is bounded by the contracts that have been signed at the time of the awarding of both World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Withdrawing is really unlikely to happen as the legal actions that would result from ending the contracts could be so severe that it could mean the end of FIFA.
Zen Ruffinen added that part of the agreement of the organization of a World Cup involves the respect of human rights and that something could be done if this wouldn’t be the case. Jamil Chade highlighted how FIFA tends to set itself as the victim as they often claim that they never forced anyone to be a candidate to a WC and therefore is not responsible for the situation in their respective countries.
In the future if you need to find countries that accept to build more stadia because you have to host more teams, there would be added logistical problems in addition to the already existing ones for organize a World Cup. That would probably be too much comparing to the sporting value that 16 teams would bring to one country just to play one game.
It is now official that the World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams as wanted by new president Gianni Infantino and discussed in the last FIFA council meeting. We asked our guests their opinion about the expansion of the World Cup and both agreed that this reform would not add anything to the game from a technical point of view and stressed on the issues that it would involve from an organizational and logistic point of view. M. Zen Ruffinen spoke about his experience of the organization of the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by Japan and South Korea and highlighted the difficulties that a joint tournament involves. Raising the number of participating teams to 40 or 48 will necessarily increase the number of joint candidatures for obvious logistic reasons. Jamil Chade added that only a few countries would be able to organize such a big tournament on their own, opening the door to candidatures of the biggest countries China and USA in primis) and that the logistic issues would increase at the detriment of players, fans and of the level of the game. This gives us a clue about the main focus of FIFA for the future and is apparently not intended to do anything to solve the political, logistical, and human-rights-linked issues that will mark the next two World Cups.
In front of this unsatisfying situation, we have been trying to understand what could be done to solve the severe issues that the management of global football is thriving and who has the power to do so. From an institutional point of view, M. Zen Ruffinen stated that although FIFA headquarters is based in Switzerland, the Swiss authorities have no power to dictate FIFA to take any measure impacting their activities happening at the other corner of the world. FIFA is seen as a private entity, rather than an institutional one and it is therefore rather unlikely that any government or intergovernmental institution intervene in FIFA’s management.
The first part of our interviews allowed us to understand the near future of FIFA: With respectively less than two and six years until the kick-off of Russia2018 and Qatar2022, football will have to deal with these two competitions despite all logistic, organizational, and human issues that these involved.
FIFA structural issues
To understand better how FIFA can change direction, how it can be reformed in order to manage football in a transparent and ethic way, our chat with Zen Ruffinen gave us interesting insights about the key issues that FIFA has been dealing with internally. M. Zen Ruffinen has been working at FIFA from 1986 to 2002, 16 years in which global football has evolved drastically. From 86 collaborators when he entered to over 170 when he left without counting people working in marketing (which is run by another dedicated company), FIFA became bigger and bigger, richer and richer thanks to the income mainly from the sale of TV rights and partnership deals.
FIFA is an organization counting 211 affiliated national associations. Each of them having different interest and points of view on how global football should be managed. “The problem that FIFA has been facing and is probably still facing to a certain extent is that it is a world organization that on one hand has a lot of power, political and financial power and on the other hand has members which are very different depending on their geopolitical position. This leads to a very specific configuration to consider when managing the organization to take care of the interest of associations that have totally different points of view on how FIFA should be managed and this leads to some conflict, problems and the perception of corruption that people have on one side of the world are not the same at the other side and this created a lot of problems”, M. Zen Ruffinen stated.
He added that with its rapid expansion, FIFA turned into an organization with very specific and specialized competencies and this has allowed it to escape governmental rules to manage its interests the way it and its members preferred the most. What we perceive as corruption from the outside, has been there for quite a long time, and while FIFA itself knew that some reforms had to be made, many federations were against it as they were afraid of losing their privilege. One constant issue that FIFA is facing is to have to deal with big and small federations, poor and richer ones. The solution that M. Zen Ruffinen came up with when asking about its ideal FIFA is to reform the structure of decision making in FIFA and to split the executive committee into two chambers, inspiring itself to a bicameral parliament where the decision of one chamber will be balanced by the other in order to avoid privileging any association rather to another.
World Cup Organization
The reason for this situation is politics! Every state representative had to be satisfied and wanted to get the same amount of visibility.
Talking with Jamil Chade about the organization of last World Cup in Brazil, it came out that the use of funds for the organization of the tournament is not sustainable in a country where so many social issues are yet to be solved. When asked about the matter of FIFA setting up high standards to organize a tournament regardless of the capabilities and characteristics of the host of the WC, he answered that the issue is not about the standard as he is convinced that Brazil is able to organize a tournament with standard as high as for the Germany or the Asiatic tournaments. The issue for him is about priorities and about considering the legacy that the tournament with leave the country with. He took the example of the site of Manaus, Arena Amazonia, which local teams compete in Brazilian 4th division, and which attracts small crowds that don’t justify the building of a 44,000 all-seater, multi-use stadium. He highlighted furthermore how the selection of the venues of the 2014 World Cup has been made to satisfy political interest and despite using public funds, did not consider at all a positive legacy for the Brazilian population.
At FanVox we believe that FIFA must change and we asked M.Zen Ruffinen about the importance of fan involvement as an input to its reform. He replied that it is extremely difficult to have fans involved into the decisions of FIFA, as FIFA moves are under the eyes of everyone on a daily basis and they won’t have any impact on FIFA’s decision. He suggested that a way for fans to have a role in FIFA decision is to be federated, to create national fans federations that would be represented in FIFA and that would have a voice in FIFA executive decisions. This would take time but he remembered that, 15 years ago, the voice of professional players was hardly considered until the recognition of an association of professional football players, FIFPro. He would imagine a similar solution as the only way for football fans to be involved in FIFA decision process.
Looking beyond 2022, I asked Jamil Chade about a candidature that is particularly appealing for football romantics: Uruguay 2030, what would be the centenary world cup. J. Chade agreed that for this to have a chance to happen, it would involve an in-depth reform of FIFA and of the way FIFA award the organization of the WC. Would this be an occasion to create a new FIFA, closer to people needs, and which will work to make a significant change for people lives and be highly profitable for communities. He said that it could not state that a creation of a new FIFA would be possible, but that if FIFA doesn’t manage to take the necessary reform in the next years, something would have to happen.
In the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, 13 teams competed in three venues in one host city. It is obvious that Uruguay will not be able to organize by itself a tournament with 40 or more teams over 12 or more modern stadiums, even if they were to present a joint candidature with neighbour Argentina. What a great occasion it would be for FIFA (or for a new FIFA) to look in-depth into the World Cup structure and format in order to showcase the local pride and to give a relevant legacy to the hosting country of the World Cup to foster that FIFA Mission: “[..] to develop football everywhere and for all, to touch the world through its inspiring tournaments and to build a better future through the power of the game.”