Mark Pieth, FIFA reform and a futile crusade
To those who have followed FIFA’s stuttering reform process closely over the past twenty months, there will be less surprise at the nature of Mark Pieth outburst this week than the fact that it hasn’t come earlier.
Pieth, a Swiss Law professor who has been hired as a consultant by FIFA to oversee the reform of its governance, used an explosive interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung to articulate his intense frustration with elements within world football that have blocked his roadmap for reform.
Moreover, he set himself on collision course with FIFA President Sepp Blatter by criticising the process that saw Mohamed Bin Hammam withdraw from the 2011 FIFA presidential race. This was the result of a ‘deal’ said Pieth, hinting at the long held belief that Bin Hammam withdrew after an agreement between Blatter and the Emir of Qatar that would ease the questioning of their country’s controversial hosting of World Cup 2022. Bin Hammam’s exit, he said, ‘violated all principles of criminal procedure.’
What was most troubling in this interview were Pieth’s accusations of political interference in the work of his so-called Independent Governance Group. His criticism of UEFA’s mealy mouthed response to the IGC was predictable and justified. More worrisome were his claims that members of the FIFA Exco blocked his suggestions for a FIFA ethics prosecutor.
His first choice Luis Moreno Ocampo was blocked by FIFA’s senior vice-president Julio Grondona in league with Argentina’s President, Cristina Kirchner. Ocampo made his reputation as a fearless prosecutor in Argentina’s 1980s junta trials and subsequently as prosecutor of the international criminal court, and Grondona and others would have good reason to fear him in particular.
FIFA provides an environment in which dictators’ stooges outlast the murderous and once seemingly untouchable men who oversaw their ascent to power. Thus while the Ivorian tyrant Laurent Gbagbo sits in the Hague awaiting judgement on war crimes charges, his former financial advisor Jacques Anouma makes a bid for the CAF presidency. And while Hosni Murbarak resides in an Egyptian jail, Hany Abu Rida – described by the former FA chairman Lord Triesman as ‘a very close associate’ of the deposed Egyptian dictator - is untouchable on the FIFA Exco. Grondona’s own links to the long-deposed Argentine junta are well documented.
Pieth, to his credit, was explicitly clear about this.
‘If you look back at people who have been on the FIFA Exco, many were in league with former dictators,’ he said.
‘The great strength of Ocampo was that, before he went to The Hague, he brought to court the dictators of Argentina who had unleashed the Falklands War. His background is the struggle against fascist dictators.
‘If you take Grondona, or [CONMEBOL president] Nicolas Leoz from Paraguay, and consider that region’s record with dictators such as Stroessner and Banzer, you can piece together the rest. I won’t say anything else or I will get into trouble.’
Two further choices, Pieth claimed, including Scotland Yard Deputy Commissioner Sue Akers, were blocked because senior Exco members refused to be policed by a woman. The American Michael Garcia was eventually appointed to the role, but not on the recommendation of the IGC. Instead Ronald Noble, head of Interpol, put him forward. Interpol is tied to FIFA via a €20m, 10-year anti-corruption investment.
‘I was very upset because politics got in the way of my own preference,’ Pieth said.
‘One was turned down because he fought fascists … and the sexism which barred the women.’
FIFA EXCO members, he complained, ‘live 20 years in the past.’
This, anyone could have told him when he embarked on his reform project in summer 2011, is a generous assessment.
The Futile Crusade
When I encountered Pieth, when he was giving a keynote address at the European Association of Sport Management Conference in Aalborg last September, although there was none of the outspokenness that defined his Sueddeutsche Zeitung interview it seemed as if he was paving the way for the failure of his own reforms. He invited ‘civil society, and especially the fans, to push for reforms’. This seemed to me an extraordinary and slightly desperate thing to say and pointed at the weakness of his own position. It seemed as if he needed public support because he had none himself from within FIFA.
This was always going to be a fundamental problem for Pieth, or whoever else sought to help FIFA self-regulate. The mandate for change ultimately lies with the FIFA Exco, but it’s the FIFA Exco that are the cause of many of FIFA’s problems. It was always obvious that the Grondonas, Leozs, Hayatous and Teixieras of the Exco were never going to have much interest in ending the gravy train through their own volition. What is more disappointing – indeed shameful – is that some European members have not backed up their own rhetoric to support change. The turkeys not voting for Christmas is the oft-used aphorism, but there is much truth in it.
That leaves the handful of progressively minded Exco members, such as Theo Zwanzigger and Prince Ali Bin Hussein, to support change, and Sepp Blatter, who publicly backs reform (but I suspect might have his own reasons to prevent it from going too far). Seen in such a context the prospects do not look much good.
Pieth suggested this week that he could always walk away from the reform process - ‘I can always say, if there’s no progress: ‘Goodbye FIFA.’” – and that the organisation risked wasting “10 years” if it didn’t see the process through. It’s his call whether he oversees a reform process that is plagued by compromise or even outright failure, or goes down in flames of his own accord.
Either way I doubt that it will matter much. FIFA has suffered and survived worse, and Pieth’s attempts – which might always have been in vain – will have bought Blatter and FIFA a couple of years respite during a period when its reputation has never stood lower.