“The FIFA Executive Committee is the most powerful and influential administrative body in world sport and having elected Australian representation would bring immeasurable status to our nation and Australian football.”
It is difficult sometimes to imagine what goes through the minds of sports administrators when they talk about FIFA. Realpolitik? Deference? Naivety?
In the case of the Australian Federation’s (FFA) new CEO, David Gallop, who greeted the nomination of Moya Dodd as a candidate for the FIFA Exco in such terms last week, one suspects it is a mixture of all three.
Gallop, of course, had no involvement with the FFA’s car crash World Cup bid, which blew A$46million of taxpayers money and saw the country humiliated by FIFA just 26 months ago. But his genuflecting at the palace of King Sepp is puzzling to say the least.
Australia has often lacked self-confidence on the global stage and grapples with its national identity, even more than a century after independence. But would having someone sit at football’s top table really add ‘immeasurable status’ to the Australian nation? Really? (It also neglects that Dodd’s prospective mandate would be to represent women’s football not Australia)
I’m sure this sort of thing plays well in front of Sepp Blatter, but Gallop should ask his chairman at the FFA, Frank Lowy, just how far sucking up to the FIFA president gets you. (Not very far).
Of course it’s a good thing that Moya Dodd – a former national team player and AFC vice president, who is highly regarded among her colleagues in Asian football – joins Lydia Nsekera, Paula Kearns and Sonia Bien-Aime as a nominee for the Exco in May. Better still she has started to articulate a position and public voice on football.
But is this enough?
Writing on Sports Business Insider, Dodd’s compatriot Bonita Mersiades gave eight questions that she should be asking if her election bid is successful. These were:
• How much do you get paid, Sepp?
• Why are Nicolas Leoz, Julio Grondona, Worawi Makudi, Jacques Anouma, Issa Hayatou and Chuck Blazer still here?
• How much has FIFA, or organisations on behalf of FIFA, paid Peter Hargitay? When? What for?
• How much do members of the Ethics Committee get paid? Can I see their expense accounts?
• How can we ensure that this ExCo is more representative of, and responsive to, the ‘forgotten stakeholders’ of the game – players and fans?
• Why don’t we publish all the minutes of the Executive Committee meetings online?
• When can I see the new guidelines for bidding for the 2026 World Cup so I can make sure they’re not custom-made for bestowing favours?
• And hey guys, when did you really decide to vote for Russia and Qatar?
Merisades, a former head of corporate affairs at the FFA, is a formidable sports administrator in her own right (one of the best I encountered before she was shamefully axed three years ago by an organisation beholden to its noxious overseas consultants), acknowledged the ‘sad truth’ that it was unlikely that such questions would be voiced. Pass the ‘induction [into] the very close knit Exco family and [she will understand] – as she intrinsically does – that it’s better to be part of the gang than not.’
This, alas, is the reality of the FIFA family. Speak out and you become a pariah, ostracised, powerless. Moreover, when your constituency is federations, most aren’t remotely interested in questions of governance. Take FIFA’s annual development money and don’t ask questions is the mantra of at least three-quarters of world football’s 209 member associations.
That isn’t to say that on joining the Exco you instantly become part of the problem, but most entrants do. Very few of those who represent an organisation whose logo is ‘For The Game, For The World’ bother to speak to anyone outside their inner circles, other than to order the next round of drinks. When I reported on FIFA regularly, no more than six or seven Exco members ever deigned to speak with the press on or off the record. I assume other football stakeholders were given similar accountability.
Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Things have changed slightly for the better in the past few years with the ascent of the impressive Prince Ali Bin Hussein and the formidable Theo Zwanzigger. But for every Prince Ali there’s a Jim Boyce, who seems to have followed the inglorious path set by the gnomish Geoff Thompson, who took his per diems and kept his head down.
As you can probably gather my expectations are low for most entering FIFA’s ruling council. I recognise that the awkward questions suggested by Mersiades are probably best left to journalists for now (Chung Mong-joon never got far by posing them). But what would I expect from a newly elected Exco member?
Given the low bar, I’d make things easy:
4/ Dialogue with stakeholders
5/ Pursuit of football’s best interests and not those of myself/ my federation/ my confederation/ my national government.
These might sound like pretty basic and fundamental virtues, but I can count on one hand those who adhere to all of them.
Perhaps when a majority of football’s powerbrokers follow these rules then the awkward questions can be asked – and answered.