Transparency International, a Berlin-based global anti-corruption watchdog, severed its ties with football’s governing body, FIFA, on Thursday, on the grounds that the latter would not comply with two of its recommendations.
Transparency told the media that it would be withdrawing its support for FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s reforms after Mark Pieth, a Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at the University of Basel asked to oversee reforms, announced that he would accept payment from FIFA. He’s also said he won’t be investigating old scandals.
In recent months, FIFA has been overwhelmed by scandal, which has led to four members of its executive committee resigning or being banned. They’ve included allegations of bribe-taking and trouble in the voting over who is to host the World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022 (Qatar and Russia, respectively). Blatter claims that he’s trying to reform FIFA, but critics question how assiduously the controversial president is applying himself to that cause.
FIFA has so far declined to comment on this latest development.
Questions of bias. Sylvia Schenk, Transparency International’s sports adviser, explained the watchdog’s position to press agencies: “All members of the commission are supposed to be independent. You can’t be independent if you have a contract with FIFA.” Calling Pieth’s declaration “astonishing”, Schenk said that the decision discredits the whole of Blatter’s proposed “road map” of reforms.
Cheesed off. Pieth, meanwhile, according to the Wall Street Journal, is “cheesed off” about the move, saying his credibility isn’t at all damaged by being paid by FIFA, that he needed Transparency International on board, and accusing the watchdog of “playing a turf war”. “We can’t start asking audit firms to do their job for free just to make sure they are independent,” said Pieth, according to Sport Business. “What you’ll get is something quite pathetic.”
Blatter’s credibility is in tatters. Transparency’s refusal to lest FIFA’s past corruption go unexamined “poses a bold challenge to world football’s disgraced governing body,” claimed David Conn, writing at The Guardian‘s Inside Sport blog. When he presented what he called a “road map” to reform, Blatter traded on Transparency’s good name to prove that the effort was genuine; now that Transparency has pulled out, there can be no confidence in FIFA. Moreover, “Pieth’s own assessment leads inescapably to the conclusion that widespread corruption and trough-feeding may well have been happening on Blatter’s watch, and so must be investigated if the organisation is to have a genuine foundation for decency in the future.”
Things don’t look to good for Blatter. Transparency’s departure is a blow for football’s paterfamilias, Rob Hughes, writing on global soccer for The New York Times, agreed. “The monitor has walked away, suggesting that the trust was not all that it seemed. There are other partners, including some of the major sponsors who contribute tens of millions of dollars to FIFA, who will want to know why. FIFA’s president is in a lonely place. Maybe because the past has too many skeletons buried in it.”
More on sport