The international football organization FIFA is set to conclude a two-year reform process at this year’s annual meeting in Mauritius. But critics see a lack of willingness to implement any changes.
When delegates from FIFA's 209 member countries assemble for what has been billed the most important congress in years, not many journalists will manage to make the trek to the venue: the tropical Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.
Critics point out that choosing this location may have effectively minimized the number uncomfortable questions being asked.
Corruption in the 'FIFA family'
Reform proposals will be up for decision at the two-day meeting. They were developed over the course of two years in response to major corruption scandals. So integrity checks for executive committee members and other senior officials are among the key proposals.
However suggestions such as age and term limits for elected officials have already been dropped from this week's agenda and have been postponed until 2014. And FIFA's executive committee has already rejected the idea of allowing independent observers to their meetings or disclosing all payments made to its top officials.
“The so-called FIFA reform is a farce,” said David Larkin. He is one of the founders of ChangeFIFA, an initiative dealing with the dark side of international football. “If you talk to anti-corruption experts around the world, none of them see FIFA's reform process as really substantial. The body has, after all, not even managed to implement the recommendations made by their own advisors.”
Two years ago, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter admitted the need for a reform process to be launched in the face of an increasing number of corruption allegations involving top rank officials who were accused of accepting bribes in connection with media licenses or choosing the World Cup venue.
FIFA set up an Independent Governance Committee (IGC) which came up with first proposals in time for last year's meeting in Budapest.
“FIFA ignored our suggestions,” said Alexandra Wrage, the president of the anti-corruption organization Trace International. She was a member of the IGC until she stepped down in protest “It was a frustrating process, because FIFA resisted all our proposals to combat corruption,” Wrage complained. She said she believed FIFA officials still underestimated the extent of the damage done to the image of the entire organization.
Hans-Joachim Eckert sees things differently. “Look at how long it took other big corporations to implement reforms,” said the Munich-based judge, who has experience with high profile corruption cases such as that of German company Siemens.
He is one of two members of FIFA's new ethics committee and argued that the group was more than a fig leaf. “To make that clear,” he said, “if I find something illegal, I will say so, but if I don't, I don't.”
Last month he presented the long-awaited FIFA ethics report dealing with the World Cup kickbacks scandal in the1990s. It confirmed that the former marketing company ISL bribed top FIFA officials from 1992-2000, including former President Joao Havelange, his former son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, and then-South American football confederation president Nicolas Leoz.
The report revealed little that was really new, but one name was notably absent: That of Issa Hayatou, member of the executive committee and influential President of the Confederation of African Football. Hayatou was reprimanded in 2011 for accepting cash from ISL in 1995 for what he said was the financing of a CAF event. According to information obtained by German public broadcaster ARD he faces further accusations which will now be investigated.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter who took over from Havelange and served as general secretary before that, was cleared of any criminal or unethical wrongdoing.
Eckert admitted that Blatter's conduct had been “clumsy” but harshly rejected accusations of whitewash “I have reviewed all the information available in the ISL case to see whether there was any criminal or ethical misconduct," he said, stressing that he saw no basis for further investigations.
“It is absurd,” claimed anti-corruption activist David Larkin, “that the former FIFA presidential candidate [Mohamed] Bin Hamman retrospectively gets accused of a conflict of interest but different standards are applied to Sepp Blatter. That is hypocritical.”
So FIFA critics' expectations are low of a reform process in which independent observers are sidelined, former corrupt FIFA officials continue to receive lavish pensions and a long-term president is exempt from further corruption investigations.