FIFA President Sepp Blatter resigned this week and the news was welcome and overdue. But where can FIFA go from here? How will it avoid selecting a new leader cut from the same cloth, especially when those eligible to vote re-elected Blatter himself just last week? After decades of increasingly grim scandals, culminating in last week’s arrests, there is widespread skepticism that FIFA will seize this chance at reform.
With the right new and truly independent leadership, these three key factors could help put FIFA on a path to genuine reform:
FIFA must throw open its doors to all stakeholders if it wants to shed its infamous “secret society” reputation. Its closed ranks have allowed corruption to flourish. To ensure transparency around the compliance reform process, FIFA should publish minutes of all meetings. FIFA should immediately open its books and publish salaries of its senior officials, subjecting both to scrutiny just as they would be at corporations and less cloistered non-profits. And FIFA should publish the full Garcia Report with only the minimal redaction necessary to protect whistleblowers and ongoing investigations.
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To ensure a fresh break with its pockmarked past, FIFA must establish an independent transition team to prioritize reforms and carefully select and vet permanent team members. Anyone joining the team should be barred from seeking permanent employment with FIFA or any affiliated organizations. FIFA should appoint external compliance experts to oversee the long-term reform process, and not let internal committees usurp the process. FIFA’s appointment of at least two independent members to the Executive Committee, people with no significant ties to the football community, will also improve transparency.
FIFA should lift the restriction requiring presidential candidates to have two years of football experience out of the last five. An outside, independent candidate, possibly a CEO from the corporate world with significant leadership and governance experience, may well be the best choice for FIFA. Prior to the next election, FIFA should institute term limits for key positions. No single individual or small group of individuals should be able to maintain a stranglehold on the organization.
Finally, everyone at FIFA must know they will be held accountable for their actions and, especially, stewardship of finances. FIFA should require immediate accountability from all recipients of FIFA money or benefits. In light of past abuses, all gifts above an expressly stated and very modest value should be banned effective immediately. FIFA should require all beneficiaries to disclose and document actual or apparent conflicts of interest, including personal, familial, or pecuniary relationships. Independent audits will help to bolster financial accountability. Failing to disclose such conflicts should be grounds for termination of their position.
Transparency, independence, and accountability form the basis of good governance. If FIFA selects a new leader who is committed to fighting for these principles, it may yet regain public confidence.