Emma McClarkin is an MEP for the East Midlands.
Reform of FIFA continues to be a hot topic ahead of the election of a new President in February. Last week, I was due to co-host a ‘Presidential Candidates Forum’ in the European Parliament at which the majority of the candidates agreed to be present. The idea was for them to set out their stall within a public setting – showing that their vision of a future FIFA was to be more open, accountable and democratic.
Regrettably the event we had organised came crashing down around us on the Monday morning, a mere two days short of the debate itself. It began with Prince Ali bin Hussein from Jordan referencing concerns over the compatibility of the event with FIFA’s election rules. Prince Ali blamed Gianni Infantino – another of the candidates, and UEFA’s General Secretary – for making an initial complaint to FIFA’s ad hoc election committee that the event represented political interference in the running of FIFA, which is strictly against rules designed to prevent governments controlling the game in their respective countries. Before long, South Africa’s candidate, Tokyo Sexwale, had followed suit. And then there was only one, Jerome Champagne, who followed through on his promise and came to the parliament to give his views.
In essence, what happened last week was symptomatic of the way FIFA now operates. And it seems that it’s the way it will continue to be run if some of these people are given the keys to the office. Government control over domestic football should absolutely be prohibited; but giving the candidates a platform from which to speak, in a Parliamentary House with no executive powers, is far removed from government interference. Instead, the failure of four of the five candidates to come to the European Parliament and debate the many issues shows that neither the candidates nor FIFA understand principles of democracy.
Why is this so important, some may ask? While FIFA is not a government body (and nor should it be), it bears an enormous amount of responsibility to the millions of people around the world who play and love football. But for too long, FIFA has operated behind closed doors and only for the select few at the top who treat FIFA as their own, with complete disregard for democratic values, transparency and accountability.
Something has had to give, and the awarding of the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022 respectively appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or is it? We have seen the indictment of over 40 football officials and other entities, thanks to the US authorities who are investigating corruption within the organisation. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: the corruption scandals run right through the organisation, and now Sepp Blatter, the former President of FIFA, and Michel Platini, UEFA’s President, have been banned from football-related activity for eight years, following yet another scandal.
While we hope that the sheer number of skeletons coming out of the closet means a chance for a new start for FIFA during this Presidential race, it looks sadly as if it will be more of the same for the embattled governing body. The reason I am sceptical is that in order to pursue this new start, we need new people far removed from the old guard, opening up FIFA to the scrutiny that we see in the Commons, for example. If the candidates shy away from even debating the issues in a public forum, what chance do we have?
I am a supporter of the “New FIFA Now” campaign group alongside Damian Collins. A major element of the group’s guiding principles and charter for reform is the idea of a FIFA Reform Commission, which to an extent has been emulated by FIFA, but which aims to go further. Built upon the principles of democracy, transparency and accountability, the Reform Commission would include governance experts, and parliamentarians who could play a consultative role in advising the Commission on how to reform according to these principles.
“New FIFA Now” also foresees a role for the fans and players themselves, and this is something I fully support. The FIFA Executive committee should be the custodians of the sport and not the owners, in the same way that elected politicians make decisions on behalf of their constituents. I’d like to see football think about governance in this way, and to include the fans by giving them voting rights in the organisation, perhaps through supporter groups, so that they have a stake in the way the game is run. Decisions made by FIFA need to reflect what the fans and players want to see to develop the sport, giving greater weight to the manifestos of the candidates rather than the current opaque back-door deals.
Ramon Vega, the former Spurs and Celtic defender, contributed to our discussion this week in the European Parliament, and his passion for the game and desire for reform on behalf of the fans was refreshing. FIFA could use this kind of expertise going forward. However, events this week have made me even more sceptical that any of these candidates are the man for the job, and can carry forward the kinds of reforms that football is crying out for.