Ripping the Band-Aid – Solving the Problem of FIFA

What is the future of FIFA following the revelations contained in the 47 count indictment by the US Department of Justice of 14 FIFA and sports marketing executives? With the Swiss Attorney General also investigating the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup selection process, FIFA faces its most uncertain period. The future of the governance of world football could take many different forms. Realistically, for true reform of governance to succeed, a radical move by the top footballing economies is required.

The idea gained traction following the release of an abridged version of the Garcia Report on the investigation of the 2018/2022 World Cup selections. Garcia publicly denounced FIFA’s edited summary saying that the facts and information he presented were totally distorted from their original form. Separately, the German football (DFB) President put forward the idea that UEFA could leave FIFA following the embarrassing handling of the 2018/2022 World Cup Bidding investigation. And following the FIFA indictments, UEFA President Michel Platini suggested that UEFA countries would consider boycotts of future FIFA events if Sepp Blatter was to be re-elected for a fifth term.

UEFA, though, is a governing body with similar structural challenges as FIFA. It has 53 member associations which vary in size and success from Germany, Spain, France, and England to Andorra, Malta, and San Marino. The diversity of social, economic, and political motives for each member association is a significant hurdle to acting in unison on a potential boycott of FIFA and its events.

The loudest opponents to Sepp Blatter and FIFA in its current state are the European football powers, Australia, and the USA. FIFA and UEFA are not set up for them to exercise influence through their outsized economic impact on the international game. FIFA derives its power from the willingness of its members to agree to its rules and structure. FIFA’s power over its members is its ability to collectively punish dissident members. But what happens if the economic driving forces of the game pull out of FIFA? What can FIFA do to prevent it? And what happens to FIFA?

If change won’t come from within and the structure of the organization is not conducive to reform, then change will only come from radical actions taken by powerful members that will cripple the world football community into action. The solution requires courage from the elite footballing countries to band together to leave FIFA and form their own club of nations. If the top European countries, USA, and Australia left and formed their own competitions, they would likely be able to persuade some of the other global soccer powers such as Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico to join them and other large economic powers like China and Japan. The economic value of that competition would be enormous and would divert the great majority of broadcasting and sponsorship revenue with it. The balance of power would shift seismically, forcing the rest of the footballing world to join, reform, or struggle.

The current structure of the sport relies on the large markets subsidizing the rest of the world. This is not something that the large market countries are opposed to in principle. But it is the prerogative of these nations to disagree with how these principles are executed. If the balance of power has shifted so out of their favor, this is their opportunity to stop the swing of the pendulum.

FIFA will try to avoid this fate at whatever cost. So will many of its members, particularly the ones that enjoy subsidy and protection from FIFA’s political class. Some of the forms of protection include preventing bully nations from taking over the management of the game or turning a blind eye to corruption. But the quid pro quo is that it gives the entrenched political class the ability to maintain the status quo and avoid the uncertainty of a change in the structure.

The governing body will try to wrap up some tinkering in a glossy bow of reform, but that approach will only delay the inevitable. There is too much money invested in the power of an incompetent too few. Soon the large markets will bail and a multi-polar world of football politics will emerge.

 

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