Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Waiting On FIFA

The Soccer Daily, a daily soccer column from US Soccer Players' J Hutcherson.

By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 18, 2011) US Soccer Players -- World Soccer's governing body owes us an announcement later this month. FIFA will explain how they plan on reforming their organization after almost a year of discontent. Though there's a good case for dating it even earlier, the obvious trouble started with the World Cup hosting announcement and carried through a presidential election cycle.

At any point during those months, someone in power could've said 'hey, wait a minute…." Instead, FIFA waited until they'd named two World Cup hosts and allowed a presidential election to go ahead after their own ethics committee provisionally suspended the only other candidate. Add in the allegations of corruption directed at members of the executive committee and the calls for reform from those with FIFA titles along with major countries and clubs, and FIFA's problems only escalated.

Though it sounds like a cliché, the first step is always admitting you have a problem. For FIFA, that's resisting the urge to try the onward and upward scenario. What happens there is pushing whatever happened in the past - including what literally just happened - and marching forward bravely into a brighter future. FIFA tried that, almost immediately after reelecting its president. That the press conference ended up with that FIFA president lecturing the gathered media on civility and respect was enough of an indication even for FIFA that this problem would require a different solution.

Enter FIFA president Sepp Blatter's panel of learned men. Considering who made the short list as the primary influencers for change at FIFA, what that really accomplished was easy headlines and editorials for outlets that cover soccer. Again, it was almost immediately apparent that it simply wasn't enough.

From there we got a deadline for a major announcement. This Thursday, October 20th, when FIFA is expected to emerge from a lengthy period of self-examination with a clear and workable vision for the future. Unlike our old friend the NY/NJ Metrostars, FIFA is in no position to play the 60-to-90 day game. That was the Metrostars patented 'we'll have something for you' response that was always resetting the 60-to-90 day clock. For all we know, at some point a remnant of that team will actually make an announcement, like a time capsule set to be open years after the club rebranded and moved on. That won't work for FIFA. They've set their own deadline and timeframe and would cause even more problems by not meeting it.

As so many have already stressed, that's going to be an interesting public statement for an organization with several executive committee members having faced or still facing corruption charges and a public perception that the system itself has failed. There's no room to hedge here, and FIFA has to know that.

Keep in mind that this is FIFA we're talking about, an organization that spent the last World Cup cycle reassuring the world that things would run smoothly and is now doing the same thing on behalf of the next World Cup hosts. It's one where World Cup bids and presidential elections seem unable to happen without suspicions and allegations that votes are for sale. And it's also one that's been able to shake off major scandals and emerge still capable of generating massive amounts of money.

Last summer's events changed that. There was no next for FIFA, nothing on the calendar to wipe the slate and let them focus on anything else. With all respect to the Women's World Cup, that was no match for dropping a life ban on the other candidate, wiping out the leadership of CONCACAF, and dealing with multiple allegations of votes for bribes, outright bribery, and dredging up recent moments in FIFA history that the organization probably assumed were all but forgotten.

So what should we expect on Thursday?

What there's probably little hope of is the kind of reforms that would cause the worldwide media to pause, seriously consider what has been presented, and then judge whether or not it stands a chance of working. We can already safely assume that FIFA can't reasonably go far enough for some without revamping the executive committee, putting multiple FIFA bureaucrats out to pasture, and resetting the World Cup hosting decisions. We might as well add 'call for a new presidential election' to that fantasy list.

On the other end of the spectrum, another lecture on how FIFA is the organization holding the line between the beneficial state of the sport enjoyed fiscally by so many members and the 'black hole' Blatter mentioned while campaigning for reelection would be a tremendous mistake. FIFA ceded that role when they started having to investigate multiple members. If Blatter turns a needed reform movement into a mechanism for further limiting the power of the executive committee, FIFA would be missing the point. They'd also be doing exactly what that now banned rival accused the current administration of during his campaign.

Closer to reality, what FIFA has to be very careful with is playing with expectations. They have very little maneuvering room if the plan is to tweak the current model while once again promising better days ahead. Nothing we've seen so far should suggest a radical reinventing of FIFA as an organization, and this could quickly turn into another stumble as FIFA tries to get itself back on course.

Again, we're talking about FIFA here so that course is probably not going to be what most of the reformists really want. The calls for following the International Olympic Committee's lead would result in a leaner organization with fewer key committee positions, but what would that mean in practice for FIFA? Who takes those roles, and ultimately who sets the new standard for FIFA elected and appointed officials to adhere too?

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