The thing about football is that it’s not just about FIFA…

Of late Sepp Blatter and his pals at FIFA have – quite understandably – been the centre of attention for anti-corruption scholars and football fans alike.  Indeed, an indictment from the US Department of Justice earlier this year has thrown world football’s governing body in to turmoil.

But as FIFA continues to buckle under the weight of its own scandals, the reputations of the 209 national associations that make up the organisation have largely remained intact. This is decidedly curious as FIFA is not the only organisation within football that suffers from governance problems.

A report recently published by Transparency International (TI) tries to redress this imbalance. The Transparency International Football Governance League Table looks at how transparent each of FIFA’s member football associations (FAs) are.  It unpacks whether they publish financial reports, activity reports, codes of ethics or conduct for their staff, and their organisational statutes on their websites.

By doing this TI are deliberately setting the bar very low. Good governance will involve much more than simply producing, and making publicly available, these documents.  Yet it might not be entirely surprising that even at this low level, the world’s FAs still do very badly. 81 per cent published no financial information, and 85 per cent publish no information on their activities. Russia, the hosts of the World Cup in 2018, do not publish any information on their finances or activities, and Qatar, the, to put it mildly, rather controversial host of the 2022 World Cup, publish precisely none of the documents listed above. In fact, only 14 out of 209 FAs publish all of the information that is listed above (Canada, Denmark, England, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden, in case you are interested).

But so what? Why does this actually matter?

Well, firstly, the FAs get a lot of money from FIFA. This money comes directly from fans of the game, either from direct ticket and merchandise sales, or because huge sponsors like Coca Cola and Adidas have invested money in order to piggy back on the huge audiences that football can attract. As well as getting millions from FIFA, many FAs also receive money directly from their national governments. If FAs don’t report how their money is spent, the opportunity for executives to potentially skim money into his/her own private yacht fund without being caught is much higher. Fans deserve to see how money that should be used to improve facilities and football in their country is spent, particularly when it comes directly from their own pockets.

Secondly, these FAs hold the power between them to elect FIFA’s president, and also vote to approve any potential reforms to FIFA’s internal dealings. These 209 organisations – who, as is illustrated here, are no great shakes when it comes to their own governance – have a vital role in helping to reform FIFA. That is a sobering thought, and makes one wonder if any change is likely to be achieved at all if it is left solely up to members of the ‘football family’.

Finally, whilst FIFA may be football’s top-dogs, each FA ultimately has control over how football is run in their own country. Can these organisations be trusted to hold the best interest of the game above their own self-interest? At the moment, they are so secretive that it is impossible to say for certain that they can. And this, ultimately, is the point. FAs take money from the people, and are supposed to act to benefit them by safeguarding and developing the sport in their territories. But without transparency, to allow for fans and the people to hold them to account, question marks will always remain about the work that they do.

Is there anything that can be done?

Well, frankly, that depends on how much faith one has. Another recent publication from TI discusses some of the things that FAs can do to improve their internal governance. These recommendations are similar to those being recommended to FIFA; term limits on leadership, some form of externally driven oversight, proper accountability, and, crucially, transparency.

At the moment, though, FAs are under little pressure to get their houses in order. At the same time as FIFA is coming under mounting pressure from groups like TI and NewFIFANow, the FAs receive much less attention. Reform at FIFA is of paramount importance, clearly, but in order to make sure that that change sticks, and that the game of football can continue to inspire millions around the world, comprehensive reform must also take place in each of the 209 football associations.

Ben Wheatland

Transparency International Secretariat

Posted in FIFA, Sport

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