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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


FIFA Reform – Bungling FA More An Impediment Than A Help

Written by on June 3, 2011 | 10 Comments »
Posted in Money Game

“After hearing the speech from Sepp Blatter, we believe the calls we have made for greater transparency and better governance have been worthwhile. While we did not succeed in deferring the FIFA presidential election, it was positive to be joined by 16 other nations in supporting our democratic request for the vote to be delayed, while a further 17 nations abstaining clearly shows that we are not alone or isolated in our views in relation to the current situation FIFA finds itself in.”

FA Chairman, David Bernstein declares victory on Wednesday at the FIFA Congress and goes home.

They say perception is everything and there has certainly been a dominant view over the last few days that the FA showed “leadership” in “standing up” to FIFA and in particular to President Sepp Blatter.

The FA had better hope that many of their newly found friends in the media stick with perception and don’t start to pick away at an incoherent and naïve strategy offered by the FA.

(In terms of the call to defer the vote Presidential vote, the Scottish Football Association failed to cover itself in glory either.)

Some folks with longer memories have pointed to 1998 and the support the FA offered to candidate Sepp Blatter in his battle with then UEFA President Lennart Johansson when both were running to succeed outgoing FIFA President Joao Havelange.

It seems unfair to hold the current FA accountable for a decision made some thirteen years ago but the reason for their choice back then – Blatter’s support for an England 2006 World Cup – does show that the same mistake being repeated.

Decisions are still being made without any consideration for the long-term implications and the FA – like many other domestic associations – are focused on the immediate.

Let’s take a look at a time line and the positions taken by the FA (or others formerly holding senior positions) over the last few months in relation to the FIFA election and the 2018 World Cup bid –

1.    Fall 2010 – the FA lambaste the English media for allegation of corruption by FIFA Executive members in the World Cup Finals bidding process.

2.    December 2010 – Russia awarded the right to host.

3.    Post Award – the FA claims that bribes were in fact solicited during the 2018 bid process by FIFA Executive members

4.    March 2011 – when given an opportunity to put forward a candidate for the position of FIFA President the FA choose not to.

5.    May 2011 – with two candidates originally on the ballot the FA announce they will abstain.

6.    June 2011 – the FA call for a postponement of the Presidential election on the grounds that only one candidate is on the ballot.

If you were the leader of a domestic football association (honest one of course) what would you think of the FA’s decisions and pronouncements?

Does it make sense or does it reek of a disorganized group that makes things up as they go along?

Or to look at it another way – is the FA an organization you can trust to make solid decisions?

If they had won the right to host in 2018 does anyone honestly believe that the FA would be saying tweet at the moment?

The FA might get high marks for their populist stand but they are an impediment to positive change rather than a catalyst.

The FA and SFA motion to defer the election handed the FIFA power brokers a very large stick and some very obvious targets during the lead up to the vote.

The FA and the English language media became punching bags for the likes of Argentine Julio Grondona.

Without the ridiculous motion being offered up the Congress might have heard greater calls for reform but instead the FA offered Grondona and his cronies a windmill or two to tilt at while running down the clock – if you can excuse the very mixed metaphors.

Reference to the “FIFA Family” generated many pithy comments from critics and media alike but the truth of the matter is that most of the FIFA members actually believe it and they act accordingly.

Just like any other family, if attacked they rally round and defend the family against a common enemy – in this case the English-language media and the FA.

If there is going to be  FIFA reform it will come from inside the organization – it will not be “imposed” from outside the “family.” A look at the changes to the IOC over the last decade or so illustrates the point.

In order to make positive long-lasting positive change to FIFA you have to look beyond Sepp Blatter and the next four years and set the groundwork for electing the next President – one that sees an organization with a responsibility to operate with real transparency and honesty.

That is done by building trust and by building relationships but first it is done by building a platform. Only after enough countries coalesce around a reform platform will there be a chance to find the right leader.

FA could have been a powerful voice for real systemic change but as they have done in the past they have blown that chance.

Five suggested tenets for FIFA Reform

1.    Term limits for the FIFA President and Executive Committee Members. If it good enough for the President of the United States etc etc.

2.    Insist on same term limits for Federation Presidents

3.    Transparent Bidding process for tournaments – open bidding books with all bid enhancements and additional offerings detailed.

4.    Full FIFA Congress vote on World Cup Finals Bids (seems it is a fait accompli) but with votes weighted based on the marks awarded by the Technical Commission.

5.    Full disclosure of all of FIFA’s financial dealing including all salaries and expenses of officers, employees and committee members.


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10 responses to “FIFA Reform – Bungling FA More An Impediment Than A Help”

  1. What about term limits for association presidents?

    Will open books,and full disclosure of salaries and expenses, kill poorer countries ability to get tournaments?
    Could south africa been awarded its South Africa, with open books?

    With transparency, how do you stop, the USA, UK, and China from winning all future events.

  2. Soccerlogical says:

    Isn’t “FIFA REFORM” as much a farce as UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations. I mean if corporations can “cook the books” then how easy will it be for FIFA and European clubs. Even though the likes of Blazer’s actions are noble, I am sure he has burned lots of bridges… no one “goes against the family”… just ask Fredo!

  3. Gbenga says:

    Excellent piece Bobby… I followed the whole bidding process right from the very beginning and till the very end. England have a lot to learn and their arrogance towards others will continue to hamper them for a very long time. They are good at pointing fingers but won’t look at themselves to see the problem is within. All the vitriol, noise and hype from their media frenzy on social media about how it’s time for FIFA to break up, you would think a revolution was about to take place. At the end of the day, it all ended in crying tears again, just as it did in Dec 2010, when they lost the 2018 WC bid.

    It’s a shame their futbol has come to this and they have nobody to blame but themselves. FIFA may definitely have issues and needs to reform a lot of things within itself, but the English needs more reforms than FIFA. They are simply out of touch, clueless, no idea how international politics in futbol works, they look down on others and they believe the strength of the EPL is enough to vow people at anytime if they need anything. It just doesn’t work like that… I just heard recently England again lost the bid to host the UEFA U-21 European Championships for 2013. They received zero votes. Why am I not surprised. The tournament was given to Israel instead. These are the little things they overlook and forget, these types of events and tournaments builds relationships and until they learn what it takes to be good friends with others, they will continue to face the wrath of others in the coming years.

  4. CentralHarlemite – can you explain your reasoning please. I don’t understand the points you are trying to make.

  5. jdagley says:

    bobby, i think your suggestions are on point. i think that there is too much money in the game to think that corruption and “wink wink / nod nod” deals can be done away with.
    salary caps/restrictions for executives? possibly make the executive council a pro bono gig?

  6. Jdagley – I would not want anyone doing such work to do it as a volunteer – a case could be made that such a scheme limits the talent pool to pull from. I still think the issue is pay but let everyone know how much.

  7. PaulM says:

    Bobby, there are two separate (imho) topics that your article touches on. The first is the ineffective and naive bunglings of the English FA and the questionable motivations behind their actions. The second is the need for reform within FIFA.

    You summarize the position on the English FA in a coherent and straight forward a manner. I have no issue with your position relative to their bizarre antics.

    The issue of FIFA reform and the manner in which it is to happen is the aspect of the article I would debate. I think you’re saying that your five point reform plan will change FIFA in the long run. But what about the short term? With 8 of 24 members of the exco under investigation, how is this consensus around a platform to happen? By Sepp’s decree?

    As I interpret them, I also don’t see how your suggested reforms will address a broad enough spectrum of corruption. While the suggestions assume that open books and a broader voting process address the WC awards, they ignore other existing (dare I say) and potential forms of corruption.

    For example, what about the manner in which funds are allocated for “run of the mill” projects? Or how the funds are used once dispensed to local FA’s? Sepp gave $1M of FIFA money to the same CFU that was not allowed to keep MBH money. While I guess this is okay – it was in the middle of an election!!

    Your reform strategy also doesn’t address the bidding process adequately either, as Sepp has said that the entire congress will vote on the WC bids, but only the ones from a “short list” screened by the exco. So the list could have been “Russia, Qatar”…end of! We have already seen that Sepp has no shame when it comes to ballot forms that have limited options.

    My point is that reform will require a far broader and deeper set of guidelines than the short list suggested and have to include some form of aligned tactics for overcoming the existing “difficulties” in the context of a longer term strategy. Personally, I don’t think that reform will ever come a) under Sepp and b) without external oversight. They have lost too much credibility to convince me otherwise.


  8. Paul M – in many of these areas we are saying many of the same thing.

    I don’t think that we will see meaningful reform under Blatter either but I am also convinced that he will be gone in no more than four years. Getting FIFA reform is not a case of waving a wand and getting everyone to agree immediately – that is why the next four years have to be used rather than frittering them away waiting for King Sepp to die.

    The point I was trying to make with the far from all-exclusive 5 points (I used tenets to try and indicate that they were general principles or foundations rather than being all-encompassing) is that there has to be some framework that associations with positive intentions can gather around.

    I just threw these things out as areas that cry out for attention.

    “While the suggestions assume that open books and a broader voting process address the WC awards, they ignore other existing (dare I say) and potential forms of corruption.

    For example, what about the manner in which funds are allocated for “run of the mill” projects? Or how the funds are used once dispensed to local FA’s?” That would fall under “Full disclosure of all of FIFA’s financial dealings”

    If I had to summarize my key points it would be – think long term and think platform rather than immediately thinking successor and just trusting him.

    Thanks for your comments.

  9. sorry just to add – a full disclosure of FIFA expenses that flows to federations would in itself be a step forward as the members would then be fully aware of the funding and perhaps be more willing to ask difficult questions.

    It would not be difficult for FIFA to tie funding to some sort of public disclosure by associations/federations regarding special projects.

  10. PaulM says:

    Bobby, thanks for the explanation. I think financial disclosures are an important component as long as they’re audited by *reputable* firms and not “reputable” firms. What ever is done, it has to address corruption like Jack Warner’s where he gave contracts on stadium construction projects to friends, stadium concessions to companies run by his sons etc.

    Anyway, I think it’s media giants like yourself who can have the most impact in creating that long term platform you speak of. Why don’t you hold a forum (it can be on line and open to the world) to take fan input before putting forth a fan-based platform and reform proposal to FIFA?

    Come on Bobby, what do you say? We all trust you and we know you love the sport as much as we all do. This is a far cry better than what we can say for the FIFA “footy-rati”. After all, what seems to be lost in all of this is the fans’ voice. Please at least think about it.


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