Jan 3, 2011

FIFA to Name an Anti-Corruption Committee

Sepp Blatter will personally assure a Corruption Committee will be set up by FIFA. Nobody knows when it will be appointed or who will serve on the committee or chair the committee, but Blatter says "I will take care of it personally, to ensure there is no corruption at Fifa."

Well, I feel sooooo much better.

Sorry, Mr. Blatter but I don't share in your faith that this effort will stem perceptions of corruption at FIFA. Whether it stops actual corruption is also in doubt as well. But if this anti-corruption effort proceeds on a similar track as efforts to examine the use of goal line technology, this pronouncement is not worth the air expended to make it.

To truly address the issue of corruption, perhaps FIFA should take a page from the International Olympic Committee and have active players, coaches and member representatives on the Executive Committee. I would also suggest a much larger committee responsible for naming host countries. For the IOC there are 150 members or more who make that decision, no just 24 or 25 people who know each other intimately. I am not suggesting that a larger body is immune from corruption, but keeping a secret among 25 people is much easier than keeping the secret among 150 or more.

Corruption is a matter, largely, of perception and opportunity. The opportunity for corruption will always exist. Given the nature of their position and the role the Executive Committee fills, including the awarding of the World Cup and the billions of dollars involved in that decision, there will always be those persons who seek to benefit from FIFA. It cannot be avoided, but can be minimized.

Like most charges of corruption it is the appearance that is as dangerous as actual corruption. If the public thinks there is corruption, the public, particularly those segments who feel aggrieved (read most of England) will stop at nothing to find it. However, while rooting out corruption should be admired, the witch hunts inspired by the kind of digging by aggrieved parties exacerbates the tiniest hint of impropriety or connection into damning proof without any consideration of the scale.

The shocking lack of transparency as to the Executive Committee's ties to various entities looking to profit from FIFA contracts, from stadium building to concessions, simply lends itself to charges of corruption. I am not asking for FIFA Executive Committee Members to tell me all the sordid little details of their lives, but here are three things that they must publicly declare:

1. All of their stock holdings, memberships in companies, or any other ownership interest (or that of their spouse/children) of any nation and any other financial ties to any person or entity that seeks a contract worth more than $50,000 (US) from FIFA. Holdings in a mutual fund or other similar investment advice would be disclosed, but the fact that a mutual fund that holds stock in a bidding company would not be a disqualifying consideration.

2. All the details of any trip abroad on FIFA business or in which FIFA business is discussed. This would include all travel arrangements (if a private plane, whose private plane), accommodations, meals and most importantly gifts having a value in excess of $50 (again including gifts given to their spouse/children).

3. All contacts by letter, email, text, phone or in person from any person affiliated with a bid committee, lobbying on behalf a bid committee or attempting to influence the vote of the Committee Member as it applies to the awarding of any World Cup at any level (including Women's, Youth or Club World Cups), which is not made to more than one quarter of the committee members at the same time. The idea is to allow large presentations to significant segments of the committee but limit individual lobbying.

These documents should be posted electronically on a public website by FIFA. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote in Other People's Money, "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.." Make the financial interests of Executive Committee members public, you reduce the perception of corruption. Failure to abide by these requirements would be grounds for dismissal from the Executive Committee or not being allowed to vote on other matters related to the Executive Committee's business.

The most damaging factor in corruption allegations is the perception that corruption exists. However, if FIFA's Executive Committee makes clear that they will do all they can to eliminate the appearance of corruption and to avoid the opportunities for corruption, then an Anti-Corruption Committee will not be necessary.

Oh, and we won't have to rely upon Sepp Blatter's assurance that he will stamp out corruption.

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