Football let down by Fifa's own goals

Football let down by Fifa's own goals

Whoever claims the coveted 18-carat gold trophy at the end of the glorious festival of football now on in Brazil, the biggest winner at the World Cup will be, as before, a matter of no surprise: Fifa reigns supreme. World football's governing body has steadily boosted its cash reserves over the past 10 years, taking it now to US$1.4 billion (S$1.75 billion). Meanwhile, host countries aplenty have struggled to cope with the toxic backwash of economic and political issues linked to the competition.

Ironically, nowhere is this more evident than in Brazil - the spiritual home of the game. Public disenchantment over the US$11 billion bill to host the event is patently clear. Yet, none of the resentment is expected to trouble Fifa which appears inured to allegations of corruption - like the bribery allegations associated with Qatar's winning bid for the 2022 World Cup - and to its lack of transparency and accountability. The non-governmental organisation based in Switzerland has had many scandals over the years but appears resistant to change in a way that Fifa head Sepp Blatter best exemplifies.

Instead of heeding calls made by multinational sponsors for a full-scale investigation of the "Qatargate" affair, he launched instead into a tirade about so-called racism and deftly promised to ply African and Asian member associations with more bonuses from the hefty profits of the cash cow event.

An independent committee tasked to study governance reform noted insufficient commitment to change among some executive committee members who viewed a shake-up as "unnecessary". This is hard to fathom when a worldwide following and large-scale business support ought to impose a moral obligation to clean the Augean stables - as the International Olympic Committee did over a decade ago because of graft. Fifa today has "as large, if not larger, a constituency as the Olympic Games", according to some researchers, and requires mechanisms of accountability - fiscal, hierarchical and legal - to be applied diligently.

Given its global reach and size, the efficacy of reform moves within the body has broad relevance to the way other large non-governmental organisations can be made accountable for their cross-border activities. To all who love the sport and value the unique way football draws people together from all over the world, despite cultural and language barriers, there is much at stake in strengthening the governance of Fifa. The greatest service that Mr Blatter and those of his ilk within the body can render to football is to allow leadership renewal to take place so people can be restored to the centre of all that is done globally in the name of the Beautiful Game.

This article was published on June 14 in The Straits Times.

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