FIFA – gatekeepers to our beautiful game

FIFA logoPreparation for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals may well be causing anxiety for some, but there is evidence of greater challenges within FIFA.

by Paul Hinks

According to FIFA’s website, the FIFA World Cup is the world’s most widely viewed sporting event. An estimated 715.1 million people watched the final match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup held in Germany – the 2010 event in South Africa was broadcast to 204 countries on 245 different channels.

June 2014 will see Brazil host the next World Cup Finals – a country synonymous with carnivals, rich culture and ‘samba’ football – but also struggling in terms of economic progress.

Ethical Leadership versus Financial Motivations

As PWC report, the World Cup Finals will provide Brazil with investment and an opportunity for commercial success – a credible legacy for FIFA and the host nation.

However as The Guardian noted, challenges are evident in the preparation for the tournament. The Economist noted that workers are now scheduled to work around the clock in an attempt to meet the fixed deadline; there have also been fatalities when a crane collapsed in São Paulo’s new football stadium. Deeper concerns remain that Brazil cannot afford to host the World Cup Finals and that the investment should have been spent on hospitals, basic sanitation, housing and other more fundamental needs.

Brazil as a template for success?

Exploring the rationale behind FIFA’s decision making process deserves closer inspection – preparation for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals may well be causing anxiety for some, but there is evidence of greater challenges within FIFA.

There are accusations that the selection of venue for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals were unfair – allegations of vote rigging and bribing were reported by the BBC in 2010 when Russia was awarded the 2018 finals; Forbes are amongst credible sources who echoed similar concerns about the successful Qatar 2018 bid.

The selection of Qatar for the 2018 finals appears even more confusing, given that traditionally the World Cup Finals are held in summer – in Qatar the summer temperatures would expose teams to temperatures of more than 40c – even today’s highly conditioned footballers cannot expect to excel for 90 minutes in that heat. Then there is the deeper analysis of how FIFA are attempting to correct the situation – prompting closer inspection of Sett Blatter’s tenure as President of the FIFA organisation.

Internal disruption within FIFA

The Telegraph reported (on 09 Jan 2014) that all may not be well within the FIFA hierarchy:

The row at Fifa over the timing of the 2022 World Cup intensified on Thursday after Michel Platini accused Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke of disrespecting their own executive committee.

Platini, the Uefa president and Fifa vice-president, condemned the latter’s president and secretary general for their repeated public pronouncements indicating the tournament in Qatar would be moved to November or December.
The latest of those was delivered on French radio by Valcke on Wednesday, prompting an angry response from Fifa’s British vice-president, Jim Boyce, who insisted the decision over any switch lay with the governing body’s ExCo.
Platini, who could stand against Blatter for the Fifa presidency in 2015, was even more nonplussed, telling L’Equipe: “When the executive committee was held in early October, it was decided to launch a major consultation of all football and no decision would be taken before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was also agreed not to talk about this before then.”

Leadership challenges within FIFA

FIFA need to retain their credibility as an organisation that operates ethically and also to the expected high standards – the recent global banking crisis illustrates just how quickly the public loose trust in institutions where those in positions of influence operate with self-interest and guile.

Football is unquestionably a global sport – it transcends geographies, providing an opportunity for supporters from different cultures and backgrounds to mix on equal terms, exchanging opinions and creating debate – in some ways it provides a common language which can bridge political and cultural differences. Those entrusted as guardians of the ‘beautiful game’ need to demonstrate an authentic style of leadership – one which engenders trust.

There remains an interesting dynamic around who is leading and who is following in this increasingly powerful industry – power plays are evident both internally within FIFA, and also externally beyond the boundaries of FIFA’s organisation. FIFA and Sepp Blatter deserve credit for how football has prospered on the global stage in recent years – the rich diversity of footballing talent from different nations in our domestic leagues and competitions is just one metric of success.

However, if FIFA is to remain a highly respected organisation, perhaps it’s time for improved governance and more transparency around how key decisions are made.

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