Imagine the global media outcry if the chairman, the CEO and the front-runner to be the next chairman of a Fortune 500 company were all suspended from office amidst corruption allegations and criminal investigations. This is the situation now facing football’s world governing body Fifa with Sepp Blatter (Fifa president), Michel Platini(UEFA president and frontrunner to succeed Blatter) and Jérôme Valcke (Fifa secretary general) suspended for 90 days.
I am the most casual of football fans myself. Yet I know that football is by some measure, the global game. Aggregated from more than 300 sports websites and surveys, soccer is clearly the most popular sport in terms of fans. So what happens in football’s governing bodies has a huge impact on how people around the world imagine governance and how governors behave. The on-going saga of corruption, cover-ups and self-serving politicking at the heart of world football has dismayed fans and caused untold damage to the global struggle against bribery and corruption.
Campaigners including the anti-corruption NGO, Transparency International have pointed to the automatic promotion of Issa Hayatou, the longest serving vice-president once named by Blatter as his most loyal lieutenant, to acting Fifa president as further evidence of Fifa’s rotten culture.
Many times since his untimely early death in 2012, I have missed the insight and wise counsel of Nigel Doughty. Nigel was so passionate about football; he took over a club - Nottingham Forest - which he chaired for several years. Nigel was also passionate about corporate responsibility: how organisations behave. I can imagine how Nigel would be denouncing the cynicism and rotten organisational culture in Fifa; and suggesting strategies to transform the current mess.
Theories and models of corporate responsibility can help us see how the transformation of Fifa might occur. Stakeholder theory suggests that clubs, players, fans, sponsors as well as national and regional football associations need to be involved in a root and branch review of what the purpose of Fifa is.
Fifa needs then to re-define a clear ethical code of organisational principles and values, and rigorously roll these out, hold staff and board members to account against the code - and given recent history - implement an effective scheme to encourage and protect whistle-blowers who raise concerns about transgressions of the ethical code. I want to believe the bulk of the 470 Fifa staff were also dismayed by the behaviour of their leaders but I also know leaders set a tone from the top which can become corrosive.
There clearly has to be a clean-sweep of the top leadership. The IOC president Thomas Bach has finally lost patience with Fifa. He has called on Fifa to be open to an "external presidential candidate of high integrity" to lead football forward into a new era. It may well be that a distinguished panel of international figures from outside the sport need to be appointed to vet potential candidates for Fifa office, to ensure that only those who pass the “Caesar’s wife” test (public figures must not even be suspected of wrongdoing) are eligible to stand for election.
One thing that we can safely say: it is going to be a long and arduous road for FIFA to rebuild its reputation.
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