Reforming FIFA: Why Recent Reforms Provide Reason for Hope

Over a year has passed since Gianni Infantino was elected President of FIFA. When elected, Infantino promised to reform the organization and win back the trust of the international football community following the numerous incidents of corruption that preceded his tenure as President (see here and here). Corruption not only existed at the executive level of FIFA, but also permeated down to the playing field, where incidents of match fixing and referee bribery were widespread. On the day he was elected, Infantino remarked, “FIFA has gone through sad times, moments of crisis, but those times are over. We need to implement the reform and implement good governance and transparency.”

Yet despite some reforms in the past year, a recent Transparency International report–which surveyed 25,000 football fans from over 50 countries—showed that the public still lacks confidence in the organization, with 97% of fans still worried about corruption, especially match fixing and bribery of officials. While the results show some improvement compared to the previous year, the numbers should worry both Infantino and FIFA: 53% of fans do not trust FIFA, only 33% of fans believe FIFA is actively working against corruption in football, and only 15% of fans have more confidence in FIFA now than they did during last year’s corruption scandal.

The public’s distrust of FIFA is certainly understandable, as is a degree of cynicism regarding Infantino’s promise to clean up the organization. After all, Sepp Blatter ran on a similar platform to Infantino when he elected President in 1998, also claiming that he was going to reform FIFA. Yet despite the lack of confidence in Infantino and FIFA, there are a few reasons to believe that change may be occurring within the organization, and that FIFA, under Infantino’s leadership, may be making strides in the right direction. Since Infantino’s election, FIFA has undertaken the following steps to curb corruption within football and the organization:

  • To address match fixing, FIFA outsourced detection to a neutral third party. FIFA seems to understand the potential harm of match fixing on the integrity of the game, and on February 3rd, 2017, signed an agreement to outsource its match-fixing detection to Sportradar. The company will implement its Fraud Detection System to identify and analyze any suspicious betting behavior and patterns. The system will also help educate players about the ease with which regulators, and now FIFA, can track match fixing.
  • To address bribes of referees, FIFA has started to follow through on its “zero-tolerance” policies. FIFA has always maintained a zero-tolerance policy for referees that are found to have engaged in bribes. Article 69 of the FIFA disciplinary code forbids individuals from unlawfully influencing match results. Recently, FIFA has shown a commitment to investigating such incidents. In March 2016, FIFA banned three former South African officials over match fixing friendly games before the World Cup. This past March, FIFA banned Ghanian referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey for life after being found guilty of influencing the result of a World Cup qualifying match. These strict punishments have sent a message to football referees across that world that FIFA is serious about the integrity of its sport. Morever, the punishments will ideally deter referees from engaging in similar behavior that may consider accepting a bribe.
  • To address corruption at the top of the organization, FIFA has increased transparency. While Infantino has not implemented any major reforms to the FIFA’s governing structure of the organization, he has taken small steps to improve transparency within the organization. For the first time ever, FIFA created the position of chief compliance officer, hiring Edward Hanover, an experienced international compliance executive. Additionally, for the first time, FIFA publically disclosed the compensation of key management personnel following requests from organizations such as Transparency International. Finally, FIFA also appointed PWC as the new auditor and adopted IFRS 15, an accounting standard that will provide a more accurate representation of the organization’s four-year revenue cycle.

These reforms are neither perfect nor sufficient in preventing corruption within football and FIFA. Corruption certainly continues to exist within the organization: in late March, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general as part of the ongoing investigation connected to Blatter. If FIFA hopes to fully regain the public’s trust, a long road lies ahead.  As Cobus de Swardt, Special Representative at Transparency International, noted, “A year is a short time to turn around an organization that had become synonymous with corruption[.]” However, by focusing on the integrity of the game and increasing transparency within the organization, FIFA and Infantino have provided fans with some hope for the future of the sport.

4 thoughts on “Reforming FIFA: Why Recent Reforms Provide Reason for Hope

  1. Thanks for the informative post! Do you think any of these three reforms are particularly reason to hope for lessening corruption (or alternatively, fan trust in FIFA)? Or are all three necessary steps? It seems like the results of the survey, for example, don’t seem to indicate that the actual enforcement of the zero tolerance policy has so far had much impact on fans’ beliefs about the integrity of the sport. Is it just a matter of time as the previous scandals fade from memory and new scandals fail to come to light?

  2. Jimmy,

    thanks for an interesting blog on some of the progress being made by FIFA. Fan trust will be a long way off I suspect. However, I wonder whether Infantino is the proper person to be cleaning up corruption in football given his connection to the FBI investigation into Hugo Jinkis over the awarding of the UEFA broadcast rights – as revealed by the Panama Papers: https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160406-uefa-raid-fifa-resignation.html

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