Time to rebuild FIFA

Football : Weighed down by the likes of Sepp Blatter, there is an urgent need to give a new shape to the body

Time to rebuild FIFA

Sepp Blatter has been suspended from FIFA, but it is not a time to cheer. It is a time to step back and consider the futility of suspending him when the organisation, with or without him, is barely standing as it is.

If FIFA were a building, it would have been condemned by now. The suspensions would have just been the final blow. And if it were torn down, stripped to the ground one corroded beam after another, soccer would be better for it.

The problem is there doesn't seem to be anybody left to oversee the job. Blatter, along with his right-hand man, Jérôme Valcke, and the head of European soccer, Michel Platini, have been suspended while under investigation for financial crimes. Platini, it should be noted, was the front-runner (well, at least until Thursday) to succeed Blatter as FIFA president in a special election in February.

But even he can see the writing on the crumbling wall now. In a statement on Thursday morning protesting a suspension that had not yet been handed down, he acknowledged that FIFA was now incapable of fixing itself and, incredibly, called for an investigation into the investigation of him.

"A dispassionate, independent and impartial judicial body needs to shine a light on the events that led the FIFA Ethics Committee to open these investigatory proceedings," he said in a statement.

Platini's statement also helpfully noted that on Thursday morning he had filed the required paperwork to run for the FIFA presidency in February.

Another candidate hoping to be Blatter's successor, former FIFA vice president Chung Mong-joon of South Korea, will not have any chance at claiming the post after the ethics committee suspended him for six years for past misdeeds. All of the men vowed to fight their bans, but when that's the best a sport has got, the sport should just start over.

That's exactly what Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, suggested.  "Enough is enough," he declared, finally unable to stand FIFA's drama anymore now that it was embarrassing the entire Olympic movement.

"FIFA must realise that this is now about more than just a list of candidates," Bach said. "This is also a structural problem and will not be solved simply by the election of a new president."

Bach offered two ideas. One was to "accelerate and deepen the reform process." The other was to be open to "a credible external presidential candidate of high integrity, to accomplish the necessary reforms and bring back stability and credibility to FIFA."

The IOC has no direct power over FIFA because it is an autonomous organisation, just as the IOC advocates. But Bach's words will ring loudly through international sports -- and right to the ears of sponsors, who thus far have shown themselves willing to issue strongly worded statements but unwilling for the most part to pull their money.

But Bach's high-minded solutions would only work in the unlikely event that FIFA officials would agree to them. The bottom line is that FIFA has to stop trying to fix itself by doing piecemeal and temporary repairs. It must knock itself to the ground and rebuild itself anew, with strong, uncompromised parts.

Bringing in candidates for the presidency who have not been mired in FIFA's politics, as Bach advocates, is a good and necessary first step. Doing away with the executive committee would be another, because for decades it has been the destination for top officials who arrive with deep, open pockets yet cannot seem to follow even the most basic ethical standards.

Another way to clean up FIFA would be for it to set an independent commission that would investigate just what went wrong with FIFA -- and why and how it went wrong. And by independent, I don't mean something that would be submitted to FIFA for edits or review. I mean something that would be made public, in full, in the end.

How helpful could that be? Cycling, another sport with insidious problems that have lasted for decades, serves as an example.

It underwent a year of scrutiny by what was called the Cycling Independent Reform Commission, a three-person panel that examined the sport's doping, failed leadership, failed governance, cover-ups and conflicts of interest. That inquiry, which concluded with a report made public earlier this year, involved more than 170 interviews with people both in and out of the sport, and some of those people gave information confidentially.

The report did not cause a sea change, but it did shed light on the backward way people did business in cycling, which was long overdue. At the very least, that information served as a warning to those who want to repeat history by cheating or breaking ethical rules. It showed that the world governing body of cycling would not go forward, unchecked.  Soccer needs a report just as detailed and just as public, so the world can understand exactly how the beautiful game turned so ugly. Until then, the next FIFA president at the minimum must pry the hands of the current executive committee members off the neck of the organisation. Only then might FIFA take its first clear breaths in years.

FIFA's member states should agree to do it now, without more delays or investigations of investigations or any other stalling tactic. They need to act before the creaking roof comes crashing in on all of them.


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