Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Sports

The more important FIFA vote will come on reforms

FIFA will hold two important elections on Friday at its latest all-expenses-paid gathering in Zurich. Most of the attention will be on the second vote, to pick the organization's new president. Fans, though, should pay closer attention to the first one.

In that election, most likely before the federations break for what will undoubtedly be a delicious free lunch, the 207 eligible members of FIFA will vote for or against a package of proposed reforms that would modernize the organization and, in theory, set the foundation for a transparent, trustworthy global governing body of soccer.

Be hopeful if you want. Hopeful because someone other than Sepp Blatter will be the FIFA president. Hopeful that the entire organization is on the cusp of monumental changes, from the inside out, and will change the way it does business.

Forgive me if I need some time before buying in.

Still, Moya Dodd, a member of FIFA's executive committee, is calling the reform issue the most important vote in FIFA's history, much more critical than the vote for president, which, naturally, has been brighter and shinier and has commanded more attention because of the personalities involved.

"The reforms will alter the entire institution and change the way people view FIFA, for the better, and that's exactly what our sport needs right now," Dodd told me. "The reforms must pass. It's critical. It's the only way we can start changing the culture."

No argument there. Installing a new president — whether it's one of the front-runners or someone else in charge — won't bring much change under the current system, which for decades was a hothouse for corruption, if it's not coupled with institutional upheaval.

In the past, FIFA and its leadership thrived in a culture of lined pockets, skimmed contracts and bribes. The assortment of indictments, arrests and guilty pleas of top soccer officials within the past year is evidence of that.

Now the proposed reforms are exactly what the disheveled, discredited organization needs to right itself. FIFA's interim leadership has come out publicly urging their approval. But can we trust FIFA's member federations to do the right thing? We'll see on Friday. And only then — maybe — can we begin to believe in FIFA again.

We know where Dodd stands. She is a FIFA insider who thinks like an outsider and, in many ways, remains an outsider in the current FIFA men's club. That status automatically gives her a stamp of credibility that officials who long have been entrenched in the organization can never claim.

Dodd, an Australian who is the chairwoman of FIFA's task force for women's soccer, has worked behind the scenes to ensure that the reforms work to include more women in decisionmaking roles in the organization and for women to rise within the sport.

"There are some studies that show that gender diversity in companies makes those companies less prone to fraud, and I believe that," said Dodd, who wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in November about the need to increase the number of women in FIFA. In that piece, Dodd noted that boardroom diversity advocates say that "once a 30-percent gender balance is reached, a culture shifts." And if any boardroom needs a cultural shift, it's this one.

The current reform proposals, watered down from Dodd's original suggestions, include having six women on a newly created 36-member FIFA council. That ruling council would replace the current 24-member executive committee that long ago surrendered its usefulness and the people's trust.

The reforms also include term limits for the president, background checks and the publication of salaries of top officials, and oversight by independent audit and compliance committees with the power to raise red flags about wrongdoing.

If you think that sounds as if FIFA is at last preparing to do business in the 21st century, you'd be right. Better late than never.

It will be up to the new president, however, to ensure that FIFA's members understand the rules and live up to them. And that, not deciding who gets how much money and which seat at the table, will be the new leader's toughest job.

"The goal is to dissect the organization, spread the power around and create a situation where there is visibility of decisionmaking," Dodd said. "The goal is for the president to be a less all-powerful figure, but he has to lead us in the right direction, too. Of course, he'll be doing it with everyone under more scrutiny. That will be a big difference."

Soon we will know if voters are willing to accept this new structure, or if they prefer the outdated structure of the past and the benefits it brings them.

Is it possible to change that mentality? That's what we will find out on Friday, and in the months and years ahead. But by approving the reforms — and then following through — at least FIFA can show that it recognizes what the rest of the world has figured out: that FIFA's old way of doing business just won't cut it anymore.

— New York Times

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