Football’s rotten core must be excised

2013-04-07 10:00

Bad governance in soccer is a universal challenge that requires urgency and decisiveness.

The international football industry is plagued by weak governance, scandals, corruption, conflicts of interest, infighting, match-fixing, foul play, greed, the enterprises of shady agents, and poor performance on the field of play.

It is no wonder that football spent most of its time managing issues and crises. The European Champions League, the Italian Serie A, Greek, French, Turkish and Chinese football, along with many others, have been wracked by scandals, fraud and reports of corruption.

Indeed, even Fifa’s headquarters have been linked with dubious deals and questionable decisions and practices. Until Fifa and its members get their houses in order, the future of football remains bleak.

In Africa, the problems of soccer appear to lie perilously within the leadership of the beautiful game.

A damning report by the Forum of African Investigative Reporters (Fair) puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of corrupt, greedy and inefficient administrators.

“While players (such as George Weah, Salif Keita, Didier Drogba and Kalushi Balwa) have sacrificed their personal fortunes to develop not just soccer but their own communities, and have in some cases bailed out their national teams, the administration tasked with developing the game focus on personal gain,” says Fair.

Solutions to these challenges will, however, remain elusive until Fifa works with member countries in enforcing compliance with legislative and ethical principles of good governance and fair play.

But that seems unlikely; Fifa has shown a red card virtually every time African countries have attempted to address corruption and other transgressions in their soccer associations.

So Fifa’s membership structures are embroiled in and associated with governance practices that damage the image of soccer in the eyes of governments, sponsors and followers.

Not surprisingly, even Fifa’s highest office is battling allegations of corruption, conflicts of interest and other reputation-threatening concerns.

The South African government, in turn, has made it clear that it expects sports organisations to familiarise themselves with the cornerstones of good governance.

One thinks of good governance as a comprehensive expression that includes making the full range of organisational activities legal, fair, transparent, accountable, reasonable, responsible and ethical, to the benefit of all strategic partners and stakeholders.

It has both legislative and ethical-compliance components.

Although good governance has become a buzzword in all spheres of the community, it is not uncommon to observe that Fifa and the SA Football Association (Safa) misuse this expression to comply with it more in form than in substance, in their quest to achieve narrower interests.

Fifa, in particular, still treats good governance as both a burden and an intrusion into its established prerogatives of power, privilege, purse and space.

To Fifa, good governance undermines and diminishes its authority while increasing that held by governments and outsiders who want to influence the soccer sector.

Hence, Fifa follows a strict policy that prohibits and ultimately suspends governments that interfere in football matters. This has served to entrench football practices that undermine governments’ legislations and the very principle of “fair play” that Fifa promotes.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula is spot on when he says that Safa’s match-fixing allegations need to be thoroughly investigated so that those implicated can be identified, arrested, prosecuted and punished appropriately.

Fifa and its affiliates should not be allowed to continue holding global constitutional democracies to ransom.

Currently, South Africa is experiencing huge financial burdens owing to hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which was awarded within the dictated and ruthless rules and terms which only assured huge profits for Fifa.

It is high time that global governments, business, soccer followers and citizens in general, under the banner of the UN, team up to oppose Fifa’s dictatorial, big brother bully tactics, which undermine global democratic principles.

Fifa should be forced to be transparent and accountable to the real custodians of the beautiful game, global citizens.

After all, this is in the best interests of democracy and effective football administration, development and prosperity.

» Thabani Khumalo is Marketing and Communications Strategist with Durban-based Think Tank Marketing Services and is a former Boxing SA Board Member

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