BBC BLOGS - James Pearce
« Previous | Main | Next »

Fifa should learn from IOC

Post categories:

James Pearce | 15:18 UK time, Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A decade ago, the International Olympic Committee was mired in a corruption scandal that was far bigger than anything that has so far been proved against Fifa and any members of its executive committee. 'Cash for votes' was not just the subject of allegations, there were hard facts to prove that IOC members had taken large bribes.

So it is fair to say that, when it comes to corruption, the IOC does not have a track record of which its members can be proud. Salt Lake City won the right to host the 2002 Winter Olympics by offering scholarships to the children of IOC members, land in Utah and other lavish gifts. It is hard to hold any discussion about corruption in sport without referring back to a scandal that could have brought down the Olympic movement.

The IOC would love to forget about this sordid episode. You could understand, therefore, if senior members of the IOC went red with embarrassment at any mention of the word "corruption", if such talk was now banned at the headquarters in Lausanne. In fact, the opposite is the case and there is a great deal Fifa could learn from the IOC's example.

Following the BBC Panorama programme about corruption in football last week, Fifa issued a brief statement insisting that the allegations raised had been dealt with and the "case is closed". There seems to be little or no chance that Fifa will carry out any further investigation.

Contrast that with the reaction from the IOC. Issa Hayatou, one of the members of the Fifa executive committee named by Panorama, is also a member of the IOC. Within hours of the broadcast, there was a statement from the IOC, which said it would ask the BBC to forward all the evidence to the "appropriate authorities" and its ethics commission would open an investigation. "The IOC," we were told, "has a zero tolerance against corruption."

I should add that Hayatou denies the allegations against him and could well be cleared by the IOC investigation. The speed of the IOC's response, though, and its tone emphasised the current gulf between the transparency of the bodies that govern the Olympics and football respectively. Last week, the IOC wanted to be seen as open and clean, while Fifa only wanted to talk about anything other than allegations of corruption.

IOC president Jacques Rogge held a meeting with Fifa counterpart Sepp Blatter, in October. Rogge's quote from that day is interesting. "'I encouraged him to do what he has done and clean out as much as possible," he said. "We have been through this... and the IOC came out as a better and more transparent organisation. I hope that happens to my friends."

The IOC president Jacques Rogge is doing his best to push for reform at Fifa. Photo: Reuters

I am sure that, privately at least, Blatter might well prefer that Rogge minds his own business but there is no doubt that the IOC president is doing his best to push for reform at Fifa. There has been wild talk about countries such as England and Australia leading a breakaway from Fifa but that is so unlikely to happen.

The only way that Fifa will change is if there is strong and united international pressure. There are few organisations better placed to provide that than the IOC. Football's an Olympic sport, so the IOC has every right to get involved in the Fifa debate. How ironic would it be if an organisation that was nearly brought to its knees by corruption a decade ago ended up being the body that finally forces change at Fifa?

Wide-ranging reform at Fifa is unlikely to happen in the short term. But even if Blatter wants to nudge his organisation gently on to a path of greater transparency, then he could do a lot worse than follow the IOC's example. Look at how the IOC reformed its voting system after the Salt Lake City scandal. In particular, there was one major change that dramatically lessened the opportunities for corruption.

If you are an IOC member, you are no longer allowed to visit any candidate cities without permission. Instead, the IOC members are told to form their opinions from the official technical report. Yes, in Olympic circles technical reports are actually read, unlike the Fifa ones that appear to have been ignored. A city that had been branded "high risk" in the way that Qatar was by Fifa would be very unlikely to win an IOC vote.

In contrast, the 24 members of Fifa's executive committee were able to travel the world for free during the contests for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. If one of them fancied a weekend in London with his wife, then all he needed to do was pick up a phone or click his fingers and it was all laid on. A five-star hotel, limousine, hospitality at the Premier League game of his choice... The bid teams had no choice but to pander to the voters' every need. These lucky men were wined and dined in destinations stretching from Moscow to Sydney, via New York, Tokyo, Seoul and many other of the world's great cities.

The IOC put a stop to all this. The rules for Olympic voters are now far tighter.

If Fifa voters are banned from travelling to the bidding countries, it would not be enough to make the process appear clean but it would at least be an important first step.

Anybody who has followed the workings of Fifa over the years will be aware that change does not come easily or swiftly. The same could be said of the IOC. But look at the IOC now compared with the IOC of 15 years ago. The IOC is still far from perfect but it is a major player on the international stage with a reputation that has largely been restored.

If football fans around the world feel disillusioned by last week's events, then I suggest they take some comfort from the fact that the IOC has shown that reform IS possible.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.