As this summer began, soccer fans around the world found themselves fawning over not Cristiano Ronaldo, not Lionel Messi, but rather, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Three months ago, seven high-ranking FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich on corruption charges. Lynch, who spearheaded the investigation, said “The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States.” Acting US Attorney Kelly Currie contended that the indictment”should send a message that enough is enough.”
So we hoped.
It seemed as though FIFA, after some wheel-spinning, might actual see some real transformation. Though initially defiant, not quite one week after the May 27 arrests in Zurich, FIFA president Sepp Blatter acquiesced to public (read: global) pressure, and agreed to step down. Scrambling to reestablish its credibility in the indictments’ wake, FIFA announced the formation of a special committee to spearhead efforts at reform, and root out corruption. This was to be a new beginning. This was to be a task force committed to change. This was going to be the start of a new FIFA.
Or, was it?
It was announced earlier this month that FIFA’s 2016 Reform Committee will be headed by Francois Carrard, a 77-year-old Swiss lawyer. Speaking to the media two weeks ago, Carrard seemed the man for the job.
“It is vital for the future of global football to restore the integrity and reputation of its governing body,” Carrard said. “As the independent chairman, I am committed to delivering the necessary package of credible reforms, working with representatives from within football and wider society.”
In a nose-dive fitting for FIFA’s recent face-palm form, it has taken Francois Carrard less than three weeks to stick his foot in his mouth, down his throat, and discredit that “package of credible reforms” almost entirely.
Speaking with the Swiss newspaper Le Matin earlier this week, Carrard cut the figure not of impartial reformer, but offensive apologist. When asked about Sepp Blatter, Carrard was blunt: “He is being treated unfairly.” Phase one, begin allegedly impartial independent investigation with a presumption of innocence for the man at the top: check. Phase two? Criticize the US Justice Department’s involvement with FIFA’s corruption, using language that is not just dismissive, but also vaguely racist, and sexist.
“For the U.S., football, soccer, does not have the same weight as baseball, basketball and American football. There, it’s just an ethnic sport for girls in schools.”
Then, for our third and final phase, let’s close it out with an autocratic and entitled sense of power over investiture within the committee, combined with a flippant approach to the gravity of his office.
“When I was offered the position, the reform commission members had been appointed by the FIFA executive committee.… I had not had any say, so I asked to nominate a fully independent advisory board of five members….I will choose them — I can approach the Pope or Lady Gaga, if it amuses me!”
And really, why worry about it too much? After all, Carrard presumes the corruption not to be a major problem (exactly what you’d want from the man tasked with its reform, right?), but instead to be “only a few rogues.” This doesn’t exactly square with the “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption described by Loretta Lynch. But hey, what would the U.S. Attorney general know? It’s not as if she’s been leading an investigation for half a decade.
Perhaps the 2016 Reform Committee will enact sweeping and meaningful reform. Perhaps change really can come from within FIFA. And, perhaps not.
The Reform Committee will meet at the beginning of next month, and we likely won’t truly know the extent of their ambition, nor their level of commitment to rooting out corruption, for some months after that. But at the moment, by the looks of it, Francois Carrard seems very similar to Sepp Blatter: a sexist, Swiss septuagenarian who is quick to dismiss the gravity of FIFA’s corruption.
Change at last folks, change at last.