The timing could not have been more apt. On the day the FIFA corruption scandal escalated dramatically with a second dawn raid in six months and the arrests of two more high-profile footballing figures, so decades of protocol were wiped away with a total overhaul of the way the organisation does business.
As expected, the world’s media converged on FIFA headquarters in Zurich when Francois Carrard, FIFA’s Reform Committee chairman who has spent weeks fine-tuning measures to restore FIFA’s battered credibility and overhaul governance, unveiled his final package of recommendations to the executive committee.
Last month Carrard’s group declared its “preliminary recommendations” which included an age limit of 74 for all leading officials, but controversially only mentioned term limits for the president, who would be restricted to three mandates, and not other senior FIFA members.
Not any more. If approved by FIFA’s 209-member Congress in February, a maximum of 12 years will be imposed for the FIFA president and members of a 36-member Council that will replace the existing Executive committee. The scrapping of FIFA’s Exco and stripping of its all-powerful status had been anticipated though many skeptics had doubted the reform committee would ultimately push this through. The Exco has been at the centre of the scandal that has brought FIFA to its knees following a string of bans and suspensions.
In its place, current Exco members will join a new-look Council. This will be a supervisory body that will feed, along more corporate lines, into a general secretariat that will run day-to-day operations, and a number of individual committees.
After much anticipation, Carrard’s proposals embraced almost all of the proposals submitted by Domenico Scala, who heads FIFA’s audit and compliance committee and who was pushing for robust change.
Significantly, the proposals also include disclosure of salaries – not just that of the president and Council members but also the heads of committees and judicial bodies. More voting seats for women was also agreed as was enhanced integrity checks for senior officials.
Coincidentally the two-day Exco session took place exactly five years after the joint ballot for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups which set off the chain of events that sent FIFA into freefall.
Even more poignant was that just hours before Carrard’s package was approved pending rubber-stamping by February’s Congress when Sepp Blatter is being replaced, two more senior figures were swooped on by police at the now-infamous Baur au Lac hotel where delegates were staying.
Swiss police confirmed that one of the two arrested was Juan Angel Napout, the Paraguayan president of CONMEBOL, who only took over in March and whose confederation ironically only recently drafted its own series of reforms.
The other was Interim Chairman of CONCACAF Alfredo Hawit from Honduras, who has been standing in for the second time, having replaced former presidents Jack Warner and Jeffrey Webb, both indicted as part of the first wave of US indictments into widespread wire fraud and money laundering. Warner, a former FIFA vice-president, originally resigned following the cash-for-votes scandal in 2011 and a few weeks ago was banned for life. Both Napout and Hawit, who are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars, immediately announced they would fight extradition.
This second round of US indictments is expected to be formally revealed at a press conference in the US later today to be led by US attorney general Loretta Lynch.
Although the reform process had been expected to dominate proceedings, it was overshadowed by the morning arrests. In all, five Exco members were missing – including Blatter and Michel Platini, both suspended pending a final verdict into allegations of financial misconduct.
“The atmosphere was like someone had died,” said Brazilian Exco member Fernando Sarney. “Everybody was surprised, the feeling was like it’s happening again, that it’s something we think is personal. It was supposed to be a positive day today with the reforms and a lot changes, compliance, transparency. It was a feeling that this has happened to somebody who was sitting there yesterday with us. Everybody is sad and knows what it represents.
“The man from Honduras I had not met him before yesterday but with Napout it’s very close as he’s the President of CONMEBOL and Brazil is the biggest country.”
Before Carrard explained the reasoning behind the reforms, Acting FIFA President Issa Hayatou told reporters at the start of the post – Exco press conference that the two new arrests illustrated the desperate need for fresh governance and “underscores the necessity to establish a complete programme of change.”
FIFA press statement in full
The Executive Committee has today unanimously approved a set of proposals from the 2016 FIFA Reform Committee to pave the way for significant and much-needed changes to FIFA’s governance structure. The recommendations will be put before the Congress as proposed statutory changes for approval at its extraordinary session in Zurich on 26 February.
These reforms are moving FIFA towards improved governance, greater transparency and more accountability. They mark a milestone on our path towards restoring FIFA’s credibility as a modern, trusted and professional sports organisation. This signals the beginning of a culture shift at FIFA. It is important to recognise that today’s recommendations build on the foundations established by the IGC in 2011 under Mark Pieth’s leadership, which included the creation of an independent chairman on the Audit and Compliance Committee and splitting the Ethics Committee into investigative and adjudicatory chambers,” explained FIFA’s Acting President Issa Hayatou. “As the February Congress approaches, I want to encourage all presidential candidates to embrace this spirit of reform and, as they campaign, to make clear their plans on how they would help FIFA enact these and other reform measures, should they be elected.”
The main reforms to be passed on to the Congress are:
Term limits: maximum term limits of three terms of four years for the FIFA President as well as all members of the FIFA Council (see below), the Audit and Compliance Committee and the judicial bodies
Separation of political and management functions: clear separation of “political” and management functions. The FIFA Council (replacing the FIFA Executive Committee) will be responsible for setting the organisation’s overall strategic direction, while the general secretariat will oversee the operational and commercial actions required to effectively execute that strategy.
The members of the Council will be elected by the member associations of the respective region under FIFA’s electoral regulations, with a FIFA Review Committee to conduct comprehensive and enhanced integrity checks
Concrete steps to increase the role of women in the governance of football with a minimum of one female representative elected as a Council member per confederation
Diversity: promotion of women as an explicit statutory objective of FIFA to create a more diverse decision-making environment and culture
Independent committee members: key financial decisions to be made by the Finance, Development and Governance Committees, which will have a minimum number of independent members and whose activities will be audited by the fully independent Audit and Compliance Committee
Enhanced committee efficiency: reduction of standing committees from 26 to nine, with increased participation of the football community, which will provide efficiency while ensuring that all member associations are involved in a more meaningful and effective way
Integrity checks: compulsory and comprehensive integrity checks for all members of FIFA’s standing committees, conducted by an independent FIFA review committee
Greater transparency and inclusion through broader stakeholder representation: creation of a dedicated Football Stakeholders Committee to include members representing key stakeholders in the game, such as players, clubs and leagues
Building on FIFA’s commitment to human rights, the Executive Committee has recommended that the Congress approve the implementation of a new article to the FIFA statutes that commits FIFA to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and striving to promote the protection of these rights.
The Executive Committee also discussed the proposal from the 2016 FIFA Reform Committee to increase the number of teams at the FIFA World Cup™ finals from 32 to 40. There was no decision on this proposal, but it will be further debated.