Volume: 15 Issue: 10
Following the hearing of the former chair of FIFA’s Governance Committee, Miguel Maduro, before the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (‘DCMS’) Committee in September 20171, in which Miguel provided evidence to MPs about his experiences at FIFA, World Sports Advocate spoke to Miguel about what changes he believes need to be made within FIFA, and whether he has any regrets.
How would you describe your time at FIFA as chair of the Governance Committee?
Extremely intense and challenging. In only a few months we had to perform literally hundreds of eligibility and admissibility checks and, since we were starting from scratch, we had to set up a procedure to perform them, develop criteria and publish such criteria in informative notes aimed at providing more certainty to candidates and rendering our work transparent. We also had to supervise several elections and develop guidelines on the fundamental principles according to which such elections need to take place, including aimed at guaranteeing integrity, making sure that the elections are free and fair and for the promotion of women’s representation. Finally, we worked on several additional proposals to put forward to the FIFA Council either aimed at strengthening good governance, such as on reinforcing the independence of the judicial bodies or preventing conflicts of interest at FIFA, and improving FIFA social responsibility and compliance with human rights. It was a lot of work in just a few months, as well as being in the context of an institutional culture that is not receptive to many of these changes.
How was the Governance Committee viewed by the leadership within FIFA?
I think there was a recognition of all the hard work we were doing but progressively also a concern about the extent of our independence and the conflicts emerging from the decisions we were taking in enforcing the rules on admissibility of candidates and supervision of elections. Football officials and bodies were not used to the independent scrutiny that the role attributed to our Committee entailed.
You stated before the DCMS that FIFA has “a system of rules without a rule of law”; what do you mean by that?
It means that it is an organisation with broad and far reaching regulatory powers concerning all activities related to football but that such regulatory authority is not subject to effective rule of law principles. The ideas of separation of powers, independent scrutiny or transparency for example, are totally foreign to the culture of the institution. This was the reason for the tension that emerged with our Committee whose main task was precisely to embed these principles in the culture of FIFA and football in general.
What changes do you believe need to take place?
After what happened in the last FIFA congress and with my Committee I am convinced that genuine reform will only occur from the outside. I think the best possibility might be the setting up of an international independent agency with powers of oversight of FIFA and other sports international bodies regarding the compatibility of such bodies with good governance. This would not entail any competence for governing such sports but simply focusing on supervising elections, transparency, prevention of conflicts of interest and ethical violations. Moreover, I think the EU is likely the only entity in a position to lead the establishment of such an independent agency.
Football is a closed shop. It has been dominated for many years by a group of insiders on the basis of syndicates of votes. Since any attempt at introducing independent scrutiny is ultimately dependent on the will of this same political group no leadership of FIFA, even assuming if it would like to, would be able to successfully bring in the necessary reforms without itself being removed from office. The lack of transparency is a product of this political reality and, at the same time, helps to protect it.
How can a systematic cultural change be achieved?
As I already mentioned, it will only be possible to do it from the outside. Note that the only changes that occurred so far have happened because of the judicial proceedings initiated in the US. And once the pressure from those proceedings diminished and was limited to certain officials the old culture prevailed.
How prolific do you think the governance crisis is within sport? And whose responsibility is it to make sport accountable?
I think the problems I identified with FIFA are common to other transnational sports organisations. As I said, I think public authorities cannot simply allow for such important areas of economic and social life to be governed by unchecked private governance regimes. I believe only the EU or the US have the muscle to bring such organisations under some minimum oversight.
Do you have any regrets about your time spent at FIFA?
That it was so short... I would have liked to have had the time with my colleagues to enforce genuine governance reform and change the culture of football. That would have required a sustained effort of years but it was a fascinating task that we were really committed to carrying out. I also regret having trusted that the commitment to reform was stronger than it really was even if, ultimately, that would not have changed any of my decisions, including that of accepting to chair the committee. I don’t regret the intense experience however even if I regret how it ended.
Miguel Maduro will be speaking at the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference, organised by the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, which will be held on 26-27 October 2017 in The Hague. Visit http://www.asser.nl/sportslawconference for more information. World Sports Advocate is a proud media sponsor of the event.
1. For the transcript of the evidence provided by Miguel Maduro to the DCMS Committee visit: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/sport-governance/oral/70260.html