BRUSSELS (Reuters) - FIFA faces potentially the greatest challenge to its authority since it was formed 111 years ago following the launch on Wednesday of the ‘New FIFA Now’ coalition of reformists calling for change.
Following years of controversies and endless allegations of bribery and corruption directed at the highest levels of FIFA governance, the campaign to change world soccer’s governing body was launched at the European Parliament.
“There has never before been an attempt to bring together an international coalition of people from different institutions and organizations, whether it’s soccer, business or parliaments, who have seen FIFA’s image go from bad to worse,” British MP Damian Collins told Reuters.
Collins, who has been the driving force behind the creation of ‘New FIFA Now’ added: ”We realized that the scale of the problem had become so great it needed a huge response which we are trying to start today.
“I think we have reached a tipping point and I hope we are giving confidence to more people around the world to join the call for FIFA to change.”
While the coalition has no power, as a pressure group in the run-up to the FIFA presidential election in May, it could have an influence on the way FIFA is governed in the future and is the first time so many different groups have publicly stated their lack of faith in soccer’s ruling body.
Speakers included David Triesman, the ex-chairman of the English FA and a member of Britain’s House of Lords, as well as FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne and possible candidate Harold Mayne-Nicholls of Chile and a scattering of MEPs.
The group launched a Charter for FIFA Reform and a 10-point plan for change.
“The time has passed for evolution, we need a revolution. People tore down the Berlin Wall and it is time for us to do the same and rebuild a new FIFA” said Bonita Mersiades, a former member of the Australian FA and part of the failed Australian bid for the 2022 World Cup finals which were controversially awarded to Qatar.
Triesman, who oversaw England’s failed bid to stage the 2018 World Cup, said: ”We have reached the absurd situation where the leaders of the world game go around as if they were the Heads of State, which is not the way the sport should be governed.
“A deeply flawed set of people run FIFA and these people could not have survived if, for example, they had been running a private company or a corporation.”
Speakers were critical of the way FIFA has been governed by Sepp Blatter, the 78-year-old Swiss who has been president since 1998.
Blatter is seeking a fifth term as president in May’s election at the FIFA Congress with three men so far seeking to replace him: Champagne, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, and former France international David Ginola, whose surprise candidacy is being backed by a bookmaking firm.
With just over a week to go before candidates have to declare they have the minimum five nominations to stand in the election, only Prince Ali is certain of getting his name on the ballot paper to challenge Blatter.
Even so, there is real sense in the sport that it has arrived at a watershed moment in FIFA’s history.
“We have reached a tipping point. The fact that Michael Garcia’s investigations into corruption surrounding the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups collapsed into a shambles proves that nothing will ever change unless change is forced on FIFA,” Mersiades said.
FIFA’s former chief ethics investigator Garcia quit in December, claiming a 42-page summary of his 430-page report into the bidding process for the 2018/2022 World Cups contained misrepresentations of his 18-month investigation.
Among the proposals put forward was one to establish a dialogue with FIFA and establish a FIFA Reform Commission.
“But we did not invite Sepp Blatter here today. We see him as part of the problem, not part of the solution,” said Collins.
Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Ken Ferris