MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The “arrogance” of senior officials brought corruption-related turmoil to world soccer but important governance reforms could restore its credibility, according to influential sports administrator Kevan Gosper.
Former International Olympic Committee Vice President Gosper served last year on FIFA’s reform committee, which was formed as part of the governing body’s response to U.S. authorities indicting a raft of senior soccer officials and marketing executives for corruption.
The committee recommended a slew of sweeping reforms, including term limits on top executives and the disclosure of their salaries, which were later endorsed at a special Congress in February.
The corruption scandal has since rumbled on, however, with announcements of new probes, extraditions and punishments of tainted officials a near-daily occurrence.
With that backdrop, FIFA holds its first annual Congress under new president Gianni Infantino in Mexico this week, hoping to bring its 209 member associations up to speed on reforms to clean up the game.
Gosper said FIFA deserved credit for its commitment to reforming itself, even if those efforts had been largely overshadowed by the corruption investigations.
“I think what they have done, which is to take on all the recommendations that we made in terms of changes to statutes and regulations, integrity and their agreements on more transparency on what people have been paid, on limits to office, they’re going in the right direction and I think they can build on that,” the 82-year-old Australian told Reuters.
“There are a lot of elements of the management of FIFA, the bureaucracy of FIFA where they’ve done some good work.
“And that really didn’t come to the surface when everything went wrong as a result of the law enforcement authorities rightfully moving in on the corrupt side.
“(Soccer) has a great history, the downside of the history is that a certain degree of arrogance had emerged in the top level in some regions which led onto corruption and that’s very sad.
“But I do believe they’ve had a big wake-up call.
“I’m optimistic for the new FIFA administration. This has been a big shakeup for them.”
Gosper worked on the reform committee with Infantino, who was elected president in February after former boss Sepp Blatter was banned from soccer activities last year for ethics violations.
Infantino has pledged to continue driving governance reforms but was forced last month to deny any wrongdoing related to the signing of a TV rights contract with two indicted Argentine businessmen under his watch while at European soccer governing body UEFA.
Gosper maintained that Infantino was the right man for FIFA’s top job.
“I was very pleased to see Infantino get (it). I didn’t know him well before (the reform committee) but I found him to be one of the straightest and smartest contributors,” he said.
“I saw him as a very straight man and a guy with integrity.
“I feel it was a very good outcome for FIFA.”
Gosper, a member of the ethics board of world athletics governing body the IAAF, has seen another governance crisis unfold in track and field, with Russia banned from all athletics after a World Anti-Doping Agency probe revealed widespread state-sponsored doping.
As the IAAF examines whether to lift the Russian federation’s suspension, Gosper told Reuters it was his personal hope that their athletes would not be excluded from competing at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
He felt former UEFA boss and FIFA presidential candidate Michel Platini was also entitled to a second chance in football after serving his four-year suspension from all soccer activities.
Frenchman Platini, who was banned for six years for ethics violations by FIFA, had an appeal turned down by sport’s highest tribunal but his suspension reduced on Monday..
“In normal justice if a person serves their time, they’re entitled to come back into a community and should be treated like everybody else,” said Gosper.
“If it’s good enough for society, then sport’s got to be consistent with that.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty