Every week, FIFA “President for Life” Sepp Blatter writes a column in a FIFA publication called The FIFA Weekly. In it, the five-time FIFA heavyweight champion waxes on topics of the day, musing on anything from stars to watch at FIFA-sanctioned tournaments, to thoughts on FIFA governance.
Sexy stuff, I know.
Blatter’s most recent column is about democracy within FIFA, and it’s chock-full of tasty nuggets. But don’t chuckle just yet, because embedded within those nuggets aren’t just the whimsical comments of a man attempting to tie a bow on his legacy before dying; Blatter and his uncompromising genius may have just laid down a sneaky manifesto on his future vision of FIFA, in four paragraphs.
Writing about strengthening democracy within FIFA, Blatter scribbles:
The confederations must be proportionally represented according to the number of member associations they have. The fact that CAF, the African confederation boasting 54 members and the AFC, the Asian confederation with 46 members, only have five and four delegates respectively in the 25-person FIFA Executive is contradictory to this notion of democracy.
Many will probably see this statement as Blatter simply throwing bones to Africa and Asia, the two blocks that overwhelmingly supported him in May’s FIFA presidential election. Many could also, cynically but reasonably, read this as Blatter doubling-down on the blocks that supported him as a ploy to bolster support for his inevitable continued reign. Inevitable continued reign, you say? Sure. Remember, Blatter only said that he will resign; he has not done so yet.
But regardless of how you feel about his motives, his statement can also be viewed as Blatter trying to usher in a truly democratic, representative era for FIFA. That is, if you define “democracy” as proportional representation as determined by the number of national federations in a confederation. If that’s your definition of democratic representation, then the current Executive Committee isn’t representative of FIFA. As it stands, the 27-person executive breaks down like this, by region:
- Europe — 10 members
- Asia — 5 members
- Africa — 5 members
- South America — 3 members
- North and Central America, and the Caribbean — 3 members
- Oceania — 1 member
Of course, proportional representation by the number of FIFA members in a confederation isn’t the only way to define democratic representation. FIFA could also structure a democracy by giving greater representation to more populous regions. It could weight membership by the number of registered players (from youth to professional ranks) in a country.
But at some point, advocates for democratic principles must contend with the fact that, in a global organization, Blatter’s call for greater democracy within FIFA is virtually inseparable from a call for the East and developing countries to have a greater say in what he deems as a truly democratic FIFA.
Blatter’s column also address gender representation. Women must be “appropriately represented in the ExCo,” he writes, noting that “world football’s governing body is not a ‘men-only club.’” Of the 450 employees at FIFA, 50 percent are women, according to the embattled FIFA president.
While that figure certainly sounds representative, it sheds little light on the gender breakdown of senior positions or positions with particular gravitas. The Executive Committee, historically, has been a men-only club. The first woman joined the Committee in May 2013. That was Burundi’s Lydia Nsekera. Today, the Committee has three women members: Nsekera, Australia’s Moya Dodd and Turks and Caicos’ Sonia Bien Aime. Dodd and Bien Aime have a special designation with the Committee: Co-opted Members for Special Tasks. (Whatever the hell that means.)
Although three women is certainly better than zero women, three women still definitely isn’t a formidable block.
So how does Blatter want to go about implementing these changes? Here’s the kicker:
“I am reluctant to take places away from anyone; there should not be a redistribution of seats on the Executive Committee but a commensurate expansion of the body.”
This. This is a development.
Blatter’s plan is to dilute the current Executive Committee votes by expanding the body. To do that, under FIFA rules, a vote from the 209-member FIFA Congress is required.
How do you think the 209-member FIFA Congress would vote on the idea of expanding the Executive Committee? Look at the geographic breakdown of Executive Committee members again. Europe, with 10 members, stands as the lone member with an obvious reason to reject expansion. Other nations that generally align with Europe may be down to join the Western resistance movement, as well.
But for the rest of the FIFA, there are maybe too many compelling reasons as to why they want to call Blatter to congratulate him of his brilliant idea. Never forget, the Executive Committee is the power center of FIFA. Everyone wants in. And Blatter’s four paragraph manifesto just offered to host an open house for interested buyers.
Could Blatter actually pull all or any of this off? Well, once again, it is important to remember: Sepp Blatter is still FIFA president, despite the numerous times has he been written off for dead. Is it a given? Of course not.
There are a plethora of steps to take between Blatter’s FIFA Weekly column and redesigning the soccer world in Blatter’s image. But by now, we all know how hard it is to kill Sepp Blatter. At this point, nothing is surprising.