FIFA To Meet To Replace Disgraced President Sepp Blatter
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Soccer's world governing body, FIFA, hold its annual Congress on Friday. And in terms of drama, it's going to have a tough time beating last year's meeting.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Seven senior FIFA officials arrested at the crack of dawn.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: More than $150 million in bribes.
INSKEEP: Those arrests, brought by a U.S. Justice Department and FBI investigation, forced the resignation of FIFA's longtime president, Sepp Blatter, as comparisons to the Mafia were made. Let's talk now about where FIFA stands one year later. We're joined by Alexandra Wrage, who is an anti-bribery expert and a former member of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee. Welcome to the program.
ALEXANDRA WRAGE: Good morning. Thank you.
INSKEEP: I suppose we should remind people you do have a history with FIFA.
WRAGE: I do. I was on the Independent Governance Committee for about a year and half before resigning and departing that body.
INSKEEP: Independent governance sounds like a body that was supposed to be trying to keep them a little more honest. Did it work out?
WRAGE: That was certainly the idea. We were brought in to make recommendations. Mr. Blatter sat us down on the first day and said he didn't want his legacy to be this series of scandals, but that turned out not really to be the case.
INSKEEP: OK, so you went away, then there were these arrests, and now a year has passed. Is FIFA any better than it was?
WRAGE: No, it really isn't. I mean, the same people are in leadership roles. Mr. Blatter, of course, has stepped back, and he has an acting president in his place. But even after that first series of arrests, they re-elected Mr. Blatter several days afterwards, so there isn't a lot of appetite for reform there.
INSKEEP: Who was it that re-elected Sepp Blatter exactly?
WRAGE: So that's the Congress, one vote per football association, and it's the same people who will be voting on Friday.
INSKEEP: Are you essentially saying that the entire world of soccer is corrupt?
WRAGE: Certainly the majority, I think there are a few isolated reformers who aren't getting much traction. But it's the same people in place, and they have a really good gig. They, I think, like things exactly the way they are, and we shouldn't expect change.
INSKEEP: Well, now there's another election. It's time to elect another president. What do you think of the candidates?
WRAGE: Well, its - the whole situation is sort of rigged for an insider. You can't run for this position unless you've had experience inside the football community. So we don't have anybody who is going to be a champion every forum. They know who they're dealing with, they know what the expectations of the voters are, and so they're playing to that, and it's really going to be more of the same.
INSKEEP: What would be the key to reforming this organization?
WRAGE: I think what has to happen is an independent body has to come in, push through the reforms, put some independent, truly independent people in place for oversight. The players and the fans are the product and the consumer here, and they have no voice at all.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about this. Is it possible that the fans really just don't care as long as the games are played?
WRAGE: No, I really don't think that's the case. When I first joined the Independent Governance Committee, I got hundreds of emails and messages from people saying, do something. Clean this organization up. We love the game. We hate FIFA. But there is a sense of real powerlessness because FIFA is this closed loop where they're all just speaking to each other. And then every four years, they put on the World Cup, and fans can't stop themselves. They want the game.
INSKEEP: One other thing, the United States competed against other countries including Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar won. It's now been revealed that there was bribery involved in that decision. Do you believe that that World Cup will go ahead in Qatar?
WRAGE: I believe it will go ahead, and I don't think it should. A majority of people who voted for Qatar has been discredited. It's dangerous heat. There are horrifying human rights records there. They should not get the World Cup, but I believe they will.
INSKEEP: Alexandra Wrage is an anticorruption expert and president of TRACE International. Thanks very much.
WRAGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.