Governance reform is more important than legacies for multinational sports bodies

Alive & Kicking is supported by Barack Obama & footballers including Drogba & Eboue

The full effects of the World Cup on South Africa will only be fully evaluated in the longer term, but it is already apparent that FIFA could have done more to ensure the tournament had maximum benefit for the host nation. Whether it’s the local businessman in Cape Town banned from selling his ‘proudly South African’ key rings, or the food vendor in Johannesburg stopped from selling meals to spectators, the media is full of examples where locals were unable to gain from the event which has cost their country close to $6 billion.

In contrast, FIFA is expected to net a total of $3 billion in revenues from the tournament. Of this, $10 million is being spent on its World Cup legacy programme titled ‘20 Centres for 2010’. This will see the construction of 20 Football for Hope centres across Africa, five in South Africa and 15 across the rest of the continent. That’s 1 centre per 3 countries.

This relatively small gesture has prompted some development actors to question whether a legacy programme was necessary at all. “The World Cup highlighted many of the positive aspects of the African continent, however it would have benefitted the region a lot more if the organisers had run it ethically,” says Will Prochaska, of African charity Alive & Kicking. “By supplying merchandise and food from local people and local enterprises, they could have saved themselves the hassle of the legacy programme as the tournament would have generated a social surplus by itself”.

This may sound like a worthy idea, but it is one that FIFA is unlikely to heed no matter how many governmental or non-governmental actors suggest it. This is, in part, due to the governance structures typically found within multinational sports organisations which grant them significant autonomy but little accountability.

The governance issues at FIFA are highlighted by Daniel Kaufmann, the former World Bank lead on transparency and anti-corruption, in his article for the Brookings Institution and by Stefan Szymanski speaking on Radio 4. There are 3 key problems:
1.    Multinational sports organisations hold a monopoly on the arrangement of major events for the sport they represent. This gives national sports associations a weak bargaining position, as opting-out of the body would leave a severe shortage of international competition.
2.    The regional federations (such as UEFA) that elect FIFA’s executive committee members also receive their funding from that same organisation, making it financially risky for such actors to challenge the status quo. Additionally, there are no term limits for committee members or the President.
3.    FIFA is fiercely resistant to pressure from the outside, threatening to ban nations from participation should national governments be seen to be interfering. In fact, by law FIFA is only accountable to Swiss courts.

These problems are not unique to FIFA, and are also embodied in other multinational organisations including the International Olympic Committee. They provide a significant hurdle for anyone trying to bring about positive change to such bodies, and must be remedied if the agenda of these organisations are to become more development-focused.

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