Reuters: FIFA crisis worse than anything in Olympics scandal

By Steve Keating for Reuters

June 5 (Reuters) – Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, who headed the investigation to clean up the International Olympic Committee after the 2002 Salt Lake City winter games corruption scandal, said on Friday that the FIFA crisis was worse than anything the IOC faced.

“I think it is deeper rooted and it is far more serious,” Pound said in a telephone interview. “You are talking about corruption, bribes, money laundering, all sorts of stuff.”

Pound noted that while criminal charges were brought against two people in the Salt Lake City bribery and corruption case but then dropped, FIFA’s situation was “far more complex to try and sort out than ours was.”

“It’s going to get messy before it gets cleared up,” Pound said.

World soccer’s governing body was plunged into the worst crisis in the organization’s 111-year history on May 27 when Swiss police staged a dawn raid in Zurich and arrested several officials on charges filed by U.S. prosecutors in New York.

FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has won plaudits for promoting soccer in every corner of the globe, but its “one-nation, one-vote” structure has its risks, laid bare by the corruption scandal.

Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University, said an executive board that would also have representatives from sponsors and players, was one way to go.

“If FIFA would be run more like a corporation, it would be much better than the current democratic representative body format,” Boland said.

Boland said the IOC had powerful governing bodies for Track and Field and Swimming, for example, to act as counterweights, a natural check in the system that FIFA does not have.

Pound knows something about cleaning up messes.

The onetime Olympic swimmer and former influential IOC executive board member was appointed by then IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch to clean up the organization and usher in sweeping reforms following the Salt Lake City scandal.

When the IOC was faced with a doping crisis that threatened to undermine the integrity of the Summer and Winter Games, Pound was once again called upon to establish and run the World Anti-Doping Agency.

FIFA is caught in a widening criminal probe. The FBI was also looking into how World Cup hosting rights were awarded to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.

Beleaguered Zurich-based FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced on Tuesday that he would step down just days after being re-elected for a fifth term.

Before U.S. law enforcement officials brought the charges focused mainly on soccer governing bodies in North and South America, Central America and the Caribbean, speculation and allegations had swirled for years in soccer circles.

“I’m not surprised there has been so much smoke around this,” Pound said. He said the charges had not touched Asia, Africa or the Middle East and “maybe what is going on in America is just chicken feed in the great scheme of things.”

Blatter’s departure will not in itself polish FIFA’s tarnished image and rid the organization of corruption, he said.

“It is a little bit like alcoholism, unless the person involved, the organization involved acknowledges there is a problem you can’t solve it.”

Harvard Business School senior fellow Bill George, a soccer fan who was once chair and chief executive officer of Medtronic Inc medical technology company, said FIFA needed “a clean sweep.” “The same people can’t set up a new governance.” 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Edmonton, Canada; additional reporting by Tim McLaughlin in Boston; Editing by Grant McCool)