Status woe: New FIFA shenanigans show that reform just isn't possible

Status woe: New FIFA shenanigans show that reform just isn't possible

There will be no FIFA reform.

Not now, not in the near future and not in any foreseeable span of time after that either. Maybe never. Probably never. Almost certainly never.

FIFA will be FIFA. And what FIFA is, and will remain, is a farcical pseudo-junta that's about as well-equipped to police itself as a kid in a candy store who has managed to pull down the blinds and lock all of the adults out.

For a brief flicker of a moment, there was hope. In early June, Sepp Blatter, FIFA president and corruption facilitator/overseer/enabler/participant (history might strike one or several of these through, maybe), announced his resignation in the wake of yet another scandal as the FBI and Swiss authorities rounded up another dozen high-ranking officials. More reforms were promised. Real ones, this time. And before he'd shut the door behind him and take whatever he might have amassed to wherever he's headed next, the 79-year-old Blatter assured us he'd clean the place up on his way out.

There would be commissions. Independent ones. No reform was off the table. Tall promises. But when Francois Carrard, a Swiss lawyer and former director general of the International Olympic Committee who was put in charge of the Reform Committee on August 11, gave an interview to Swiss paper Le Matin this week, he laid out just how those commissions would be assembled.

As it turned out, FIFA's Executive Committee had already composed a 12-person reform commission, supposedly on the advice of the six confederations. Before hiring Carrard. Which is to say he had no say in it and the same old wielders of power got to pick the people who would be scrutinizing them. Carrard did insist on a five-person independent advisory board to that committee, which would include two members agreed upon by FIFA's sponsors. (It had originally been said sponsor-approved members would sit on the real committee, which was seen as a good thing.)

Swiss lawyer Francois Carrard was appointed by FIFA to lead its Reform Committee. (AFP Photo)
Swiss lawyer Francois Carrard was appointed by FIFA to lead its Reform Committee. (AFP Photo)

"It will allow me, if I am not happy with the work of the [Reform Committee] to have a counterweight, to create a balance," Carrard said.

He may think so, but the actual commission is hardly independent. It was appointed by the very people – the ExCo – that it is supposed to be taking a very hard look at. Already, the fancy promises were heavily diluted when deployed in practice. There is no real independence but for a toothless advisory board, which is a classic FIFA bait-and-switch.

Ominously, absurdly and incongruously, Carrard then went on to call soccer in the U.S. "an ethnic sport for girls in schools" and then cleared Blatter of any wrongdoing.

"Unfortunately, it's always like that when somebody stays too long, the negative takes over," he said. "The man is being treated unfairly. And if we talk about corruption … I have on my table all the U.S. proceedings. In the indictment, there is not a word against him. Nothing."

Wait. What? The guy put in charge of cleaning up FIFA's dumpster fire publicly absolved the man who has ruled with an iron fist for almost two decades? That made no sense.

Until you heard Blatter defend himself that same day.

Blatter gave a long interview to a BBC journalist, with his chair arranged in front of the World Cup trophy. Their talk was sometimes confrontational, often awkward, and ended in Blatter's strange stream of rhetoric, intended to sound inspirational perhaps. He was mostly evasive, refusing to touch on "ongoing investigations."

But he did say he had nothing to do with any apparent corruption, and, brazenly, that FIFA didn't either.

"It's not true," Blatter declared. "This has been created. The institution [FIFA] is not corrupt. There is no corruption in football. There is corruption with individuals. There is not a general organized corruption."

Incredulous, the interviewer felt he had to ask the same question again. "There's no corruption within FIFA?" he stammered.

"No, it is with people," Blatter answered. "The institution FIFA is not corrupt. People [who] are in FIFA, or they serve in FIFA, they may be. … Have a look how many of the Executive Committee that took the decision [to controversially award World Cups to Russia and Qatar] in 2010, how many are still serving. It's not the institution. That's what I cannot understand when the world media say FIFA is corrupt."

This is the root of the problem. Blatter refuses to take ownership of any wrongdoing at all, or even admit that since it happened on his watch, he's at least somewhat culpable by association. And below him, a vast and opaque organization, constructed intentionally to operate largely outside of the law, falls in line. He deflects deftly.

"The problem is the composition of the Executive Committee, which is not elected by the same entity as the president," he said. "So now I have a government that is not elected by the same entity. So now I have to take people that are not my people. And I shall be morally responsible for them? I cannot be responsible for them. I cannot take the moral responsibility for the behavior of people."

FIFA, Blatter argues, doesn't oversee the finances of the confederations, who elect the Executive Committee and whose affairs drew the bulk of the charges when the latest round of indictments landed. This is plainly untrue, given the obvious and abundant tampering with World Cup voting, which is very much in the FIFA purview and a part of the FBI's case and ongoing investigation by the Swiss authorities.

Blatter insists that he's beloved.

The cash cow that is FIFA won't be endangered by real reform. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)
The cash cow that is FIFA won't be endangered by real reform. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

"OK, there is a lot of fans using the devices – social media, whatever: 'Kill Blatter, kill Blatter.' But go to the world," he said. "Go to Asia, go to Africa – two-thirds of the world population – go to China, go to the big countries. Ask them about FIFA and Blatter, it's different.

"I have done a lot. I have served FIFA. I am sure that this will be recognized, the big job that has been done by FIFA and by myself – 40 years."

Under Blatter, FIFA culture has lacked all accountability. That culture will outlive his four-decade tenure. When one piece atop the pyramid is toppled, another one raised in that same mindset takes its place. FIFA re-spawns from within. Those with the genuine best interests of the game at heart, with the welfare of the sport superseding their own, forever remain a hopeless minority.

Change will not be instigated from within – even if Blatter should actually want this – and no matter how many men are hauled away in police cars, the line of applicants continues to overwhelm demand.

And there's no hope from the outside. Nobody willing to do anything has the authority. Oh, there will be arrests. A few principals will be felled by their own greed, but the whole big monster will just grow a few fresh heads.

The sponsors can't seem to do it, either. Some have pulled out without saying much (because PR wars aren't good for business). Others have insisted on change but hung around in the absence of it anyway, unwilling to sacrifice the refracted glow of the World Cup for the moral imperative.

The only alternative is to blow the whole thing up and start over. But such an anarchic notion isn't steeped in reality. Soccer is the World Cup first and foremost. And FIFA decided it owned the exclusive rights to the World Cup at its very first meeting in Paris in 1904 – in a back room, fittingly.

So the status quo will stumble on, faintly aware yet blithely unconcerned. FIFA will be, as it is, as it was. There will be no reform.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.