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Armour: FIFA is Still a Mess, Latest Election Shows

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Photo: FIFA.com

FIFA just can’t help itself.

Anyone still holding out hope that soccer’s governing body was sincere about wanting to root out corruption was disabused of that notion with Monday’s FIFA Council elections. Moya Dodd, one of FIFA’s few power brokers with a proven commitment to reform, lost the seat reserved for Asia’s female representative to a woman who needed three tries to name the defending Women’s World Cup champion.

It wasn’t even close, either, with Mahfuza Ahkter Kiron of Bangladesh winning 27 to 17.

“There we go again. There’s FIFA,” said Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado and a longtime FIFA critic.

“It’s good evidence that things haven’t changed,” Pielike added. “It involves a person, Moya Dodd, who put forward a manifesto (on reform). She’s smart. She’s out there. She has an international presence.

“And she’s threatening.”

And now she’s been marginalized.

It’s been almost two years since the U.S. Department of Justice began issued sweeping indictments accusing some of FIFA’s most powerful and visible members of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

That FIFA rivaled the Mafia for corruption had never been any great secret. But with the extent of the greed and the graft making sponsors uncomfortable, FIFA had no choice but to act. Or act like it was acting.

Sepp Blatter was ousted as president and replaced by Gianni Infantino, who pushed through a series of reforms. The most significant: Replacing the 24-member Executive Committee with a larger Council that would have at least six seats – one for each continental confederation – held by women.

But look a little closer, and the reforms are little more than whitewashing.

Less than two weeks ago, Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah resigned from the FIFA Council amid Justice Department allegations that he had bribed Asian soccer officials.The Council expansion and increase in money for “development projects” creates the same kind of co-dependency with national federations that fed corruption under Blatter.

“As a matter of observation and evidence, to date, there’s not a lot of evidence that FIFA and people at the top of FIFA are interested in change,” Pielke said.

Dodd’s ouster makes that clear.

The Australian has been outspoken about both the need for reform and increased roles for women in the sport, something she said goes hand in hand. FIFA was supposed to be working toward that, what with the six Council spots reserved for women.

But, as with many of FIFA’s reforms, it’s nothing more than a show. And a poor one at that.

By virtue of her new post, Kiron is responsible for championing women’s soccer, to be its face and its voice with fellow FIFA members. Yet when she was asked by BBC World Service who the reigning World Cup champion was, Kiron didn’t know.

Now, this isn’t a hard question. Women’s soccer is still very much a developing sport – hence, the importance of having advocates at FIFA’s highest levels – and only four teams have won either the World Cup or Olympic title.

Korea, Kiron’s first answer according to the BBC, isn’t one of them.

That she got the answer wrong is bad enough. That she couldn’t even make an educated guess of the United States, which has won or been runner-up at all but four of the 13 World Cup and Olympic tournaments, is even more troubling.

It would be mind-boggling if someone so clearly competent was passed over for someone so clearly incompetent at any other organization. At FIFA, it’s business as usual.

In fact, it’s the preferred method of operation.

“Yep. Let’s just carry on as we have for years & pretend to be evolving,” Julie Foudy, the World Cup and Olympic champion who is now an ESPN analyst, said on Twitter. “Ain’t buying what ur selling.”

The people leading FIFA might have changed in the past two years, but their slimy shenanigans have not.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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