FIFA will cooperate with the Council of Europe on issues like human rights and good governance. We asked the secretary general, Thorbjørn Jagland, what the purpose of this partnership is about.
By Pål Ødegård
Two days ago, on the 10th of January, FIFA announced they have reached an agreement to establish a memorandum of understanding with the Council of Europe. In the statement FIFA president Gianni Infantino shakes hands with the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland. The purpose of the partnership, the statement says, is to collaborate on a range of issues such as human rights, match fixing, good governance, doping and hooliganism. The announcement raised some eyebrows as Mrs Anne Brasseur, representative at the Council of Europe from Luxembourg, and former president of its parliamentarian assembly (PACE), is planning to present a report to this assembly later this month on governance issues in FIFA. As The Guardian reported (https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/dec/08/fifa-ethics-investigator-gianni-infantino-council-of-europe-report) late last year, she was especially critical of how the FIFA leadership have tried to influence the former chairman of FIFA’s governance committee, Miguel Maduro, not to block Russia’s deputy minister Vitaly Mutko from being eligible to get reelected onto the FIFA council. Maduro was removed from his position at the FIFA congress in Bahrain in May last year after just eight months in the position. Furthermore, the chairman for the investigatory chamber of FIFA’s ethics committee, Mr Cornel Borbély, was investigating the FIFA president for violating FIFA’s ethics code on several issues (https://josimar.no/artikler/infantino-fired-those-who-investigated-him/4038/). Borbély, and the chairman of the committee’s adjudicatory chamber, Mr Hans-Joachim Eckert, were both also removed without advance notice at the FIFA congress in Bahrain. Borbély´s replacement, Mrs Claudia Maria Rojas, gave a statement shortly after her appointment that Infantino was under no investigation. And this was even before she had received all the documents from her predecessor. Anne Brasseur, who is reported to have interviewed all of the above mentioned persons, including Infantino, labels Rojas as incompetent for her position as she not only can’t speak or read English or French, but also doesn’t have the necessary experience in the field. According to The Guardian, Brasseur concludes the report with: “Regretfully, the general feeling is that Fifa council and Mr Infantino in particular wished to get rid of persons who might have embarrassed them.”
FIFA’s responded with the following: “All these pioneering reforms are not properly acknowledged in the current report and it is unfortunate that the author chose not to distinguish between the new FIFA and the old one, creating a misleading view of the current reality based on personal opinions and rumours, rather than on a thorough analysis and objective facts.”
Josimar got in touch with the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, to hear what the purpose of the partnership with FIFA is about, and whether Brasseur’s impressions have been taken into consideration.
Q: Two days ago FIFA published on their web page that they intend to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Council of Europe. Could you elaborate a bit more in detail on what this cooperation has in mind?
A: The background for these talk are that the Council of Europe have three main conventions which FIFA also have an interest that as many countries as possible will commit to. One is to combat match fixing, the second regards anti-doping, while the third, which was agreed upon during the European Championship in Paris last year, aims to end hooliganism and violence in the terraces of football stadiums. All these issues are problems the sports organizations can’t tackle without help, so the conventions enable cooperation with governments and, not the least, police across borders. This is very important for sports as a whole, and FIFA wishes to promote this, and make their member countries ratify these conventions. These conventions are also open to countries outside Europe, and there’s already significant interest among important football nations like Argentina, Brazil, and Qatar to be a part of this. Qatar especially wants to cooperate with the Council of Europe, since they will host the World Cup in 2022.
Another issue is the internal problems, as everyone knows about, that FIFA have had. So now they want our expertise on good governance principles. From time to time we gather all the sports ministers in Europe, and within that frame we give advice on how to best regulate the sports organizations, which regulations and legal framework they should have and so on.
Lastly, FIFA have themselves signalled that they want to focus much more on human rights issues in general. Both in their daily operations, but especially when it comes to staging and preparing big tournaments and events. And on these issues the Council of Europe is a natural partner.
Q: Was it FIFA that took the initiative for a cooperation with the Council of Europe on the issues mentioned? How was this process initiated?
A: A dialogue with sports organizations is nothing extraordinary, and we regularly have contact not only with FIFA, but also other large sports organizations like IOC, UEFA and others. It’s natural, I think, since we have this forum of sports ministers where we discuss topics concerning them. This specific cooperation materialized when I hosted the FIFA president at a dinner party a few weeks before christmas.
Q: You mentioned good governance. Before Christmas The Guardian ran a story about a report made by the former president of the Council of Europe, Anne Brasseur, where she heavily criticized the current leadership at FIFA for undermining good governance principles, and concludes that the overseeing committees in the organization have lost their independence because of Mr Infantino. Did you talk to Mme Brasseur and were you familiar with her report before your dialogue with the FIFA president?
A: We have followed what have been going on at FIFA for years, and are fully aware of what have and haven’t happened at FIFA. About this report, it’s yet to be completed, processed and discussed (it will be presented to the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly – or PACE – at the end of January – journ.). A lot of positive developments have happened at FIFA, but obviously there’s still some way to go, and that’s why they have approached us for a collaboration. The talks we have with FIFA until now is not based on this report you mention, but of course we will look at that too when it’s due.
Q: Would it then perhaps be a good idea to put as a condition for this general collaboration that FIFA’s overseeing committees are supervised by an external agency, like Mme Brasseur suggests?
A: I think it’s too early to go into that question now. Until all the facts are on the table, and we know what’s going on, it’s not prudent to take a position on how it should be.
Q: You also mentioned a collaboration with FIFA on doping issues. Recently evidence have emerged that Russia have had an extensive programme to dope their athletes, and that this has been supervised from a governmental level. Among the athletes, elite football players are also mentioned. FIFA have so far received criticism for not having showed much initiative to investigate these claims. What is your comment on that?
A: Now, I don’t think football have serious doping issues. Rather, there are other sports where this is a big problem. But in so far it is a problem with doping in football, it must be dealt with, and it’s within the WADA system that this is handled. There is now a substantial reform in that system to better tackle these issues. The Council of Europe have worked with coordinating opinions from the various governments, and to give our advice. That’s the way it must work.
Q: FIFA have a long history of attaching themselves to experts within topics like good governance and human rights, but rarely follow up on their advice. Instead it’s obvious that these experts have been hired to give an impression outwards that they’re serious about reform, while the modus operandi stays questionable. Aren’t you concerned you will just be another window dressing?
A: That’s a question that can only be asked by someone who is not familiar with the work of the Council of Europe. No one can use us for such purposes. We have the best experts on these issues, and they’re totally independent. You simply can’t question their integrity. We will never go into any agreements without preserving the utmost integrity and we’ll use the most competent people we have to ensure that. The Council of Europe have all the interest and intention that the integrity of sports is safe-guarded. Sports is part of our democracy. Our mandate is to promote democratic values and human rights, and sport is a vital part of any well-functioning democracy. So when the image of sports is damaged we do everything in we can within a legal framework and mandate, and offer the best expertise we have, to help sports organizations to accomplish its duty to society.
Q: Hypothetically, which sanctions could the Council of Europe impose is it turns out FIFA won’t live up to these standards?
A: We have no mandate to impose sanctions apart from on our member states. But FIFA wants to be a part of, and to promote, these juridical tools and conventions, and make as many nations as possible join these conventions. We relate to our member states, and we won’t interfere in FIFA’s autonomous administration. But we collaborate with non-governmental entities to promote our values.
Q: How has the members of the Council of Europe reacted to the announced partnership with FIFA?
A: Overwhelmingly positively among all our 47 member states. New states join these conventions all the time. For example, the one regarding match fixing is now joined by practically everyone. Only Malta have yet to sign this agreement.
Self-explanatory, FIFA says
We asked if FIFA was ready to accept that the independent committees (like the Governance and Ethics committees) are to be managed by an external agency as Mme Anne Brasseur has suggested in a report that will be presented to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
FIFA stated the following in their answer:
«The media release is self-explanatory. To summarise: the Council of Europe and FIFA have agreed to start working on a Memorandum of Understanding as both share many common goals, such as good governance, respect for human rights and a resolute stance against doping, match-fixing and violence.
FIFA has already commented on the report that will be presented to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.»