Back in January, South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) President Alejandro Dominguez was controversially appointed to head up FIFA’s Finance Committee.
It was ridiculed and criticised as typical FIFA. Not because Dominguez had been involved in wrongdoing – there has never been any suggestion of this – but because this is a continental organisation which has been at the epicentre of a corruption scandal, largely focused on illicit money, and they were effectively given the keys to FIFA’s considerable coffers.
The decision hardly helped public perception of world football’s governing body, one of the biggest challenges facing Gianni Infantino when he was elected as the replacement for the disgraced Sepp Blatter.
And, if a recent survey by opinion platform Forza Football and corruption watchdog Transparency International is anything to go by, it is a task which remains far from its completion.
The figures, including that 53 per cent of the 25,000 fans, spanning 50 countries, answered “no” when asked if they had any trust in FIFA, must have made for difficult reading over at the organisation’s headquarters. After all, the governing body has been desperate to point to the changes Infantino has made since he took power in February 2016.
This was best captured by a long statement released after the survey was published on Thursday (March 2), which detailed, point by point, the reform efforts initiated during Infantino’s tenure so far. Ranging from the implementation of the FIFA Forward Programme, which aims to increase funding given to the Member Associations, to the introduction of term limits, it sought to highlight the progress they claim to have made.
However, would any run-of-the-mill football fan on the street know about these type of alterations to a clearly inept governance structure? Probably not, hence why the public continue to be sceptical and dubious of any attempt at reform.
Alex Stone, who works as a social media and deputy head of FIFA digital, summed this up perfectly in a series of Tweets in response to the survey and to two recent fans forums.
"Find it predictable, but also sad, that anything we do for the right reasons is ignored,” he wrote.
“But we could also do much better to tell ‘our’ story.”
A later Tweet read: “Thing that most stands out (and via two fan forums) is ignorance of what we do daily.
“Massive challenge. Huge opportunity. Interesting times.”
Infantino himself is also struggling to repair his own reputation after a year which included a number of misdemeanour accusations, including that he orchestrated a plot to remove the head of the Audit and Compliance Committee and, more seriously, that he put in a series of questionable expense claims.
Of the respondents to the joint Forza Football and Transparency International survey, 44 per cent said they did not believe the Swiss-Italian, who denied all allegations and was cleared of wrongdoing by the Ethics Committee, had restored trust in FIFA. Although not every supporter worldwide was asked, it represents a failure on Infantino’s part on one of his key objectives.
In fairness to the FIFA President, the corruption in the previous regime was so endemic, so engrained in the fibre of the organisation that it will undoubtedly take longer than a year to root out.
But measures which he has spearheaded and orchestrated, such as giving FIFA the power to hire and fire chairs of their respective Independent Committees and the expansion of the World Cup from 2026 onwards, deserve to be criticised. He deserves to be held accountable for his mistakes.
Infantino admitted as much in an open letter to mark his one-year anniversary at the helm, but stopped short of explaining exactly what decisions he and the organisation has made would count as errors.
“As I look back, I do see mistakes – wherever there are people, there will always be mistakes – but the important thing is that we learn from them,” the 46-year-old wrote.
“What I can say without question is that every step that FIFA has taken during this year has been guided by an honest purpose. It is the purpose that has permeated my plans since the presidential campaign and it aims to serve one single beneficiary: the game of football.”
He went on to talk about the FIFA 2.0 - The Vision for the Future roadmap – a word which is seemingly only ever used in sport these days – and stressed his plans to “literally force” good governance within the organisation.
One such error, in many people’s opinion, is the World Cup growing by an additional 16 teams to 48 from the 2026 edition. First of all, if it aint broke, don’t fix it, but secondly it is clearly just a money-motivated ploy. “For the good of the game?”. I think not.
In the letter, Infantino addresses these suggestions and defends the move. “The expansion, some say in an accusatory tone, will bring more revenue to FIFA,” he said.
“It will and it must, as long as our institution is committed to reinvesting every cent that it makes back into the game and its development. Because this is what a world governing body should be – we exist to serve our members, and our administration must be fit for that purpose.”
Find it predictable, but also sad, that anything we do for right reasons, ignored. But we also could do so much better to tell 'our' story.— Alex Stone (@AlexStone7) March 1, 2017
What the document implies is that Infantino cares deeply about what the public and the media think of him and FIFA. There are unquestionably a smattering of members within International Federations who are blissfully unaware of the reputation of the organisation they collect per diems from and are nonplussed. The opposite applies to the FIFA President and his top brass.
"Part of the football community may tend to receive words like these as if they were empty rhetoric, and I can understand that," he adds. "This is why I do not even think about calling for a celebration. For now we will just keep working and letting facts speak for themselves. They surely will."
But another document – the survey – suggests Infantino has a long way to go if he is to reverse the poor reputation FIFA still has. A year from now, he will surely hope more progress has been made, particularly as far as the feelings of the fans are concerned.