Over the last seven days, as the FIFA story has unfolded, the famous dictum: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” has been in my mind. That story has developed from arrests, legal charges and extradition demands into organisational chaos and managerial confusion, with first Blatter’s re-election and then his resignation within days. It has been widely reported around the world – and in the west, in critical terms, as a poor example of international governance.
“Sports governing bodies play a fundamental role in society and therefore adherence to good governance principles is fundamental for the fulfilment of their statutory objectives and broader social mission. As football’s world governing body, FIFA is firmly committed to the principles of good governance, transparency and zero tolerance towards any wrongdoing.” (General description of FIFA’s role, from www.fifa.com)
Sports associations such as FIFA and the IOC  are of course private bodies, not subject to any rules other than those they impose upon themselves. Nevertheless, they have global reach and important influence, commanding enormous revenues. So my thoughts have turned to parallels between their kind of international governance and recent experiences in the broader sphere of global inter-governmental relations. There have been many examples in recent times of political leaders who are ‘strong men’, leading for many years and dominating the life of their countries. This can be directly compared with Blatter’s 40 years of association with FIFA.
If you consider the activities of leaders like Saddam Hussein (who gassed ethic minority people in Iraq), Bashir Assad (who suppressed peaceful opposition by military force), or Gaddafi (who ruled through fear of arbitrary arrest, based on a network of informers – FIFA’s governance methods seem relatively less damaging to society. Corruption may have been endemic, but at least FIFA has not killed anyone – as far as we know. The President of Kazakhstan has been in power since 1989 and was just re-elected for a further term with a vote of over 95%; Blatter last week secured a rather less impressive majority, but he had not been in charge as long.
“Strategy is determined by the FIFA Executive Committee chaired by the FIFA President, a forum where all of the confederations can directly influence the decision-making process since each has its own representation under the FIFA Statutes”. Since the Exec has 22 members it is not clear how this works for 209 federations.
One common denominator is the geographical setting: these leaders are mainly in the Arab world and in the Middle East. The region seems to need powerful leaders who can dominate government and arbitrate between warring religious and political factions. Egypt (now led by a former General) and Iran are further examples; and recent political trends in Turkey had suggested a shift towards more authoritarian rule. The growth of the so-called Islamic state (ISIL) has been from a base in the same region, but introduces another factor – religious extremism. The Boko Haram movement in Nigeria amplifies this trend. These are political movements which do not even pay lip service to established democratic and social values.
I also look at these events from another angle: there are no doubt different patterns of international governance, but how have we come to a situation where much of the world outside the West apparently accepts to be governed with little or no respect for democratic values and human rights, not to mention humanitarian principles? These values and principles are at the heart of western civilisation, and are supposed to be Universal based on the UN Charter and the 1948 Declaration on human rights. Does the situation reflect a blatant failure of leaders and governments to respect the commitments accepted at global level? did they ever really intend to implement them? or, worse, are people in a large part of the world not expecting that such values will apply to them, and therefore they endure the situation through apathy or through coercion?
Uncomfortable questions ….. I dare say that not every country has the same standard as regards corrupt practices and actions that are illegal in the USA. And perhaps the way that FIFA has run its part of the sports world is not that terrible – indeed the more than 130 FIFA member federations that voted to support Blatter evidently felt that all was well.
 International Olympic Committee
 FIFA’s revenues in the 2011 – 2014 period have been reported at $5.7 billion, with reserves of £1.5 billion. With such large sums in question, the temptations are obvious.