(Alexandre Koch, the Deputy Head of Corporate Communications for FIFA Photo credit: Getty Images)
At the World Football Forum meeting in Paris which welcomed some of the most influential personalities in world football, one of the key speakers was Mr Alexandre Koch, the Deputy Head of Corporate Communications for FIFA. FIFA has had a year of mixed emotions after continuously appearing in the press for negative reasons and of course the scandal of corruption at the highest level of its members notably that of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Mr Koch’s speech at the forum was entitled ‘The FIFA view of the New Football World’ and Yutang Sports had the opportunity to question him further.
We first asked whether new president Gianni Infantino was right in saying that FIFA had had sad times but those times were over.
“Gianni saying that the crisis was over, was maybe a little bit too early, I would say you don’t get out of a crisis so quickly. In terms of the reforms we are doing to fight corruption we’ve been reforming not only since 2011 but since the organisation was founded in 1904. I mean before the last reform bill was passed in February FIFA was considered the best sporting organisation in the world purely on paper. Which tells me that even though we have already the best governance structure, why do we have so many corruption issues, in the end it comes down to people and to a culture, and you can have as many control mechanisms as you want if you want to cheat people will find a way.”
After Mr Koch made such a strong statement, the question was to ask what was being done from an internal position to stop corruption.
“The last wave of reforms we passed in February this year are very important because we strengthened one more time the independence of the administration, political and financial, we have three completely independent committees, the order and compliance, the financial and the development committees, so we want to make sure that wherever there is money involved there is external control so there are a number of steps taken. From a governance point of view we are well established, however we are working with people from around the world with cultures from around the world and in 100 years we will still have corruption but hopefully a lot less then we have had so far.”
Mr Koch explained the internal processes that had been put in place to control FIFA corruption, but Yutang Sports wanted to know how the public, and particularly football fans would have restored confidence in the organisation.
“We have to improve and change our communications, we need to be much more transparent and in my opinion we need to change our website. You would be surprised, if you went on our website you would find most of the information I am talking about but it takes too long to find it. So we need to split it in a corporate site and an events site so that you can immediately find the hot topics whether that be corruption allegations to FIFA, QATAR human rights violations and so on.”
After Mr Koch touched upon the sensitive 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the ensuing allegations made around their bid, the FIFA official decided to look at the positives that having the world cup in Qatar would bring.
“The result of the world cup being held in Qatar is that football will have a massive boost in those areas but that even more important the socio-political and economic impacts that it will have, socio more than economic actually is really very interesting. When FIFA goes into a country the worldwide media is in that country and of course all the good but especially the bad things become public knowledge. Personally, I wasn’t so well informed about Qatar or that region prior to the second of December 2010, I must admit that you know I didn’t know the situation of foreign workers. But now with this in the media, I don’t think the situation will get worse, but I think it will be addressed. The main reason Qatar bid for the World Cup was prestige, so the whole focus was to improve the image of their country and raise awareness in that region. The last thing they need is negative publicity regarding workers, energy and so on.”
At this point the clear counter question was why did, or does FIFA not have, a better selection process to investigate the countries who are bidding for major footballing events and avoid the negative publicity that has happened with Qatar and to a lesser extent Russia?
“Absolutely there needs to be a better selection, and that is something that will change for 2026, that’s the ironic thing when two German cities were bidding for the Olympic Games they were complaining that the bid itself costs 50m euros, and why are the costs so high, because the requirements are so high. FIFA needs to improve the requirements for host countries, they need to be completely transparent, they need to produce so many documents including Human Rights situation, risks of Human Rights violations related to staging the world cup, environmental programs, economic use of the stadium and what will happen to them 14 years after the world cup. There is so much work that needs to be done in order to apply for the world cup but this will help us to have a better understanding of the country, and more transparency in regards to the organisation of the world cup and then hopefully it will help us to avoid decisions that lead to such criticism.”
Mr Koch explained that FIFA had overburdened itself over the last decade and now needed to focus once again on the fundamentals. This included not giving out money too easily especially to poorer countries that ‘arguably should not receive as much money’ as richer countries. What is certain is that FIFA have a long road before redemption.