FIFA struggling to win trust of fans
Survey of fans reveals lack of confidence in FIFA
25,000 fans from 50 countries took part
FIFA admits image 'tarnished' in the past
“I want to be the president of all of you,” Gianni Infantino proclaimed triumphantly after he was elected FIFA’s new boss in February 2016.
“FIFA has gone through sad times, moments of crisis. But those times are over. We enter now a new era. We’ll restore the image of FIFA and make sure everybody will be happy with what we do.”
So one year on how is Infantino doing as he seeks to rebuild trust in FIFA following Sepp Blatter’s acrimonious departure?
Infantino inherited an organization that had suffered a testing few years, after seven officials were arrested on corruption charges at Zurich’s five-star Baur au Lac hotel in May 2015.
Fast forward to December 4, 2015 and a further 16 officials were charged by US authorities investigating corruption in FIFA, following a daylight raid at the same hotel a day earlier.
“We had a big scandal. We know that Infantino worked really closely with Michel Platini as well, who was involved with this scandal,” Patrik Arnesson, CEO and co-founder of Forza Football, told CNN in a phone interview.
Prior to working at FIFA, Infantino was UEFA’s general secretary while Platini was the European governing body’s president. Platini is currently serving a four-year ban from all “football-related activity.”
It just feels too cosy, says Arnesson.
“I think one of these issues here is it feels like they’re re-electing their friends – and that is not how you tackle a big, big corruption scandal.”
Using its app, Forza Football’s survey drew on responses of 25,000 fans from over 50 countries, which is “more votes than FIFA get when they try to run their own polls,” says Arnesson says.
He believes the main problem is the structure of the organization, the same structure which allowed Blatter, who was FIFA president between 1998 and 2015, to run the world governing body for so long.
In an interview with CNN in April 2016, Blatter firmly refuted bribery allegations made against him, adding that his major regret was investing trust in the wrong people. Like Platini, Blatter is serving a ban from all “football-related activity.”
“You need to try and redo everything from the beginning,” added Arnesson. “I think that is the main problem, we haven’t heard anything more about those questions: How and why did that scandal happen?
“I think the whole way it’s structured is the problem and that is what you need to change. That’s what makes it possible for one person to rule the organization for 17 years and for there to be so much corruption.
“That is what we should tackle and they don’t seem to want to tackle it. So that is what we are trying to change.”
In a statement sent to CNN, FIFA said it understands that it’s reputation requires extensive rebuilding.
“FIFA acknowledges the gravity of the crisis that assailed the organization nearly two years ago and how misconduct from former football officials has tarnished FIFA’s public image,” a spokesperson told CNN.
“This is comprehensible and cannot be changed overnight – or from one year to the other, for that matter. Therefore, we welcome surveys like the ones posed to users of the Forza Football app.
“Their results serve as a tool for FIFA to understand the expectations of the football fans and keep on striving to fulfill them.”
However, Arnesson says FIFA and Infantino have a lot of work to do given just 26% of supporters surveyed believe the Swiss has restored the public’s trust in the organization.
“It is worrying to see that, for the second year in a row, the majority of the fans across the world do not have confidence in FIFA,” Arnesson says.
“I think first of all they should step out and start listening to the fans. They should ask for our feedback on what fans really think, they should to be eager to hear and really listen.
“But they should also explain to the fans what they have done to actually tackle corruption, because they haven’t heard about that. I haven’t heard about what has changed so that it can’t happen again.”
One of the main questions asked at the time of the Zurich raids was regarding rebidding for 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, a notion FIFA quickly quashed.
“One of the biggest issues in Russian football is LGBT rights and racism,” Arnesson says. “And we have previously seen that fans care about both these issues.
“So hosting a World Cup in a country that doesn’t care about that as much as the fans do will make them disapprove of the World Cup.”
Of the 25,000 fans surveyed, 43% disapprove of Russia hosting the World Cup in 2018, with 39% approving.
“I am actually surprised to number isn’t higher,” Arnesson continues. “We also know that the people who were part of making that (Russia 2018, Qatar 2022) happen were part of the big, big corruption scandal and that makes it even harder to approve of.
“Racism in football which has been an issue for years and years and it’s still a big problem in football.”