BY PAUL NICHOLSON
Ramon Vega, the former player and businessman who is challenging for the FIFA presidency, has said that lack of financial transparency would be unacceptable in any corporate boardroom anywhere in the world.
Expressing concern that FIFA’s federations have been ‘numbed’ into acceptance of being kept in the dark, he said that FIFA cannot continue to bully members into silence and that they should not be afraid to stand up and ask for accountability.
Referring specifically to the issues surrounding the $25 billion sell-off of FIFA’s international competition calendar, he said: “One of the biggest issues we have to face as a football family is the issue of financial transparency. We have a proposal before the FIFA Council for what increasingly looks like the sell-off of the international to a third-party rights holder, the identity of whom we do not know.
“When the FIFA president was challenged about the identity of the investor – potentially the future owner of the bulk of the income of international football in the way that deal was presented – he refused to say who it was. He said he signed confidentiality agreements. Then he said there was a time limit on the deal and they had to sign off,” he continued.
Having set a time limit, which wasn’t me, the idea didn’t die but came back with a task Force that FIFA president Gianni Infantino is chairing. “This is a very clear and dangerous conflict of interest. We then hear that his top lawyers had advised him that this deal could not be done. Now his head of legal has been fired. What is going on here?” said Vega.
“This is not his personal money or rights that he can choose to do what he wants with. These belong to the federation members, it is their lifeblood. Secrecy breeds distrust and that is what has happened. In the financial world this would be totally unacceptable. The board would have to stand the CEO down as they just have not been kept informed and then, when they asked, they have been refused information. It breaks every corporate governance law pretty on much every country on earth.”
If the figure is really $25 billion you would just not be able come to a deal in a serious organisation without full disclosure to the board. It is incredible that there has not been full disclosure. In any significant operation a deal the size of $25 billion is a major agreement and takes months of contractual negotiation. Just three or four months on such a big transaction is not believable. Not only is there no transparency on where the money is coming from but there is no reference to these valuations and whether they are fair or accepted valuations.”
FIFA’s Council is expected to rule on the proposal at its Miami meeting in March. Sources tell Insideworldfootball that to date while the task force has spent time working on what the new calendar would look like, there has been no discussion of the finance, its commercial valuation or transparency on the third party offer.
“The FIFA president’s responsibility is to each and every one of his members. We need to know who he is working for on this. He says he is working for FIFA, so he must work FIFA and put FIFA first – not just now but for the future,” said Vega.
Vega points out that there is key issue surrounding the ownership of football’s commercial asset as this is a handing over of ownership, not a licensing of rights deal. “This is a totally different situation. It is putting FIFA up for sale,” he said.
“There are many issues of transparency and governance that have to be discussed. The old FIFA needed to become more transparent. The new FIFA is less transparent than the old FIFA and too many members live in fear of the governing body who control their incomes.”
Talking about the election, Vega said: “The members every four years have the right to vote for a new president. It is a responsibility that must be taken seriously as it actually impacts on the lives of millions of football people worldwide. They have to be brave. FIFA is not for one person and his close associates. FIFA is for the world, we are all invested in FIFA – every single one of us. There was an opportunity to make this the case when there were the changes following the corruption scandals, but it hasn’t been taken. We need to make sure that we do not lose this opportunity.”
“We have seen a FIFA deconstructed with the power seized by a few across the whole of the organisation. We have lost too much for the wrong reasons. We must balance this and give FIFA and football back to the world properly and transparently.”