FIFA’s Development Committee met on 18 March for its first session of 2013, taking the opportunity to approve new development projects and new rules in line with the recommendations of the Audit and Compliance Committee, thereby bringing about further transparency. Thierry Regenass, FIFA’s Director of Member Associations and Development, summarised the details of the meeting.
“Football development is FIFA’s principal objective; that’s made very clear in our Statutes. We earn money from the FIFA World Cup™ – that’s a fact – but that money is reinvested in football, through competitions and development programmes," he said.
"The amount invested in FIFA development programmes came to $800 million over the 2011-2014 cycle. And so, while FIFA’s income has increased tenfold in 15 years, the amount allocated to development is now 50 times what it was in 1998,” added Regenass.
In addition, the committee gave the go-ahead for 19 new Goal projects, increasing the number of these initiatives to 103 during the 2011-2014 cycle, and to over 620 since the launch of the concept in 1999. Of these projects, 18 were earmarked for less developed countries, with each one costing $500,000.
Also given the green light were PERFORMANCE implementations in 12 new countries this year, which will bring the total number of nations that have benefitted from FIFA’s football management programme to 150 by 2014.
General and consistent rules
But sizeable initiatives like these need to be organised and verified. Consequently, within the framework of the reform process undertaken by FIFA for almost two years now, new rules were approved (see press release).
“They were approved by the Development Committee on 18 March, and then by the Executive Committee on 20 March. We already had some in place for each of our programmes, but we needed to establish some general and consistent rules, to adhere to the transparency requirements laid down by the Audit and Compliance Committee, following the recommendations of the Independent Governance Committee run by Mark Pieth,” explained the Director of Development.
In concrete terms, these new rules impose further transparency obligations on Member Associations in their use of development programmes.
“Among other things, they require more extensive audited accounts from Member Associations, not just in relation to the money provided by FIFA, as well as the identity of auditors selected by Associations in order to avoid conflicts of interest, and also more transparency with regard to tenders and the information supplied to the public via our communication tools.”
While these rules will undeniably make these programmes more efficient, numerous countries have already benefitted significantly from FIFA’s development activities. Two examples from early 2013 stand out, according to Regenass.
“Ethiopia are almost a textbook case: an Association that’s had serious issues in the past, to the extent that they were even suspended at one point. But then they were able to benefit from the PERFORMANCE pilot project, with the help of a consultant on the ground, and they subsequently qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations this year. It was a similar experience for Cape Verde, who reached the quarter-finals of the same tournament.”
He continued: "Our position and our Statutes require us to be the driving force in terms of how global football is structured, especially in its development. That is the reason that we are guiding the game’s decision-makers towards certain priorities, such as youth and women’s football, which are both crucial to the game’s future.
"We also have structural initiatives like, among others, the systematic registration of players at all levels, and the provision of support to Associations as regards their statutes, their governance and organisation,” he said.
Strengthening domestic leagues
One of the key areas of focus is domestic leagues, which need to be strengthened. But it is a challenge that requires resources and patience, in the opinion of the FIFA official.
“We’re working on the domestic league issue. It’s not an easy task, but it’s critical in the long run. It’s important that more young players blossom within their own national championships rather than leaving as boys to enter European youth academies, but to achieve that we need high-quality leagues that attract fans, merit television coverage, and lastly, appeal to sponsors. It’s a long-term project.”
As an example, Regenass cites Mauritania. “The Association President wanted to relaunch the league. With the support of the PERFORMANCE programme, they built a television studio in which they produce an hour-long show on the domestic championship every week, which is broadcast on the country’s national channel. And it’s worked, as interest in the league has grown,” he said.
The example of Afghanistan is even more surprising, according to Regenass: “A league featuring different regional sides – created via a reality TV programme – was organised. The matches are held in Kabul and are broadcast on national television. It’s been a great success – the investors are delighted. They’re one of the 12 Member Associations that will benefit from PERFORMANCE next year.”
The Director of Member Associations and Development is keen not to be seen as naively optimistic, admitting that “in certain cases, the projects did not produce results – that can’t be denied.” He added: “It happens, but they’re a minority. I can recall a recent case where the planned infrastructure for the project did not see the light of day, as the funding wasn’t clear enough.”
But in the numerous instances where the projects have had a positive impact on countries, Regenass points out that the will of the relevant Associations is crucial to their success.
“Wherever there is an outstanding level of commitment, the use of development programmes is therefore maximised. At FIFA, we can take part of the credit for this success, because we provide them with the tools, but we’re not blowing our own trumpets: it also comes down to an extraordinary desire on the part of key figures within these Associations – leaders, coaches, educators, volunteers – to drive things forward.”