Regenass: Our programmes have evolved
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FIFA’s development activities have been undergoing important changes since the approval of the General Regulations for Development Programmes in 2013 – a year in which world football’s governing body invested more than USD 500,000 daily in football development and corporate social responsibility projects. New initiatives – such as the programme for less-privileged member associations and the income generation scheme – have also been kick-started to better suit the needs of member associations.

In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, FIFA Director of Member Associations and Development, Thierry Regenass, talks about the implementation and enforcement of the development regulations, the evolution of FIFA’s assistance programmes in the past 15 years and why football is sometimes a victim of its own success.

The FIFA Development Seminars that started last year in Auckland are set to finish in 2014 after the FIFA World Cup. What has been the outcome? Are FIFA member associations ready to fully implement the new development regulations as of 1 January 2015?
Those seminars are part of an important information process we have started to raise awareness about changes in FIFA and in the regulatory framework of the world of football. So far we have organised ten seminars across all continents and reached to 175 member associations. We are trying to multiply the communications channels with our members, with official communications, seminars and one to one dialogue; all of this is to make sure that all 209 members will be ready to fully comply to the new rules voted by the FIFA Congress.

A small number of member associations will have to change some of their governance mechanisms to be able to comply to our requirements, both on the standard statutes side, and on our auditing requirements for the FIFA development programmes. This is and will be a challenge, for instance we indirectly require all MAs to have an annual general assembly that needs to approve financial statements, and certain MAs only have bi-annual assemblies, which does not comply with the FIFA standard statutes. So this is an example of a relatively important change introduced that we will need to accompany the MAs on.

How can FIFA avoid further cases like the one of the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association that was recently sanctioned for breaches relating to the FIFA Goal Regulations?
The introduction of the new development regulations is one step. But a case like the one in Antigua and Barbuda is also representative of a period and context that has significantly evolved, both on FIFA’s side and on the member associations’ side. Back in 1999, the creation of development programmes such as FAP and Goal had an underlying objective: to provide means for the national associations to evolve as organisations, get stronger and be better prepared to fulfil their mandate. It was an acknowledgement of the need for an evolution, for improvement, which means that there was always going to be a learning curve in some cases. Both FIFA and the associations have learned through 15 years of the Financial assistance from FIFA – what are the challenges, where are the priorities and so on.

Now we still have to work on institutional empowerment to help our members get even stronger, and we do this through programmes such as Performance. But we also observe a general improvement from 15 years ago, and while we can’t guarantee that no “bad projects” will ever happen again, we are also quite confident that we won’t see too much of these.

FIFA’s direct financial support reached the USD 1 billion mark in January. What would you say are the main achievements behind this figure? What aspects could be improved in the future?
Combining the impact of FIFA’s FAP and Goal programmes, the support provided since 1999 to all 209 members has mainly achieved a minimal standard of credibility to all our members. You have to imagine that at the time, several associations did not have a proper working office, nor the funds to run a proper administration. The national football was basically run through committees and general assemblies, which has obvious limitations. With the FAP, many associations have been able to develop their presence, their legitimacy as a national body of football; This, for us, is the biggest achievement, because the member associations are the number one pillar of football, the element in the football pyramid which links everything together. We also have to mention the other big achievement from the last 15 years of football development support by FIFA which is the volume of pitches and football infrastructure that we have funded over the years. We have built more than 250 pitches around the world.

However, the downside to these figures is that, even after 15 years, we still observe that a very large number of associations depend very much on FIFA’s financial support for their cash flow. One could take pride in that – FIFA in essence allows MAs to function, period – but very honestly, we would prefer to not be able to say that and have all 209 members use the FAP as an additional source of income, but unfortunately we are quite far from there yet.

FIFA has lately been diversifying the scope of its football development projects through initiatives such as the programmes for less-privileged member associations and the income generation scheme. Are you satisfied so far? What are the next steps?
On the income generation programme, we just received the conclusions of the very first project that was approved, where we financed a solar panel electrical system for the Guam FA. They were delighted that they were able to execute this project, because they have now reduced their electrical invoice to zero, when it was very expensive for them in the past. This frees them to use the funds they were allocating to their electricity expenses in football development.

The less-privileged programme has been wildly successful. We have 71 associations eligible for this programme; so far we have approved 63 projects in the 2011-2014 cycle and we will most probably “fill the gaps” at the last Development Committee of the cycle in September. This programme was created to make sure that the so-called “less-privileged” associations get a priority access to a limited range of projects – pitches, youth competitions support, equipment – to try to correct crucial shortcomings in these countries especially on the playing facilities side. One of our objectives is to reduce the gap between high-developed countries and the less-privileged. And in those countries, often the main obstacle to football development is simply the lack of football pitches.

Last year Afghanistan and Somalia made the news because of their remarkable achievements in the area of football development. Are there any other countries that you would like to highlight?
We have more and more “feel-good” stories and this is one of the things that encourages us to do more for football development. Sometimes it does translate on the pitch – with qualifications or improvements in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – but not necessarily. The important thing is that the structure of football improves generally speaking. This might be on the governance side – Indonesia comes to mind; on the management side – Mauritania or Ecuador for instance; or more obviously, on the football pitch: we have had great stories during the cycle with Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Rwanda, American Samoa to name a few.

Governmental interference is a constant issue dealt with by FIFA. Do you think member associations have been able to get a better understanding in order to avoid facing situations of governmental interference?
In some way, football is sometimes a victim of its own success and importance to people. Football, due to its democratic structure where associations leaderships are elected every four years, is, by design, susceptible to instability so there will always be risks and we will always have to have a preventative action to that end.

But in recent times we do observe less government interferences than in the past; we like to think that we have had a role in that, by strengthening the associations through our development and governance prevention actions. Nowadays the majority of “cases” we face on the governance side are actually internal tensions, especially on the subject of an association’s statutes. The positive side of this trend is that for internal tensions FIFA’s response can be more flexible and not as paralysing compared to issues related to governmental interference – where the standard response is the threat of suspension.

The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014 ended at the beginning of April. What is your role during such an event? How about the legacy projects?
The association of Costa Rica was very active around the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup for development and we could support them on a wide range of areas: we implemented the Live Your Goals campaign, supported the creation of women’s leagues, the development of talent identification programmes, we organised courses for coaches and referees. It was definitely a successful example of how the organisation of a FIFA Women’s World Cup can jump-start women’s football projects in a country, and thus create a true legacy, as long as the initiatives become sustainable – but we are confident that in Costa Rica it will be the case.