Fifa may decide to reform itself. More likely, a grassroots movement will have to emerge that is strong enough to push through the changes that are needed.
Fifa may decide to reform itself. More likely, a grassroots movement will have to emerge that is strong enough to push through the changes that are needed
The Great Reform Act of 1832 is best known for extending the franchise. But the Act’s other significant achievement was the elimination of so-called ‘rotten boroughs’.
These parliamentary constituencies were so-called because the size of their electorates, and the absence of a secret ballot, opened the door to corruption. The constituency of Newton, on the Isle of Wight, comprised just 14 houses, having shrunk over the years but retained its right to elect an MP.
The move to eliminate more than fifty of these boroughs made it far harder for any one wealthy patron to hold a constituency in his gift. A majority could easily be bought in a rotten borough, but not with an expanded electorate.
The reforms hold lessons for today. Fifa, world football’s governing body, faces a battle for its reputation, following a furore over where the 2022 world cup will be hosted. Fifa has become beset with (unproven) accusations that the decision to appoint Qatar as the 2022 hosts was improper.
Fifa will want to demonstrate that it’s decision making process is beyond reproach. It is here that the lessons of the Great Reform Act should be learned. As things stand, just 24 people vote to determine where the next World Cup will be held. The Fifa president and vice-president, one ‘elector’ per continent, one for the Home Nations in the UK, plus a collection of appointees. Based on size, this would qualify as a rotten borough.
Fifa should dramatically expand the electorate. Rather than having one elector per continental, as is currently the case, there should be hundreds. For example, an electorate of 100 from England could be made up of: 20 representatives of the national football association, 20 managers from the clubs at the top of the league 20 club captains from those clubs, 20 fan representatives from those clubs, 20 representatives with logistical experience of hosting large events.
This kind of electorate could be replicated in every country. Votes would then be aggregated to determine the final position of each of the continental associations. The final votes of the continental associations, alongside that of the Fifa president, would determine the result.
This expanded electorate would bring together different perspectives and interests in each country, scrutinising bids from all angles. And the sheer size of an expanded electorate would nullify any suggestion that a few wealthy patrons could determine the result of the process.
Fifa may yet decide to reform itself. More likely, a grassroots movement will have to emerge that is strong enough and insistent enough that big changes are needed. However we get there, one thing is clear: football is ripe for its own Great Reform Act.
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