Changes in new FIFA Ethics Code prompt explanations

Photo: justinshanks/Flickr

Photo: justinshanks/Flickr


By Stine Alvad
The removal of the word ‘corruption’, the addition of ten-year statute of limitation on prosecution and the introduction of FIFA defamation as an infringement were among the issues raised in critique of FIFA’s revised Ethics code.

A report by AP journalist Rob Harris reviewing the newly revised FIFA Ethics Code prompted FIFA to the defense of the changes, some of which have raised the eyebrows of some observers.

One of the changes in the new version of the Ethics Code is the removal of the word ‘corruption’ from the English edition, thus ‘eradicating corruption’, the AP interprets the change.

Another change noted is a 10-year limitation for prosecution inserted in the revised code. Infringes of the code “may no longer be prosecuted after a lapse of ten years”, the new text says and cases should be completed within five years. This is seen as a weakening of FIFA’s ability to prosecute cases of mismanagement, the AP writes. 

“As long as the misdemeanor is not discovered for 10 years you will be in the clear in FIFA,” Harris writes.

Also, the introduction of a defamation clause is harshly criticised in AP’s report by anti-corruption expert and former FIFA Governance Committee member Alexandra Wrage.

“This will tamp down criticism of all kinds, which is presumably what FIFA is hoping for,“ Wrage said to AP and called the move an “authoritarian stance”.

In response to the critique, FIFA sent out a statement in an attempt to explain some of the changes and provide more background. According to FIFA, the revision will “ensure more transparency, legal security and the most efficient procedure”. One of the means used to achieve this is adding minimum and/or maximum sanctions to most breaches of conduct listed in the code, the statement says.

As for taking out the word ‘corruption’, it was for “reasons of language clarity”, the FIFA statement explains. The section still includes the same infringes as the previous, FIFA says and claims that the new code is even “more stringent regarding bribery“, and additional rules regarding unethical conduct of FIFA officials have been introduced.

According to FIFA, time limits is a common “general principle of law” which will bring both “legal security” and speedy deliberations to the world of football.

Other changes
A part from the already mentioned changes, other measures have also been taken in the newest version of the code. The structure of the code has been changed to reflect the order of seriousness of the listed misdemeanors, FIFA General Secretary Fatma Samoura explains in a letter about the new code to member federations. This indicates that match-manipulation is seen as the most severe infringement followed by misappropriation of funds and bribery.

Another change is that committee decisions must be published “in its full, written form”. In the previous version, the committee could decide to only communicate the terms of a decision and not the full grounds unless requested.

In the new version, the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber decides the composition of the panel and is no longer required to strive for all six confederations to be “equitably represented”, as the previous version said.

The FIFA secretariat no longer has “consultative powers” in hearings but a member of the secretariat must be present at committee deliberations.

As for appeals, they should now go directly to CAS, with only match manipulation decisions to be appealed with the FIFA appeals committee. And “to handle cases in an even swifter manner”, plea bargains have been introduced as new procedure.

One step back
The new code replaces the previous version last changed in 2012 and initially introduced by former FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2004. The revisions were approved by the FIFA Council during the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow this June and came into force on 12 August. While FIFA sees the revision as part of the reform process set in motion to improve the reputation of the tainted organisation, critics have a hard time finding the positive in the alterations. 

“The new code of ethics seems to walk back steps taken in that crackdown,” said a comment piece by Jacob Bogage in The Washington Post. “The changes may seem semantic, but wholesale alterations appear in how such offenses are punished. Now, the 10-year statute of limitations applies to these violations as well.”

According to FIFA reform activist group New FIFA Now, especially the time limitation introduced is a problem because history has proven that some of the more severe instances of corruption cases involving FIFA officials have only been reveled decades after they took place.

“… major crimes, such as those in which some world football administrators and marketers have proven or alleged to have been involved, can take years if not decades, to be uncovered and investigated, says Bonita Mersiades in a New FIFA Now statement.

“By FIFA arbitrarily declaring through its ethics code that a bribe is no longer a bribe in FIFA’s eyes if it’s more than ten years old does nothing to give the sport or the current administration any credibility.”


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