By Brian Homewood
ZUG, Switzerland (Reuters) - The pressure group campaigning for reform of FIFA has uncovered a reluctance within football to publicly back the organization even though many support its motives, one of its founding members has told Reuters.
Jaimie Fuller, an Australian businessman who previously led the "Change Cycling Now" lobby group following a series of doping scandals, said there was a reticence to speak out against world soccer's ruling body.
"I had some conversations and the response was, privately, 'We love what you're doing but publicly we can't get involved with you politically'," said Fuller, the chairman of the Swiss-based sportswear company SKINS.
"Whether you talk about players' representation, or supporters’ representation, or national associations, or about sponsors in particular, I have a degree of empathy for the position many find themselves in," he added.
Fuller's company values state that "athletes should handle themselves with honesty and integrity at all times. They should play hard and fair -- be determined and driven with the ‘true spirit of competition’."
So it is not hard to see why its chairman should find himself part of the "New FIFA Now" pressure group which believes there is little honesty or integrity at FIFA, which has been discredited by a number of scandals over the last two decades.
New FIFA Now was launched in Brussels on Jan. 21 with Fuller on the top table and an abundance of politicians and disenchanted sports officials in attendance.
But Fuller told Reuters he was disappointed that FIFPro, the world players' union and various supporters' groups were absent.
"One of our key criticisms is that there is a lack of player and fan engagement within FIFA, so we really wanted to try and get that going with those groups," he said.
"We were very disappointed that FIFPro said they wouldn't attend and likewise with the supporter groups. (Perhaps) they are in the midst of some delicate negotiations in FIFA," he added.
FIFA will hold a presidential election on May 29 at which former Portugal forward Luis Figo, Dutch FA president Michael van Praag and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan will challenge Sepp Blatter, who is standing for a fifth term.
With the majority of FIFA’s 209 national associations expected to back Blatter, critics wonder how outsiders can change the system, but Fuller said the campaign had real purpose.
"Everything starts with a step," he said.
"We are contacting all 209 federations to engage with them, probably futile in a lot of cases, but we will engage.
"We are stepping up our activity on the sponsor front and likewise we will engage at government level.
"Of FIFA's 10 key sponsors, five haven't renewed which in our view is a pretty damming indictment. FIFA have already come out and said it's normal, but losing 50 per cent of your sponsors is pretty significant."
SKINS sponsors several rugby and cycling teams and national federations, as well as Stoke City of the Premier League but it has always stayed well away from FIFA.
Shortly after the Brussels meeting, SKINS announced an irreverent "official non-sponsorship" of sport's governing body.
"The non-multi-million-pound announcement allows the company to highlight unshared brand values and confirms SKINS’ contempt for an organization which has been constantly shrouded in allegations of corruption and controversy, yet is potentially preparing to re-elect its President, Sepp Blatter, for an unprecedented fifth term in office," ran the campaign slogan.
Fuller said it was not just about corruption, adding that the often appalling behavior of players on the field was another symptom of FIFA's lack of leadership.
"We believe our role as a sportswear brand is a privilege, and with that comes some responsibilities because sport has a unique role in society," he said.
"We set out to define what we stand for as a brand and we define that as fuelling the true spirit of competition.
"There is a line you don't cross, that line can be doping, that line can be footballers getting around a referee and screaming in his face, it's all that sort of stuff.
"If you look at rugby and the way rugby referees are treated by players, they are treated with respect," he said.
"You look at a football game, and it's appalling and that is one of the areas of leadership that we see that the whole football community is not showing.
"It's about governance, it's about transparency and it's about accountability. We are seeing FIFA fail in so many regards."
(Editing by Mike Collett and Ed Osmond)