Lifting the lid on one of FIFA's big secrets: Executive pay

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Posted: Jul 10, 2015 7:11 AM
Lifting the lid on one of FIFA's big secrets: Executive pay

PARIS (AP) — As FIFA slid toward what has now become a full-blown collapse of its reputation and credibility, one of Sepp Blatter's advisers suggested to the president of football's governing body that he should lift the lid on one of his most tightly guarded secrets.

Reveal how much FIFA pays you, Mark Pieth advised. The Swiss anti-corruption expert, recruited by FIFA for his expertise in corporate governance, says he argued that disclosing Blatter's salary would demonstrate that the discredited organization is committed to change and transparency.

Blatter wouldn't have it.

Pieth says the FIFA president explained that doing so risked embarrassing and upsetting his allies on the FIFA board whose pay is also secret.

"He told me: 'Well, you know, I couldn't,'" the Basel University professor recalls. "'It wouldn't go down well with my friends.'"

One million dollars? Five million? More than that? Two years after Blatter rejected Pieth's advice, the exact extent of his salary and perks remain known only by him and a seeming tiny handful of perhaps no more than four others at FIFA headquarters.

Here is a look at why the secrecy should be lifted:

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SET AN EXAMPLE: Founded in 1904 with the simple aim of organizing football internationally, FIFA has grown into a multi-billion dollar global enterprise largely thanks to the World Cup's financial success under Blatter's reign since 1998.

Like multi-national corporations, it publishes detailed annual financial accounts and is audited. Beset by allegations of vote-buying and corruption involving members of its ruling executive committee, FIFA also in 2011 launched reforms that tightened the way it does business but which haven't gone far enough for its many critics.

Failing to publish the pay of Blatter and other executives gives the impression that FIFA must still have something to hide, when it should set an example for football to follow.

"The old idea is these guys just put their hand in the till and distribute money wildly because they have so much of it," Pieth said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

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OTHERS DO BETTER: Some football organizations are far more open, making FIFA look secretive.

Obliged to do so by U.S. law, the U.S. Soccer Federation that governs the sport in the United States files tax returns that give astounding detail about executive compensation when compared to FIFA. The filings are easy to find on the federation website.

The most recent shows federation CEO Dan Flynn got a base salary of US$528,209, plus $102,250 in bonuses, for an average 40 hours of work per week in the 2013 tax year and even that the federation pays his health club bill of $180 per month.

The accounts for England's Football Association, also accessible via its website, aren't as transparent but do show — as required by British law — that the highest paid director got 550,000 pounds ($850,000) in salary and benefits.

Governed by Swiss law, FIFA's public accounts lack such detail. They say $39.7 million was paid to "key management personnel" in 2014. That included Blatter and the 24 other members of his executive committee, plus 12 executives at FIFA headquarters. If evenly split between all 37 people, that would be $1 million each. FIFA says the total includes gross salary and social charges but won't break down who got what or even answer questions about why it fails to do so.

"We have no further comments on individual compensation," it said by email to the AP.

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COPY CONCACAF: The governing body for football in the North and Central Americas and the Caribbean has been hit hard by the latest corruption scandal. Its former general secretary, Chuck Blazer, pleaded guilty in the United States to racketeering, income tax evasion, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies and was banned from the game for life on Thursday by FIFA's ethics committee.

To prevent the confederation from imploding, CONCACAF this week announced reforms that include exemplary policies on pay which will be more transparent than FIFA's. As U.S. Soccer does, tax returns reporting executive salaries will be published on CONCACAF's website. CONCACAF is also proposing that executives' compensation be approved annually by its congress.

These changes could pressure others, including FIFA, to follow suit.

"We think if we can do it, they can do it," CONCACAF legal adviser Sam Gandhi said in an AP phone interview. "Sports federations shouldn't be worried about the truth. ... If people are valuable, people recognize that they should be paid a valuable amount. But we shouldn't have anything to hide when it comes to this stuff."

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COST VS. WORTH: FIFA executive committee members are treated like royalty, housed in the best hotels, ferried in limousines and, on top of reportedly generous per diems when conducting FIFA business, also paid $300,000 a year, one insider confirmed to AP.

Without breaking down the expenses, FIFA's accounts show it spends a prince's ransom on meetings: $35.5 million in 2014, including travel and accommodation for its 209 member associations to a congress in Brazil.

Jim Boyce, an executive committee member from 2011-2015, bristled at the suggestion that FIFA is overly lavish.

"Bankers, for example, are getting millions of bloody bonuses and all the rest of it and their banks are going down the tube," he said in an AP interview. "There are many people in many walks of life who are paid a salary for doing a job ... That's a personal thing between a company and the employee. It's not dishonest if people pay their taxes."

But without detail on who gets what exactly, it's impossible for outsiders to judge whether FIFA and the sport it is meant to serve is getting value for money.

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OBSTACLES: When Blatter announced June 2 that he'll be standing down, he also said he would use his remaining months to drive "far-reaching, fundamental reforms." Domenico Scala, overseeing that effort, said one goal is to publish the pay of the president and executive committee members, because "FIFA recognizes that many have questioned the transparency by which FIFA operates."

But how that will be done and whose approval they need wasn't explained, and FIFA wouldn't elaborate when asked by AP. While some executives say they wouldn't mind if their salaries are made public, others from countries where pay is seen as more of a private matter and not easily discussed may resist.

And Blatter's record doesn't inspire confidence that he can pass this last big test of his presidency.

"Whenever Blatter has a choice where to side whether with his friends or with the general public, with the critics and so on," noted Pieth, "he chose to side with his friends."

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester@ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester