By Simon Evans
ZURICH (Reuters) - As FIFA struggles with internal reforms to clear up a corruption scandal, some within the sport worry that the world governing body could be distracted from its commitment to international development programs.
Especially in Africa, football associations that lacked proper offices or quality fields for training and games have seen FIFA projects bring significant improvements.
“In Cape Verde, the football association was sharing a small three-floor building with other sports federations, there was nothing,” Jerome Champagne, former director of international relations for FIFA, told Reuters.
“If you got there now to Cape Verde, FIFA built a headquarters with offices, in another wing you have dorms so that people attending courses are able to stay on-site. We convinced the government to restore the national stadium, we put in an artificial field,” he added.
Champagne says the improvements have had a direct impact on the performance of the African country.
Cape Verde had never qualified for the African Cup of Nations but in 2013 they reached the finals for the first time, getting as far as the last eight. They qualified again in 2015.
“Not only did the facilities help players improve their quality, but they improve motivation,” he said.
While FIFA’s Goal Program, which has focused on building federation headquarters and technical centers, has drawn most attention, the organization has also pumped cash into developing countries through its Challenger Program, which offers help for grassroots facilities, and Financial Assistance Program.
The ‘Win-Win’ program looks to improve revenue-generating activities in countries where the commercial development of the game has not progressed, while the Solidarity Fund helps victims of natural disasters.
FIFA’s budget for 2016 projects $220 million in various investments.
In the wake of the corruption scandal, which has seen 14 people indicted in the United States and led to the suspension of FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, the talk in the upcoming FIFA presidential election in February is likely to focus on structural reform.
But the agenda is somewhat different in the developing world.
“These programs are critical for us. Let’s be honest, without the FIFA development projects and the Financial Assistance Program, the small island territories in the Caribbean would be struggling,” Caribbean Football Union president Gordon Derrick told Reuters.
“These projects, when they are executed properly, are of critical importance to the development of the sport in our region,” he added. “They have not always been executed properly, but those that have been are working exceptionally well.”
In essence FIFA’s projects take the revenue from the World Cup every four years, generated mostly by commercial deals in advanced economies, and spend a portion of it helping nations with little hope of ever making the big stage.
“There is certainly an element of Robin Hood about it,” says Champagne.
For Derrick there is also a historical aspect.
“They are the developed countries. The truth be told, the majority of the smaller territories at some point were a colony of one of the major countries, and they should be trying to assist in getting them infra structural development,” he said.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)