The ongoing corruption scandal at FIFA and Sepp Blatter's resignation both have plenty of potential effectsfor Canadian soccer, but the Canadian Soccer Association's response so far has underwhelmed many. The CSA's initial release expressed disappointment at the scandal, but largely seemed upset that people were talking about this instead of the upcoming Women's World Cup. CSA president Victor Montagliani did announce he would vote for challenger Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan instead of Blatter, but the CSA wound up publicly congratulating Blatter after his win anyways, and even their statement Tuesday "welcoming the news" of Blatter's resignation and focusing on "ensuring transparency and accountability" leaves something to be desired. Overall, the organization has seemed lukewarm on reform (and on specific reforms in particular, such as some suggested by Canadian lawyer and former FIFA independent governance committee member Alexandra Wrage), and their responses have been inconsistent at best. Now, Laura Armstrong of The Toronto Star has dug into what went on at the CSA this week and found that there was substantial controversy behind the scenes, including board member Amélia Fouques' unsuccessful attempt to convene an emergency meeting and her desire to have Canada completely withdraw from FIFA:
But Amélia Fouques, a sports lawyer and Canada Soccer board member, believes her association should sever all ties with both FIFA and CONCACAF.
Montagliani should also resign from CONCACAF’s executive committee, said Fouques, who is not speaking on behalf of Canada Soccer.
“I don’t believe anymore in FIFA. It’s so deep down, this culture of non-transparence. I really believe that we need a new international soccer federation from scratch.”
The withdrawal from the two federations should only take place after the Women’s World Cup final, scheduled for July 5 in Vancouver, she said.
“We owe much more to our players. Right now, it’s the Women’s World Cup; those players worked so hard, not just from Canada, but from everywhere else,” she said. “Even the staff of FIFA or other people worked so hard and we have to give them justice. They should not be ashamed to play soccer.”
Fouques said she has been trying to get in touch with Montagliani and other Canada Soccer executives since Monday to convene an emergency board meeting, to no avail. She was frustrated when the association put out a statement congratulating Blatter on his re-election.
Criticism of FIFA is certainly well-deserved, but it's somewhat disturbing that the CSA has a board member who believes a Canadian withdrawal from the organization and attempt to start a new soccer federation would accomplish anything. That "nuclear option" of a renegade federation trying to run its own tournaments has been discussed before, but mostly around UEFA, the powerful European regional federation, and even they were highly unlikely to ever actually take that step.
For one thing, FIFA's long-term contracts (sponsorship, broadcasting, future World Cups and so on) would be extremely difficult to compete with as a renegade tournament. For another, taking away the structure of FIFA (with regards to regional confederations, organization, sanctioning, scheduling, tournament qualifying and so forth) would lead to a lot of chaos and a lot of rebuilding of things that don't necessarily have to be rebuilt, such as the existing World Cup qualification schedules. Beyond that, even if all the UEFA members were on side (highly unlikely; can you imagine fervent supporters of Blatter like Russia going along with something like this?), that gives you a lot of storied countries, but it creates a tournament that's much more like the European Championship than the World Cup. Even if they had tried to expand the federation to some non-European countries, there would have been major questions about who's included, how power in the new system would work, how qualifying would work and so on; tearing down the existing structures would have created more problems than it would have solved.
If a renegade plan was unlikely to work even for countries with the collective power of UEFA, it's orders of magnitude more insane for a relative world soccer minnow like Canada to contemplate. It's also particularly crazy that Fouques is proposing this after Blatter's resignation. If Blatter had indeed hung on for a full fifth term and managed to avoid the investigations focusing on him, skepticism about if FIFA reform would get anywhere might be more deserved. His resignation indicates there's at least a substantial chance to fix things within FIFA and take advantage of its well-established so that makes Fouques' "burn it to the ground" strategy even more unusual. It's equivalent to saying that Canada should have pulled out of the International Olympic Committee and tried to start its own Olympics following the Salt Lake City bidding scandal, rather than working to improve the existing body. Having a country with little power go rogue doesn't accomplish much, but the IOC case shows that substantial change can come even within a problematic system. Canada and the CSA would be wise to focus on that rather than an ill-advised attempt to break off from FIFA.
Beyond the problems with Fouques' strategy, though, this story illustrates some internal issues with the CSA. First off, a board member being unable to reach Canada Soccer executives for days in the middle of a crisis like this is problematic. Not all issues need to be actually decided in an official board meeting, especially in a fast-moving situation like this, but the lines of communication still need to be open and everyone needs to be on the same page. Beyond that, it sounds like this was only some of the internal bickering that went on, and that may explain some of the organization's missteps. The CSA hasn't had a coherent strategy throughout this situation, sometimes sounding like they were trying to keep themselves in the good graces of Blatter and the establishment (the initial tepid release, the "congratulations") and sometimes challenging them (the decision to vote for Prince Ali, Montagliani's comments Tuesday about Blatter's departure).
Overall, the CSA was too slow to realize what was going on here, and they were far too lukewarm in their support of reform. The internal bickering likely played a role there. There are still questions about where Canada goes from here and what this means for the CSA, especially considering their past ties to indicted figures like Jack Warner and Aaron Davidson, but one key takeway so far is that this organization isn't on the same page. That needs to change if Canadian soccer's going to be successful going forward.