THE BLOG
26/02/2016 05:45 GMT | Updated 24/02/2017 05:12 GMT

The Deck-chairs May Be Shuffled but the Culture of the Organisation Remains Deeply Insular

Fifa, football's world governing body, will once again be meeting in Zurich this week. Following eight months of drama, intrigue and, at times, outright absurdity, the organisation is hoping both to elect a new president and agree a new package of reforms. Indeed, it's hoping to draw a line under the most tumultuous period in its 112 year history.

Fifa, football's world governing body, will once again be meeting in Zurich this week. Following eight months of drama, intrigue and, at times, outright absurdity, the organisation is hoping both to elect a new president and agree a new package of reforms. Indeed, it's hoping to draw a line under the most tumultuous period in its 112 year history.

If that's going to happen, then three things need to take place. And Fifa can only control two of them. The first concerns the election of a new president. Fifa's elections are notoriously hard to call, but Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa (a member of the Bahraini royal family) looks like he is favourite. Gianni Infantino (Switzerland) is his main challenger. Even though Sheikh Salman has had to deal with a number of accusations about his behaviour during Bahraini protests in 2011, the smart money appears to be sticking with him.

High-profile though this presidential election will be, it is the congress's second task that is arguably more important. The congress needs to pass a set of organistional reforms that are supposed to make Fifa's work more transparent and accountable. Term limits for officials will be agreed, just as their salaries will, for the very first time, be made public. The much derided executive committee of Fifa will be disbanded and a new secretariat, with the equivalent of a CEO at its head, will be created to run the organisation's day-to-day affairs. An independent audit and compliance committee will also be created to oversee the work of all those working for Fifa.

The chances of Fifa's 209 national football associations rejecting these reforms are slim. On the one hand acting president Issa Hayatou has been energetically lobbying for them, and given his widespread internal popularity, it's unlikely there will be a concerted attempt to reject them. On the other hand, even the most insular of Fifa's national federations knows that if this reform package isn't passed then it could have much wider ramifications for the organisation as a whole. And that leads us to the third point.

Fifa can control the processes whereby presidents are elected and reforms passed. It cannot control the work of the The Department of Justice (DoJ) in the US. And that matters. The DoJ continues to look carefully at how Fifa is dealing with the challenge of reform. As things stand the DoJ has already made two waves of arrests, as it tries to shed light on allegations of elaborate schemes for generating kickbacks and bribes for Fifa officials.

As things stand, Fifa is still seen as the victim of the alleged behaviour of some of its own representatives. If Fifa can't reform itself, then that victim status could be transformed and the organisation could find that it, and not those who were working for it, are in the line of fire. The worst-case scenario there is nothing short of Fifa being closed down for being found to be a criminal organisation.

Quite how all of this plays out remains to be seen. But one thing is abundantly clear - organisational cultures change slowly, and no matter how radical the reforms sound it will take time for Fifa's long-standing movers and shakers to embrace them. Despite, for example, the mounting evidence that the World Cup bidding processes for the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) tournaments were deeply flawed, none of the five candidates for the presidency are prepared to countenance re-running them. Even in a world were Realpolitik dominates, that is disappointing. It also gives external onlookers little hope, significant deckchair-shifting to one side, that the post-Blatter Fifa will be substantively different to the one that we see now. No matter who wins, there will be reform. But reform doesn't always mean radical change. Indeed, sometimes reform happens precisely to prevent radical change from happening.

The culture of Fifa remains deeply insular and many representatives of the still-powerful national football associations are in denial. There's a perception that where others see deep-rooted governance problems, they see a system that has served them - in terms of generating surplus after surplus - very well. There's still a potential risk that where others see corruption and money-laundering, they see a little rule-bending that shouldn't divert from the apparent greater good that's being done to spread the scope of the beautiful game. Changing those mindsets will take time.

Friday's congress will therefore be worth following closely. But not so much for what happens in the Hallenstadion, but for how this is viewed by onlookers - ranging from the big and mighty team of sponsors to the DoJ - on the outside. Ultimately, it's their behaviour that will determine how the future of Fifa plays out.