Michel Zen Ruffinen, former Secretary General of the Switzerland based Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) will not speak about it. But like many of the world’s “best” kept secrets, there is no love lost between him and Sepp Blatter, the possibly on-his-way-out President of FIFA. Push came to shove around the 2002 World Cup in Seoul (South Korea) when an internal FIFA document about finances and ethics written by Zen Ruffinen found its way to a Swiss newspaper and then went 'viral', as we say today. Zen Ruffinen left FIFA several years ago. Stories of corruption and sleaze and fixing of bids routinely make it to the media and Blatter’s controversial re-election last month, his resignation within 48 hours and his u-turn today confirmed the worst about the underbelly of the organization. In an interview to TNM’s Editor-in-Chief Chitra Subramaniam Zen Ruffinen, who is a lawyer by training will also not confirm if he is running to replace Blatter but says that managing and organization like FIFA “…is the most difficult job on earth.” Excerpts.
The word is out – are you running for the job of the President of FIFA?
I have been requested by several persons to do so but have so far no intention of running for the position.
How badly have the recent happenings in FIFA affected the credibility of the organization?
I believe that the organization as such has suffered a lot from the happenings of the last days. It will take a long time to restore the credibility of the organization especially because this credibility has not only been affected by what has arisen a few days ago but also by a series of crises that have shaken FIFA at regular intervals over the past few years.
And the morale of the players – has that suffered too?
The morale of the players has not changed because of what happens or does not within FIFA and there is too much money at stake for them and their employers (the ones who pay them).
Is it possible to separate money from the game in an appropriate manner where players and countries are not punished for organizational and personal greed?
This, in my opinion, is almost impossible. Top professional sports and high financial stakes are bound to each other from the moment it becomes clear to the athletes that they can make a lot of money with their abilities.
What are the three things that have to happen in a future FIFA to bring the good game back on track?
First, there is a need to professionalise and to give a sense of responsibility to the persons that are members of the Executive Committee, maybe by putting in place a true structure for example like those that exist in limited companies. Second the status of FIFA has to be amended so that it becomes a company (maybe with some specifics) that obeys rules. The existing rules are not compulsory for the organization because it’s current status as an association. Thirdly, the role of the members has to be redefined by putting in place a kind of parliament with two chambers so that one cannot decide without the agreement of the other.
There are reports, not entirely without substance that countries which host the games for the first time abuse human rights in their rush to build new stadiums - Brazil and Qatar have been cited recently. What is your view on this?
A country being appointed to host the World Cup or any other competition has to respect a very strict list of duties and it is the role of FIFA to ensure that these rules are observed. The organization of a sports event provides for job opportunities, which is positive, but it is compulsory, wherever such competitions take place, that the public authorities ensure that local laws to protect workers are strictly enforced.
Do you think the world wants another Swiss to head the FIFA?
I do not think that the nationality of the President of FIFA is so important. More important are abilities for the job and this job is one of the most difficult that exists on earth.
Read the leaked 2002 report here