Even the slickest, best choreographed media events – and I have attended few slicker than this week’s descent on Wembley by FIFA Presidential candidate Gianni Infantino and his footballing legends – have revealing moments.
On Monday, one such shaft of insight came early in proceedings, as the candidate enumerated a list of things he would do, if elected, in his first 90 days in the hot-seat.
Item two was to appoint a new FIFA secretary general, and the 45-year-old Swiss national from the town of Brig, just up the road from Sepp Blatter’s home-town of Visp, offered the following commentary.
“It’s important to have a strong person leading the administration of FIFA.
“I speak out of experience of course. [Infantino has been general secretary of UEFA, the European football body, since 2009.]
“It is important that we appoint rapidly a general secretary.
“And what I want to do is open the doors of FIFA, to the FIFA administration, not only of the FIFA Council/Executive Committee, but all of the FIFA administration.
“So I am convinced that the general secretary of FIFA should not be European.
“Why not an African?
“Africa is an important continent with 54 members, a lot of passion for football, many capable people.”
To me this came as a signal that while we should certainly expect better defences against corruption by football officials in future, we are making absolutely no progress in correcting fundamental shortcomings in the way that key decisions are taken – and not taken – by the FIFA top brass.
In a properly-governed institution, in whatever field, one would expect leading figures to express the hope or assurance that a job vacancy as important as general secretary would simply go to the best candidate.
Yet under an Infantino Presidency, apparently, prospective European candidates, however well qualified, need simply not bother to apply.
I am not entirely stupid: Infantino is campaigning; the African Football Confederation (CAF) is the largest of world football’s six regional Confederations.
If it has 54 members; that means it has potentially considerable influence over 54 votes in the FIFA Presidential election, more than a quarter of the total, more than half of the number needed to win one of the most prestigious posts in world sport.
My point is this: FIFA’s capacity to reach and execute important decisions with the rigour and judgement appropriate to the governing body of the world’s biggest sport is continually undermined by the power that Confederation Presidents, with regional interests to defend, can acquire for themselves if they have the personal authority to make bloc-votes among their Confederation members stick.
A powerful Confederation President can, if he (and it is always he) so chooses, exert considerable ‘ballot-box’ pressure both upwards, to influence the decisions of FIFA’s Executive Committee (ExCo), and downwards, to sway votes taken in Congress.
Bear in mind that nearly all ExCo members are elected not by the FIFA Congress, but by their respective Confederations.
Is it any wonder if they prioritise regional interests in their decision-making?
Worse than this, worse even than the potential for two or three regional bosses to control the outcome of FIFA Presidential elections, is the veto power within the reach of leaders of the biggest Confederations.
The FIFA statutes require certain decisions – including confirmation of suspension or expulsion of a member, and statute amendments - to be taken by a three-quarters majority.
The world governing body currently has 209 members, which means that 53 votes cast against a motion where a three-quarters majority is needed will stop it passing.
This means, in turn, that the two biggest Confederations – CAF and UEFA – each have the power to block FIFA statute amendments even if every national association in every other continent is in favour.
Ah, but you say, reform is imminent, the well-publicised shortcomings in global sports governance have forced even FIFA to act, the unloved FIFA ExCo is not long for this world.
True enough – and some welcome changes are in the offing.
The trouble is, the Confederations are using the reform process to entrench the unhealthy level of power over FIFA that they already possess.
After all, 12 of the 13 members of the 2016 FIFA Reform Committee were appointed by the Confederations.
Even the chairman, François Carrard, was appointed “following consultation” with them.
Members of the committee included both Infantino himself and Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, the Kuwaiti power-broker whose backing helped to propel Infantino’s main rival for the FIFA Presidency, Bahrain’s Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, to the head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Yes, the FIFA ExCo is set to be put out of its misery and, yes, candidates for the new Council will be subject to integrity tests conducted by a FIFA body.
But they will still be elected by, and therefore beholden to, the Congresses of their respective Confederations.
What is more, the one ExCo member other than the FIFA President who was elected by the FIFA Congress, the “female member”, will no longer be so.
Instead, each Confederation “must ensure that they elect not fewer than one female member to the Council”, hence masking a further modest increment in the Confederations’ powers within FIFA with a guaranteed – and of course welcome - increase in women’s representation at the top table.
The patchwork of regional pressure groups that I fear will continue to control FIFA’s destiny long after this month’s election, whoever wins it, might have been adequate for 1975, the year the aforementioned Blatter rolled into FIFA.
A development document drafted by the future FIFA President that year notes that the project in question “calls for considerable financial means, which FIFA alone with its fairly moderate income could not assume”; the project is budgeted at $1.24 million (£853,000/€1.1 million), with an 'm'.
Sport today is a vast global entertainment and leisure industry turning over tens of billions of dollars each year – and football is its largest, most genuinely globalised, single component.
It is no longer desirable, if it ever was, for one set of stakeholders to exert such control over what is supposed to be the governing body of the world’s most influential and significant sport.
The way ahead – though lord knows there seems no immediate chance of this happening – is to populate the new Council with representatives of a much wider range of football stakeholders: players, fans, broadcasters, educators, match officials, doctors, yes, also clubs and sponsors.
Get the balance right in such a body and you have a sporting chance of creating a forum capable of making sound, well-reasoned decisions for the global good of the game.
I would also include a small number of independent figures who love football but have made their name in other fields to add perspective, acting a bit like non-executive directors of a company on one-term-only contracts.
Evo Morales is the sort of individual who might fit the bill for this role, once he has retired as President of Bolivia; Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister whose introduction to market forces came selling programmes outside Raith Rovers’ ground in Kirkcaldy, might be another.
The amount of money attracted to football makes it a priority in terms of getting its governance right.
But so glaring and widespread are the shortcomings emerging over recent months that there must be an argument for more proactive, and independent, monitoring of governance structures across a much wider range of sports.
I would suggest assembling a global panel of experts – a bit like the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)’s list of arbitrators – a selection of whom would be charged automatically with preparing a concise corporate governance report, with recommendations, whenever an International Sport Federation (IF) exceeds given annual turnover thresholds.
A governance regime adequate for a sports body with annual revenue of $2 million (£1.3 million/€1.8 million) is not necessarily optimal for one with income of $20 million (£13.8 million/€18 million), or $50 million (£34 million/€45 million); rules drawn up in 2005 may no longer be fit for purpose in 2016.
An opportunity to make rapid progress in this area exists while the pressure exerted as a consequence of the crises at FIFA and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is on.
It is just a great pity that FIFA has not been able to use the situation to loosen the Confederations’ grip on its prime levers of power.