NEW YORK. — Anywhere one looks around the world, the football industry is struggling with the financial effects of the coronavirus.
Leagues are counting their losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Stadia remain empty.
Staff members are being furloughed and players, even those at the richest clubs, have agreed to millions of dollars in pay cuts or salary deferrals.
But there is one group that has proved bulletproof from the costs of the pandemic — FIFA’s top executives.
The men and women who sit on FIFA’s 37-member governing council continue to collect six-figure salaries that, for some, will amount to US$250 000 this year.
That requires their attendance at, as few as, three meetings.
The most senior officials, who have added responsibilities, will earn even more.
And, merely showing up has been easier this year.
With most international travel restricted or ill-advised, Council members need only an internet connection and a comfortable chair to take part.
Asked, about the lack of belt-tightening among their leaders, a spokesman for FIFA said the organisation had achieved significant cost savings through the reduction of travel and the hosting of virtual meetings, rendering a re-evaluation of compensation unnecessary.
“No additional major cost cuts were needed to secure FIFA’s continuous support to the global football community throughout the pandemic,” the spokesman said.
For top executives, FIFA work is often only one of several hefty paydays.
Several officials on the Council also sit on the executive boards of their regional governing bodies, positions that offer their own significant financial benefits.
Executive committee members at UEFA, for example, receive salaries of US$194,000 a year, the vice presidents are paid just over US$300,000.
Only UEFA instituted cuts to executive pay this year, a reduction of 20 percent for the three months, while its competitions were suspended.
Still, at a time when the football industry is expected to contract by billions of dollars, and when leagues and teams face challenges that threaten their futures, FIFA’s decision to continue paying their executives six-figure net salaries has been brought into even starker focus.
Only last week, Barcelona announced its players had agreed to pay cuts that would save the club almost US$150 million.
“We’ve seen a lot of calls for solidarity and that we are in the same boat — this definitely contradicts that narrative,” said Ronan Evain, executive director for Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella body for fan groups.
Fans across Europe, he said, have been asked to bear some of the pain affecting their teams by, in some cases, writing off some of the value of season tickets for games that they have not been able to attend.
“There’s definitely a contradiction being asked of fans, and not everyone is contributing the same,” Evain said.
Yesterday, the FIFA Council held the last of their three scheduled meetings of the year.
Like the others, it took place via videoconference.
During the pandemic, the calls have been shorter than ever, according to attendees.
Most members never speak, some, in fact, have not said a word in years, long-time members say.
And, even before they meet, most of the important decisions have already been made by the bureau of the FIFA Council, a smaller group consisting of the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, and the presidents of the six regional confederations.
Africa is not now represented on that body because their current president was barred from football last month.
At yesterday’s virtual gathering, for example, the council members were asked to ratify several proposals — approved by senior leaders last month — that will provide new protections and benefits for female players, including a minimum 14 weeks.
As sports governance posts go, a FIFA Council seat is one of the most coveted sinecures in global sport.
In most years, members are flown to exotic locations and housed in the finest hotels, and at meetings they often follow the lead of their regional presidents on votes.
Now grounded, their only financial sacrifice appears to be the inability to claim the per diems available on every foreign trip.
Beyond the pay, though, the lifestyle enjoyed by FIFA Council members extends to privileged access and status that money can’t buy, including access to the best seats and the biggest matches.
Miguel Maduro, the former FIFA governance chief, said the pay and perks were parts of a system that rewards loyalty and ensures power is concentrated in a small group of top leaders.
“The narrative is one of representation from bottom up, a body where you have elected representatives that will in theory discuss and deliberate on the crucial issues of football,” Maduro said this week.
“Instead, as we know, it doesn’t happen like that.”
Asked what could be done to reform a council to which some members contribute little, one long-time football official said a first step would be to reduce the number of board seats.
A better option, the official suggested, would be to “have everyone leave the building and leave the few capable ones inside and not let the others back in.” — New York Times.