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‘FIFA is a power unto itself’ that seems answerable to no one, says former anti-corruption adviser

November 24th, 2014
06:05 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

Scandal-hit FIFA acts as “a power unto itself” and as if it is accountable to no one, a former anti-corruption adviser to the organization told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

The governing body of world football has found itself embroiled in controversy amid charges of corruption and bribery in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar.

“It certainly appears to the public that FIFA is a power unto itself and that it proceeds without any real regard to the reputational damage that it's suffering. And it seems answerable, really, to no one. It doesn’t seem to respond to an extraordinary, enormously negative response from the fans.

"Very, very slow start from sponsors and the Swiss government doesn’t seem to be exercising much oversight. So really, a power unto themselves,” Alexandra Wrage said.

Wrage was a member of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee (IGC), which was organized to make recommendations to improve FIFA’s governance. She resigned in April last year in protest against what she described as FIFA's resistance to reform.

Significant change under President Sepp Blatter, who has headed FIFA since 1998, seems unlikely, Wrage said.

“I don't think FIFA is really going to turn its reputation around and really restore public confidence while he's at the helm.  He's been there a very long time and lived through a large number of scandals without anything really changing.”

“And I don't mean to imply that he's been personally tainted by any of the bribery allegations or anything, but at the same time, it was on his watch and he's lost a large number of his executive committee members to allegations of corruption, either they've been forced out or they've had to resign. When you're running a ship like that, I think it's time to rethink the management.”

While also unlikely, Wrage added, the much needed pressure through sponsors of football’s biggest sporting event could prove more efficient than a boycott of the Qatar and Russia World Cups, which some have been calling for.

On Sunday, Coca-Cola became the first major sponsor of the tournament to publicly criticize FIFA’s handling of the allegations and the corruption investigation.

“The only surprise, really, in the Coca-Cola announcement was how long it took for one of the sponsors to really stand up. The parade of scandals that we have seen coming out of FIFA and the World Cup bids has been pretty extraordinary. And it was time to hear from the sponsors.”

“I do think pressure through sponsors to rerun the vote would be a huge step forward and would do a great deal to restore public confidence in what's happened so far. I'm not really confident that we're going to see that.  But I do think that's the only way that FIFA is going to be able to clear its reputation on this issue.”

Wrage is also the founder and president of Trace, a non-profit international anti-bribery organization.

She told Amanpour that the conditions in Qatar aren’t right to host the event and that “evidence of that is they're talking about having to move it to the winter, because of the terrible heat.” Temperatures in the summer frequently rise over 40 degrees Celsius.

“How did we end up with a World Cup bid in a country that is just incredibly hot, not safe for players to play, has terrible human rights issues, has no indigenous fan base and yet everybody is arguing - everybody at FIFA is arguing that this was a legitimate vote and you know, who would vote for that package? And why, frankly?”

Sexism at FIFA is ‘breathtaking’

Sexism in football remains an issue and FIFA is not an exception. Blatter said in 2004 that women footballers "could have tighter shorts,” and FIFA is now being accused of not considering female candidates for the lead investigative role that looked into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Wrage recalled the moment she heard the committee was not going to consider female candidates.

“We were actually - that statement was made to us, that we should stop putting forward female candidates for that position. And it wasn't said in the secrecy of the conference room. It was said in the dining hall at the Budapest Congress.”

“It was said in such a way that indicated they feel complete impunity around this issue, that they could say to me, among others, the only woman, on the IGC that female candidates would not be acceptable, really does demonstrate a level of sexism at FIFA that in this day and age is pretty breathtaking.”

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