26 February 2016

The importance of the FIFA presidential election can only be judged in retrospect. If, and only if, the elected candidate is willing to spearhead significant change within the industry’s culture, we can say that the election mattered at all.


By now we should have learned that the relevance of this election lies not with a single person, and not with FIFA as an institution. Football is a common good, that’s neither owned by a single person nor by any institution. It’s the precious mandate of the people and institutions in charge to protect and develop football so that it can unlock its potential, serve as a continuous source of inspiration and contribute to the development of societies everywhere. Only if strategies are geared towards unleashing the power of football for the good of society can we deem today’s event meaningful. 


In my opinion, ‘for the good of the game’ can’t be separated from the bigger idea: ‘for the good of the world’. These two ideas need to be pursued together, with the same spirit and drive. If the powers continue to ignore this fact, football fans and society as a whole will become increasingly disenchanted and disenfranchised, and the game will be drained of its most fundamental element: people.


Why not set the bar high and pursue football sustainable development goals that serve as a north star for all of us and enable us to go beyond brands, job titles and institutional boundaries in order to deliver on a greater goal? Such development goals would be based on an industry-wide vision and define collective goals to which all stakeholders commit. 


This would move the debates beyond the WHAT and towards the deeper WHY of decisions that are made in football. It would not only force people to think about the meaning of proposals, it would also give guidance for strategic decision making on a daily basis and valid benchmarks against which to measure progress.


Say, next time when we celebrate a UEFA Champions League winner or a FIFA World Champion, the victory would be one thing and their contribution to football (development goals) another. Mid-term, or longer term, this could even become a criteria to qualify for such championships or to approve a license. 


The process that led to the definition of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is encouraging. Many, many stakeholders have contributed to the Declaration. It’s now collectively ‘owned’ and everybody can be held accountable to live up to their pledge. So, it’s possible. And football is in a very privileged position insofar as it already carries the necessary values in the purest idea of the game. It is a globally understood language, it boasts a tremendous communication platform and it has a unique glue that serves as a strong bond: passion.


The reform package that FIFA’s extraordinary Congress approved today contain some good first steps. Small steps, but in the right direction. Those seem to be quite reactive and mainly address the level of FIFA as an institution. Not very surprising, because they do lack the aforementioned north star: the vision that would guide such reforms and would give them substance beyond the usual tweaking and twisting. The expectation here would be to take football to the next level.


Over the past several months, football fans and experts have submitted thousands of ideas to Unleash Football on how to make their game a greater source of social good, posing such questions as: 


Why does it seem so impossible for a woman to become FIFA President? 


Why isn’t there an industry-wide pledge to invest a percentage of revenues back into the ultimate source of all revenue in football: society? 


Why is football for good side lined as a charity issue instead of firmly anchored at the core of football’s DNA?


If in four years we are able to look at an aligned and connected football ecosystem with a common goal in mind, football will have the capacity to help save millions of lives, serve as a credible role model for other industries to follow and contribute meaning to billions of people. Football would have an identity with heart and soul. Then we can look back at this election and say that it mattered. 


To the future FIFA President, we ask you to pledge your commitment and to do everything you can to unleash the power of football, for good. In turn, we, the football for good community, pledge to deliver on our shared vision. Now is the time to define a collective vision for football, together.

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