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The business of football
The business of football

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2.1 The dimensions of power

A photograph of João Havelange.
Figure 6 Former FIFA President, Dr João Havelange

Now read the BBC article, FIFA election: Sepp Blatter and Prince Ali battle for power [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (2015).

While the reputation of both has been damaged by allegations of accepting bribes it is clear that they exerted a huge influence over FIFA.

To understand the power that each wielded it is necessary to look at the different ways in which power operates within organisations. Read the extract below about power. As you read consider the ways in which both Havelange and Blatter exerted their power

Power: a feature of organisational life

Power is an integral feature of organisational life. We can distinguish between two main types of power. One type relates to authority, or formally legitimated power, and comes from people’s formal job role – thus managers have authority in relation to their staff. The other type of power is influence – informal power that can affect decisions and outcomes and this is based on people’s personal expertise and characteristics.

The following main sources of organisational power can be identified (Pedler et al., 2007):

  • Positional: based on authority, linked to people’s official status and role within the organisation
  • Resources and rewards: control of finance, budgets, staff salaries, pay rises and other incentives
  • Information, knowledge and expertise: access to information and ideas, including professional expertise and skills
  • Personal influence: based on prior track record and experience, exercised through interpersonal skills, persuasiveness and the capacity to inspire confidence; staff without positional power may have considerable influence and weight as opinion leaders in organisational decisions and actions
  • Networks: access to ideas and information from formal and informal groups and networks inside and outside the organisation; the views of people who know what is happening or what is likely to happen from these sources are frequently given weight in decision making.
  • Energy and stamina: enthusiasm, adaptability and persistence are important aspects of the power to pursue decisions and actions through to a conclusion.

Clearly, senior managers and others in higher-level positions possess considerable degrees of authority and influence and, thus, the ability to play a major part in organisational decisions and actions. However, as indicated by the list above, all staff have some power, even junior members (e.g. the ability to provide or withhold information), based on their access to knowledge, expertise and personal influence.

(The Open University, 2009, pp. 229–230)

Activity 4 Power can work in mysterious ways

Timing: Allow about 40 minutes

Note down the different sources of power that Havelange and Blatter used to move their agendas forward. Give examples of how they each used at least two different sources of power.

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Here are some thoughts:

Positional: Both had the authority of being the FIFA president and used that to make the changes that they wanted. Writing for the New York Times in 1994, Jere Longman noted that Havelange ‘ran FIFA … with a combination of autocratic rigidity and progressive reform’. Sepp Blatter was dogged by allegations of corruption throughout his tenure and arguably this reduced his positional power, particularly within Europe. Blatter maintained his positional power by extensive lobbying in developing countries, where the balance of FIFA’s voting power lay.

Resources and rewards: Havelange had major plans for FIFA and insufficient funds to make these happen. It was him that bought in key sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Addidas to underwrite these. Blatter reinforced his influence in developing countries by allocating resources to support football development, however distributing resources if not done transparently can lead to allegations of corruption, as we have seen with Blatter.

Networks: Both were strong at building networks and were aware of the power of football icons. Both also focused on the developing countries, recognising their relative voting power in FIFA presidency. In the build up to the 1974 FIFA presidential election (which he won), Havelange visited 86 different countries to build up support and in a canny move, often took Pele with him.

Energy and stamina: Havelange was 82 when he finally stood down from the FIFA presidency in 1998, having served in the post for 24 years. Blatter survived in the presidential role for 17 years, despite many calls for him to step down.

The final legacy of the 40 year reign of Havelange and Blatter may not be known for many years, but Stefan Szymanski reflected in 2015 on his hopes for FIFA moving forwards.

The core of the problem is that, especially in Africa, FIFA was seen as neo-colonial project run by Europeans who still wanted to play football with apartheid South Africa in the 1970s. The election of first Joao Havelange and then Blatter created a new dispensation which promoted the development of football in Asia, Central America and especially Africa. This not only channeled funds into development, but also promoted their participation in the World Cup and, arguably, has had a real effect on the standing of these nations in football. In a nutshell, football has advanced far more rapidly in Africa under FIFA than the continent’s economies have under the western dominated IMF and World Bank.

My conclusion … is that practical reform must preserve the mission developed by Havelange and Blatter to promote football in the service of the developing nations, while minimizing opportunities for senior football administrators … to line their own pockets.

In the next section you will explore one more example of power in global football, one that proved highly contentious.