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LONDON  – Soccer’s international administrators, like players on the field, are collecting salaries that outstrip most of their peers in other sports, and no less so than at FIFA, annual accounts from governing bodies show.

Average pay and pension contributions for staff at Zurich-based FIFA, the global soccer federation which is caught up in a corruption scandal, was $242,000 per employee last year.

That puts staff at FIFA – which benchmarks itself against far bigger private sector companies – among the best paid in Switzerland and within striking distance of one of the country’s private banks.

Down the road in Geneva, pay averaged $177,000 in 2014 at UEFA, the European soccer federation. Cycling’s governing body, the UCI which is also based in Switzerland, paid employees around $108,000 per head in wages, pensions and social security in 2013, the most recent year for which figures were available.

Payroll costs for staff at the London-based International Tennis Federation were almost $100,000 per head in 2013, around the same level as at the Dubai-based International Cricket Council.
Only the International Olympic Committee (IOC) comes close to FIFA, where President Sepp Blatter announced this week he would resign after U.S. authorities charged several current and former officials for bribery and corruption.

FIFA, which organises the World Cup tournament, says pay levels for top staff are transparent and fairly set in line with big international companies. However, they comfortably exceed those at many big Swiss companies – the average staff cost for a dozen of the largest Swiss groups which publish pay data was $120,000, according to Reuters calculations.

“That is an astounding statistic,” said Professor Leigh Robinson from the School of Sport at Scotland’s University of Stirling. “The difference between FIFA and those other companies is outrageous. It’s dreadful,” she added, saying that as a not-for profit organisation, FIFA should not benchmark itself against private sector companies.

TOP PAY FOR TOP MANAGEMENT
The only sporting body which appears as generous as FIFA is the IOC, based in the Swiss city of Lausanne. In 2012, the last year for which the IOC published accounts, its average employee cost was $217,000, just behind the $221,000 paid at FIFA that year. FIFA breaks out payments to “Key management personnel”, which includes 25 members of FIFA’s Executive committee and 12 directors of the organisation. This group received $42 million in salary and pension contributions in 2014, although there is no disclosure on what any key manager including Blatter was paid.

According to its annual report, FIFA compares itself with two groups when setting pay. It looks at “the most important companies in the areas of communications, advertising, media and consumer goods” and firms with “a similar turnover”. In FIFA’s case, that has been an annual $1.3 billion over the past four years.

However, academics said the comparison with such private sector companies was misleading. For a start, FIFA has fewer than 500 staff, while the companies it compares itself with on pay may employ tens of thousands.

While most big companies sell products and services that they themselves provide, FIFA makes money by selling TV rights to and sponsorship around matches that non-employees play.

“FIFA doesn’t actually produce anything,” said Professor Simon Shibli, Professor of Sport Management at Sheffield Hallam University in northern England. “They are a legalised monopoly and much of the revenue that they generate is not actually down to the efforts and talents of the people who work for the organisation.”

The FIFA spokesman denied his organisation simply benefited from the efforts of others. “FIFA works tirelessly and invest heavily,” he said.

Robinson said money from the World Cup freed FIFA from the need to justify its expenses to member national federations, although she said the body was not unique in this respect. “Justification to members is something that’s really absent from most of our big sporting organisations at the moment,” she said.

Shibli said things would be different if the benefits of TV rights and sponsorship flowed straight to the teams, and FIFA had to ask its members to fund the work it did. “If they had to survive on a subscription model, they would be a leaner meaner, more efficient machine,” he said.