FIFA announces reforms, risks Olympic conflict

FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures as he addresses a news conference after a meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich on March 30. 2013. — Reuters picFIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures as he addresses a news conference after a meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich on March 30. 2013. — Reuters picZURICH, March 31 — FIFA’s long-awaited reforms quickly came under fire yesterday and soccer’s governing body also risked igniting a new conflict with clubs by forcing them to release players for the Olympic Games.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter proudly announced that his executive had approved proposals to strengthen the ethics committee, which investigates wrong-doing within soccer’s corruption-plagued governing body.

Other reforms suggested by Mark Pieth, a Swiss professor called in to head FIFA’s newly-created independent governance panel, were put on hold for at least a year, sparking criticism from anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

There were a myriad of other announcements from the two-day executive committee meeting, including a warning for Indonesia over its breakaway league and a move to smooth South Sudan’s acceptance as a FIFA member.

FIFA also announced a US$36 million (RM110.16 million) profit for 2011 on revenues of US$1.07 billion and said “cooling breaks” had been approved for matches in hot and humid conditions, considered to be over 31°C.

Blatter hailed “an historic day for FIFA’s reform process” after his unanimous approval for plans to split the ethics committee in investigative and judicial chambers, a move which still needs to be passed by FIFA’s Congress.

He said the newly reformed committee would also be responsible for vetting candidates within FIFA and would be able to instigate investigations of its own initiative.

However, FIFA said it would tackle other issues “later in the roadmap.”

These included the composition of the executive committee, the extra representation given to British associations for historical reasons, the limit of mandates and the controversial bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Pieth’s report has suggested limiting the FIFA president and his executive committee members to two four-year mandates.

“We are disappointed. We had expected a more comprehensive introduction of new procedures,” said Sylvia Schenk, Transparency’s sports advisor for the Berlin-based watchdog.

“Too much is still unclear and key issues, such as investigations into the past allegations of corruption, have not been properly addressed.

“It has already been nearly 10 months since FIFA promised to clean the house.”

Development programmes

Blatter also failed to address several points in Pieth’s report, which was published by FIFA shortly after the end of his media conference.

The report suggested financial controls over member associations and stricter control over the way money is distributed for FIFA’s development programmes.

Elsewhere, FIFA approved a suggestion from the European Clubs Association (ECA) to cut the number of international matches to 18 over a two-year period, abolishing controversial February and August friendly dates in the process.

This would begin in 2015.

FIFA also agreed to set up an insurance scheme, putting aside US$100 million, to compensate clubs whose players were injured on international duty. Both measures need to be approved by Congress.

But any goodwill generated by those measures could be outweighed by the announcement, buried deep in a press released after Blatter had already spoken, that it will be “compulsory” for clubs to release players for the Olympic football tournament.

The tournament, for Under-23 teams, clashes with the European pre-season when clubs take part in lucrative excursions to Asia and North America and is not in the international match calendar.

The only exceptions are the over-age players, up to three per squad, who will continue to be released on a voluntary basis.

Indonesia was given until June 15 to rope in a breakaway league or face an international suspension while South Sudan could be allowed to join this year, instead of 2014, under a proposed alteration to the FIFA statutes. — Reuters



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