Sports

Survivor Blatter seeks safe haven in Mauritius

PORT LOUIS, May 27 – The clear blue Indian ocean waters and white sandy beaches of Mauritius could turn out to be the safe haven FIFA president Sepp Blatter began searching for when he launched his wide-ranging reform process two years ago.

Delegates from FIFA’s 209 member nations will this week converge on the tropical island for one of the most important FIFA Congresses for years.

On the agenda are 10 main points which, added to those approved last year in Budapest, are designed to increase the integrity and transparency of the federation which will chart the direction the world’s most popular sport takes in the future.

When the reform process was launched two years ago, FIFA was in turmoil.

“These are not good times for FIFA. We are in stormy seas and my job is to guide the FIFA ship back to a safe haven,” Blatter said at the time.

Over the next few days, in one of the world’s most alluring tourist destinations, a very different atmosphere is expected to prevail.

If Blatter succeeds in persuading Congress to vote his way, it will strengthen his hand and could tempt him to seek a fifth term of office in 2015, despite his earlier promise that the current mandate would be his last.

If the process is stalled, however, and Congress goes against him, the 77-year-old Swiss will effectively become a lame-duck president for the last two years of his reign, or even worse.

The flightless Dodo, whose only natural home was Mauritius, could not adapt to the changes brought by the first colonists to the island in the 16th century and was extinct within 80 years.

Unlike the Dodo, though, Blatter is a born survivor and holding a Congress in such an idyllic setting could be seen as a typical masterstroke from the old campaigner.

But as ever with FIFA, nothing is truly idyllic for long and there has been criticism of the way the reform ideas have been handled.

WATERED DOWN

Alexandra Wrage resigned last month from the independent committee set up by FIFA to handle the reform process, saying that many of their recommendations had been watered down and that the Congress vote would be little more than window dressing.

In an interview with FIFA’s own TV platform (www.fifa.com) on Monday, Blatter said FIFA had followed “the majority” of the 10-point plan by the committee, headed by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth.

“We have a democratic process in place, we follow it,” Blatter said.

“I made a lot of effort to take this reform process as far as I could, but it is now up to the FIFA Congress to decide on these measures.”

“I believe... we have achieved a lot already and the system in place works well. I think it’d be unfair to say we are not doing well.”

A leading source from European soccer’s governing body UEFA said last week: “Going to Mauritius may be seen as a metaphor for what FIFA stands for.

“It is beautiful, romantic and the perfect place for a honeymoon or a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, all things FIFA and soccer can symbolise.

“But Mauritius did not even compete for a place in the World Cup next year because its FA could not afford to play a qualifier against Liberia, has only entered the World Cup six times and did not enter a team in this year’s African Nations Cup either.”

Among the key ideas on the agenda are introduction of age limits, limited terms of office and integrity checks for executive committee members and other senior officials.

The inclusion of two more women on the executive committee, taking the total to three, is also proposed along with changes to the composition of the rule-making International Football Association Board (IFAB).

UEFA, which held its Congress last week, is opposed to some of the reforms and the role that it plays in this week’s power-broking could have a big influence on the outcome of the next FIFA presidential election.

UEFA president Michel Platini, tipped by many as the next FIFA chief, has played his cards very close to his chest, but he might begin to show his hand. – Reuters