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FIFA congress kicks off

31 May 2013, 07:59

Port Louis - The FIFA congress opened Thursday with reduced expectations for reform after one area flagged for change was set to be delayed for at least a year.

With undercurrents of politics back at play, representatives of FIFA's 209 member countries and its high-powered leadership under president Sepp Blatter met for the ceremonial opening of the two-day congress in Port Louis.

Here, FIFA was expected to complete a two-year reform process prompted by one of its lowest periods — the fiercely criticized 2010 votes where Russia and Qatar won rights to stage the World Cup, and Blatter's re-election in 2011 following a scandal-ravaged campaign for his opponent.

"Our congress is our annual opportunity for us, all the members of our great organization, to meet," Blatter said, opening the congress. "To meet? Yes. To vote? Of course. And to take important decisions for the future of FIFA."

But the reform won't be completed when the work starts Friday in the Indian Ocean paradise.

A possible vote of members on new rules to limit the age and terms of senior officials — bringing FIFA into line with the International Olympic Committee — was effectively dropped by FIFA's executive committee Tuesday ahead of the congress. Two other areas of reform, making salaries and bonuses of top earners, including the 77-year-old Blatter, more transparent, and allowing independent observers onto the executive committee, also won't be addressed.

While accepting it needs to change after more than a century in existence, and recent cases of high-powered corruption, FIFA is unwilling to go far enough, critics say.

The independent reformers brought in by FIFA two years ago and led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth have already said the reforms proposed for this week's two-day congress have not met the "highest standards."

FIFA counters it is making progress, preparing a document for reporters this week that show, according to the body, that the majority of reforms have or are being implemented.

The money-spinning and influential governing body has changed in places, strengthening its ethics committee, tightening financial controls and taking the decision on who wins the right to host the hugely profitable World Cup away from the executive committee and leaving it to the 209 member associations to vote on.

Also, FIFA will elect a woman onto its top table, its decision-making executive committee, for the first time.

But the age and term limits being dropped right before the congress have become a renewed reason for skepticism by those outside FIFA, and frustration for some inside.

"It is two years that we speak about (age and term limit reforms)," UEFA President Michel Platini said hours before the congress, making clear his European confederation was not happy. "(FIFA) postponed for one year one decision that we speak about for two years and we will never find a solution."

There were perhaps "politics" at play, said Platini, himself a likely candidate to lead FIFA one day.

Blatter, who also briefly attended Thursday's UEFA meeting, had said this would be his last term when he was re-elected to the presidency in 2011, when criticism of FIFA reached a crescendo over corruption allegations relating to the presidential vote and the victories of Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively.

But the Swiss football leader has hinted that he again may seek re-election for another four-year term through 2019, when he will be 83.

"Perhaps there is some politics inside FIFA," Platini said, "but if they don't want (the reforms), then they are not to say that it is Europe who stop the reform. That is my point to you. Because we followed (the reforms) from the beginning. The rest is politics."

Platini also didn't think there would be progress on age and term limits in 2014.

"No. No. Because it concerns Blatter. It concerns me. It concerns the age. It concerns people of 83 years (old)," Platini said. "It concerns the people who are judge and jury."

Also on FIFA's agenda for Friday — when the work begins — is a proposal submitted by the Australian federation to make it easier for young players to qualify to play international football for an adopted country. The change would allow players to qualify for the new country if they have lived there for at least five years from any age. The previous regulation said the player had to live in the new country for five years after reaching the age of 18.

The Palestine Football Association also has asked to address the congress on the problems facing football in its country. Blatter promised Palestinian football officials at Wednesday's Asian Football Confederation meeting that FIFA "will help you."

"It's the will to do it," Blatter said. "And where there is a will, there is a way."

- AP


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