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FIFA votes on reforms to protect victim status in US probe

24 February 2016, 17:33

Zurich — Electing a new president to replace Sepp Batter might be the second most important vote FIFA takes on Friday.

Hours earlier, leaders of 209 member federations can approve reforms designed to end a culture of corruption in world soccer that has been laid bare by American and Swiss federal prosecutors.

FIFA legal advisers also badly want a "yes" vote to help save its status as a victim of corruption in the eyes of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Voting in favor will strip power from the new president and tainted executive committee, and control top officials by imposing term limits and stricter integrity checks.

More independent experts would oversee how FIFA earns and spends $5 billion-plus from each four-yearly World Cup — income flow that dried up as new sponsors stay away to see what kind of post-election partner they would join.

"It is abundantly clear that football fans and FIFA's commercial partners will no longer accept anything short of full transparency in how football is governed," warned FIFA's in-house panel, including presidential candidate Gianni Infantino, which drafted the reform slate.

The stunning American case has already indicted 41 people and marketing agencies since May, alleging bribery conspiracies worth $200 million so far.

"There is a lot to fix about the way football works," FIFA executive committee member Moya Dodd, a former Australia international, acknowledged this week.

Dodd has been key to getting a greater role for women in a new-look FIFA, which is poised to commit "to respecting all internationally recognized human rights."

Also read: Sepp Blatter’s book about life at FIFA published this month

Out of FIFA's reputational weakness and leadership vacuum — with Blatter and top administrator Jerome Valcke banned from office for unethical behavior — has come a progressive agenda that was unthinkable in years past.

Just as unlikely is that Issa Hayatou, FIFA's interim president, will preach the need for change from the stage on Friday.

Hayatou has led African soccer for 28 years with two recent election rule changes in his favor, and was reprimanded by the IOC in 2011 over a cash payment from FIFA's disgraced former World Cup marketing agency.

The Cameroon official's response to wrongdoing allegations at a December news conference in Zurich seemed at odds with FIFA's new pledge of "responsibility, humility, tone at the top, respect and candor."

Still, Hayatou urged the 209 members this week to seize their chance and give the 75 percent vote needed to update FIFA statutes.

Hayatou also warned of "difficult work ahead," with all confederations and members set a 2018 target by FIFA to adopt key legal reforms. They include ending conflicts of interest in commercial decisions, and guaranteeing independence in financial audits and judicial bodies.

That has seemed the toughest sell to voters, who often ignored criticism of FIFA and Blatter by returning him to power.

"I didn't get any sense of people opposing it (the reform package)," said Dodd, of the 47-member Asian soccer body's meeting last week in Kuala Lumpur.

FIFA is weighing a scale of sanctions for missing the 2018 target, which could start with blocking funds from Zurich.

Regardless, change must start at the top, and FIFA could look very different in 60 days from Friday when new legal rules would take effect.

The toxic "executive committee" name would go, replaced by a FIFA Council growing to 37 members over the next cycle of continental elections. Six seats are reserved for women, who never sat on the so-called ExCo until 2012 when FIFA was 108 years old.

Whoever is elected president on Friday will stay in office for no more than 12 years, less than the 17-plus years of Blatter, and 24 under his disgraced predecessor, Joao Havelange of Brazil.

Even if the new president is a prince or a sheikh, he should never again have the same power in FIFA's empire.

For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page.

- AP

Tags fifa football

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