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Blatter aims to complete FIFA reform

FIFA president Joseph Blatter
FIFA president Sepp Blatter says he is aiming for the 'highest' reform standards.
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GENEVA (AP)

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Despite recent skepticism from his own anti-corruption advisers, Sepp Blatter said FIFA can be a model of good sports leadership.

On Monday, FIFA published the business agenda for next month's congress, where the football body hopes to finalize modernizing changes promised by Blatter two years ago following damaging allegations of bribery and vote-buying.

''I look forward to further important decisions being passed at the Congress in 2013 to complete the reform process,'' the FIFA president wrote about the May 31 meeting in Mauritius, pledging it would ''bring FIFA up to the highest standards of good governance, as befits an organization such as ours, which plays such a fundamental role in society.''

FIFA will be monitored in Mauritius - and beyond - by an independent advisory panel which lost a key member last week. Alexandra Wrage, a Canadian anti-bribery compliance expert, left after citing frustrations that best-practice proposals were ''neutered'' or ignored by FIFA.

Football matters will compete for attention with political issues. Australian football officials want to relax residency rules which restrict when youngsters are eligible to change national team allegiance. A similar proposal was rejected at the turbulent 2011 Congress - where Blatter was re-elected unopposed - as a potential route for richer countries to import overseas players with fast-track citizenship.

Still, Blatter's reform mission will dominate the congress, a midway milestone of the 77-year-old Swiss official's fourth presidential term.

FIFA member countries will debate and vote on introducing age and term limits for all candidates for FIFA positions. The worst outcome for Blatter would be approval for a previous UEFA proposal to set an upper age limit of 72 on future FIFA candidates.

Blatter and his executive committee couldn't agree last month on specifics to present to the congress meeting.

Most other modernizing changes appear in a 10-point document that was agreed to by FIFA's board, though fell short of requests made by the advisory panel chaired by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth.

Pieth's panel has repeatedly been rebuffed by FIFA in requests for independent observers to get access to board meetings, greater financial transparency regarding salaries and commercial tenders, and authorization for an independent group to perform integrity checks on senior football officials.

''I have tried to convince association heads in Europe that our reform perspective is 15 years, not two or three years,'' Pieth told The Associated Press in a recent interview

Pieth insisted the outlook is ''not all that bleak,'' and his group will oversee FIFA beyond its original mandate, which ends in Mauritius.

''It is much more important to monitor the implementation,'' he said.

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One progressive step at the congress could see FIFA create three board seats for women. Current co-opted member Lydia Nsekera of Burundi - an original member of Pieth's team - is among four candidates for an elected position.

FIFA plans to co-opt two more, likely to be the second- and third-place election finishers. The other candidates are: Moya Dodd of Australia, Paula Kearns of New Zealand and Sonia Bien-Aime of Turks and Caicos Islands.

On the field, Australia proposes abolishing the lower limit of 18 years to begin qualifying foreign-born players who live five years continuously in an adopted country.

''(The rule has) unintended and unfortunate consequences for young players who changed nationality for genuine reasons, such as economic and political migration,'' the agenda item states.

In 2011, the United Arab Emirates lost a 153-42 vote at the congress trying to reduce the five-year period to three.
 

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