FIFA takes aim at powerful committee in battle to restore credibility

FIFA takes aim at powerful committee in battle to restore credibility
FIFA President Sepp Blatter

ZURICH - Deep in the bowels of FIFA's Zurich headquarters, three floors underground in a room lined with black granite walls and beyond the reach of mobile phones, lies the powerful core of international football.

Here, the 24-member executive committee of football's governing body meets to plot the biggest decisions in a sport that has been rocked over the past week by sweeping US corruption charges, arrests of top officials and now the shock announced departure of FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Blatter's announcement of his resignation on Tuesday immediately led to speculation over who will stand to replace him, but without significant reform to the executive committee it may not make much difference who steps into his shoes.

Although the 79-year-old has taken much of the blame for the scandals that have buffeted FIFA under his leadership, both he and outside observers have pointed out that he is in some ways at the mercy of a committee that he does not choose.

The committee is made up of six continental confederations such as Europe's UEFA and Africa's CAF which, paradoxically, are not themselves members of FIFA. They grew up to organise international competitions in their respective continents but have now mushroomed to become a potent force in themselves.

Announcing his decision to step down, Blatter made clear he blamed the secretive committee for his federation's problems. "The executive committee includes representatives of confederations over whom we have no control, but for whose actions FIFA is held responsible," he said.

Blatter does have a seat on the committee, but with only one vote could not control its decisions.

Nobody knows how much the executive committee members are paid, some of them have held their position for 25 years and others make a point of not talking to the media.

It was the executive committee that made the hugely controversial choice of Russia and Qatar as hosts of the 2018 and 2022 respectively, a decision which led to accusations of bribery and an investigation by FIFA's own ethics committee.

UEFA President Michel Platini, one of Blatter's chief critics and a possible contender to replace him, has admitted he was among those who voted for the Gulf state with almost no football tradition and which is now under fire for its treatment of migrant workers in the construction industry.

In the last five years, nine members of the executive committee have either been banned for corruption or resigned after being put under investigation.

They included Jeffrey Webb, president of North American, Central American and Caribbean confederation CONCACAF, who was among the seven people arrested in a dawn raid last week on the luxury lakeside Zurich hotel where FIFA regularly pampers its visitors.

PROUD BOAST FIFA proudly boasts that it has 209 member associations - more than the United Nations - who have the power to choose the president. They do not, however, choose the executive committee members.

After the controversy over the 2018/2022 World Cup host decisions, the 2026 tournament will be decided by the full Congress of associations, but the shortlist will still be drawn up by the executive committee.

The committee also decides on the hosting of other FIFA tournaments and has the power to suspend national associations.

Domenico Scala, head of FIFA's audit and compliance committee, said on Tuesday he planned to make the executive committee a central target of reforms planned in the wake of Blatter's announcement.

Scala said there should be a term limit for the president and executive committee members and that their wages should be published. The structure of the committee and its members are "at the core of the current issues that FIFA is facing," he said. "Nothing will be off the table, including the structure and composition of the executive committee and the way in which members...are elected," said Scala.

Scala pointed out that the confederations had blocked one of the key reforms proposed following Blatter's re-election in 2011 - independent integrity checks on potential executive committee members. "Confederations' actions must be consistent with their speech," he added, in an apparent reference to UEFA, which has become FIFA's sternest critic among the confederations.

The confederations are not expected to relinquish their power lightly. Scala would have to propose reforms to the FIFA Congress, which would then vote on them.

Blatter will stay in power until his successor in chosen, possibly as late as next March, and believes he can use his last months in the job to instigate real reform. "I have fought for these changes before and, as everyone knows, my efforts have been blocked. This time, I will succeed," he said on Tuesday.

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