Pieth urges FIFA to seize opportunity for change


BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) - World soccer nations shouldn't waste "a brilliant opportunity" to clean up the governing body after years of turmoil, FIFA's top anti-corruption adviser warned Friday.

Mark Pieth urged FIFA to help prevent financial abuses and other wrongdoings by creating a whistleblowers' hotline that would allow fans and players to report corruption suspicions and breaches of conflict of interest rules. It also should conduct integrity checks on senior officials and make their salaries public as part of reform efforts led by FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

"Do something really courageous and generations of footballers, fans and stakeholders will remember you for it," Pieth told delegates from 208 member countries at the FIFA Congress.

The governing body approved a limited slate of changes during the meeting, but has delayed most proposals overseen by Pieth's 13-member expert panel until next year.

"Please abstain from cherry-picking out of this menu," Pieth warned. "I'm not saying you have to do everything, but these things are linked."

Blatter said Friday's deliberations will restore "tranquility and stability" to the organization after bribery scandals and allegations of mismanagement against senior officials.

"Even if professor Pieth will say we shall not cherry-pick, we cannot take the whole tree," Blatter said, hailing delegates for overwhelming support to the first reform package.

Blatter set FIFA on the reform path a year ago, after acknowledging that the game's governing authority was in turmoil. He promised "radical decisions."

Since then, three veteran FIFA officials have either been banned from world football or left the board to avoid being investigated on corruption allegations.

FIFA sealed some major modernizing moves over the past days. It approved a two-chamber ethics court to cope with the number of allegations and revamped the audit panel to monitor FIFA's billion-dollar annual spending.

It also confirmed Burundi soccer president Lydia Nsekera as the first woman to join 24 men on FIFA's ruling board.

However, "fundamental issues" remain unresolved ahead of the 2013 Congress in Mauritius, Pieth said.

Pieth called on FIFA members to approve vetting for the body's top officials, which would be conducted by the ethics body. Proposals agreed on Friday do not call for members of Blatter's inner circle to be checked for their fitness for office.

"It's not rocket science, it's standard discipline," Pieth said, and urged independent professionals be included in the ruling board.

Nsekera is scheduled to attend her first meeting on June 29 in Zurich, where FIFA's high command is scheduled to select independent leaders for the ethics court from outside Blatter's so-called "football family."

The chosen officials will have authority to order fresh probes of old allegations, including decisions to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Other women could follow Nsekera to high office in FIFA, a member of Pieth's team told The Associated Press.

"There are several highly qualified women on the list of nominees that (we) provided to FIFA for the independent committee heads," said Alexandra Wrage, a Canadian anti-bribery expert.

Reporting FIFA's finances, Blatter said the organization was comfortable but "not very rich" with billion-dollar annual income and spending and reserves of almost $1.6 billion.

FIFA then revealed that $2.3 billion in commercial deals tied to the 2018 World Cup have already been agreed on.

FIFA has budgeted to spend $50 million next year on a new insurance policy covering the club salaries of players injured while on national team duty.

Clubs can receive up to $9.75 million of a player's salary, with payments starting 28 days after he is sidelined, and for a maximum of 11 months.

With FIFA finances healthy, members followed their medical committee's advice and agreed that each country would receive a defibrillator to promote awareness and prevention of sudden cardiac arrest.

FIFA accepted South Sudan as its 209th member, and concluded a working agreement with the Norway-based Nobel Prize Committee.

The "Handshake for Peace" pact seeks to promote fair play on the field.

Blatter used one of his favored maritime metaphors when he predicted earlier that the Congress "will have brought back our boat in the ... port of tranquility and stability and sustainability."

"It was a great success," he concluded at a news conference. "FIFA is strong, FIFA is united."

Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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