Football: Fifa ponders independent reform panel, requested by its top sponsors

Chairman of Fifa's reform committee Francois Carrard.
Chairman of Fifa's reform committee Francois Carrard.PHOTO: EPA

LAUSANNE,SWITZERLAND (AFP) - Fifa is still considering setting up an independent panel to oversee its reform effort, a move requested by world football's top corporate sponsors, the head of Fifa's reform committee Francois Carrard said.

Carrard, a Swiss lawyer who helped lead an anti-corruption drive at the International Olympic Committee more than a decade ago, headed the group which drafted Fifa's governance reforms, overwhelmingly approved at a congress last week.

The measures - including a 12-year term limit for top officials, disclosure of salaries and more robust checks on the power of key figures - won backing from more than 85 percent of Fifa's national associations.

But they received a partly tepid response from World Cup mega-donors like credit card giant Visa, which has called for independent supervision of Fifa since the body became engulfed in scandal.

"The idea is still ongoing, but we'll need to know the opinion of President (Gianni) Infantino," Carrard said, when asked about the prospects of outside oversight.

Fifa's new president Infantino, former general secretary of European football, was elected to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter at the congress. Infantino helped draft the Carrard reforms and has vowed to implement them. Whether or not he is open to giving supervisory authority to independent experts is not clear.

Carrard said that when Blatter tapped him to lead the reform drive in June the two agreed that independent dignitaries should review the committee's work and that "he already had some names in mind". However, the timelines imposed by Fifa to draft the measures were too tight to allow for outside evaluation.

"The best solution seemed to be the creation of an advisory council to help Fifa implement the reforms. But announcing the creation of such a council and its composition before the presidential election seemed premature," Carrard said.

Infantino's first moves as the head of world football's tainted governing body will be closely watched, including by Visa, which hours after his election said it was "in the best interests of Fifa, the fans, sponsors and everyone involved, that there is long-term independent oversight of the reforms".

Carrard also said that he faced no pressure from the US law firm Quinn Emmanuel, hired by Fifa after the United States Justice Department unsealed its initial 14 corruption indictments against top football and sports marketing executives in May.

"The law firm Quinn Emmanuel? I only spoke to them once. Then I never heard from them again. They knew who I was and that I wanted my independence. I acted in complete freedom," Carrard said.

The US prosecutions targeting top football officials have raised questions of a rising American role in the world's most popular sport. So far, the US has charged 39 people and two companies with corruption going back decades.

Broadly, Carrard said he was pleased with the outcome of the congress as the key elements of his reform package were approved. He also voiced confidence that Infantino - anointed the most powerful man in football - understood "the importance of the reforms to restore confidence in the institution of which he has taken the reins."