Football: Fifa discusses reforms amid new sponsor offensive

Chairman of Fifa's audit and compliance committee Domenico Scala (right) awaits a meeting of the Fifa executive committee.
Chairman of Fifa's audit and compliance committee Domenico Scala (right) awaits a meeting of the Fifa executive committee.PHOTO: REUTERS

ZURICH (AFP) - Fifa chiefs hammered out how to reform the scandal-tainted world football body on Wednesday as sponsors who provide hundreds of millions of dollars demanded independent leadership of the changes.

The Fifa executive committee - without suspended president Sepp Blatter and vice-president Michel Platini - will spend two days discussing reforms proposed by top sporting official Francois Carrard who was named by the world body.

But top sponsors Anheuser-Busch, Adidas, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Visa said reforms should be "subject to independent oversight".

The multinationals are reportedly angry that they have not been given places on Fifa's reform committee. They have in the past threatened to review their football deals.

In October, Carrard's panel proposed limiting president terms at 12 years and barring those over 74 from serving on the executive.

It also suggested the pay package of top officials be published annually and independently audited.

The executive committee will decide whether to send the reform package for adoption at a special Fifa congress on Feb 26, when Blatter's replacement will be chosen.

The meeting is being held on the fifth anniversary of the 2010 vote that controversially awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

That decision set off a cascade of allegations of corruption and political skullduggery.

Swiss authorities are investigating the 2010 votes and have also charged Blatter with criminal mismanagement at Fifa.

Platini is named in the investigation over a two million dollar payment made for Fifa advisory work for which there was no contract.

In parallel, US authorities have charged 14 Fifa officials and sports business executives over more than US$150 million (S$210 million) in bribes paid for marketing contracts. Seven officials were detained at a Fifa congress in Zurich in May.

Sponsors are not the only group to express concern over the reform measures being undertaken by Fifa.

"We urge you to embrace positive changes and also recognise that this is just one step towards creating a credible future for Fifa," the sponsors said in a letter to the world body.

"Transparency, accountability, respect for human rights, integrity, leadership and gender equality are crucial to the future of Fifa. Reforms can set the proper framework for these characteristics, but a cultural change is also needed."

A Fifa spokesman said in response that sponsors had already played "an important part" in the Fifa reform committee and that they would "continue to play an important role in the reform process."

Other groups also doubt the Carrard panel, dominated by officials nominated by regional confederations, will be able to press through convincing reforms.

"What is actually needed is an independent set of executives that have no ties in world football, walking in and cleaning this place up," said Declan Hill, author of The Fix: Soccer And Organised Crime.

The Transparency International activist group's chief Cobus de Swardt predicted Carrard's committee "will likely avoid taking some hard decision about changing the way Fifa does business", because doing so could affect the committee members themselves.

Meanwhile, Jack Warner, a central figure in Fifa corruption accusations, faces a hearing in Trinidad and Tobago on whether he will be extradited to the United States to face bribery charges.

Warner, a businessman, politician and former kingpin in Caribbean football and in the north American confederation, is accused of taking millions of dollars in underhand payments from various sources.

A former Fifa vice-president, he was banned for life by the world body in September.

Fernando Sarney took part in the Fifa meeting for the first time after Brazilian Football Confederation leader Marco Polo del Nero withdrew from Fifa.

Del Nero left Zurich in the hours after the bribery arrests in May and has not attended international meetings or events since.