FIFA prepares to pick officials in anti-corruption drive

Tackling corruption in football will again top FIFA's agenda when the 208 member nations meet this week for a Congress that will also see the first woman appointed to the governing body's executive committee.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter backs the 'professionalization of refereeing'. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

Tackling corruption in football will again top FIFA's agenda when the 208 member nations meet this week for a Congress that will also see the first woman appointed to the governing body's executive committee.

Continuing FIFA's efforts to restore its battered image after a series of corruption scandals, FIFA will announce Tuesday which independent officials will be brought in from outside the "football family" to spearhead new ethics and audit committees that are seen as key vehicles for genuine change.

However, President Sepp Blatter cancelled a news conference scheduled for Tuesday after his executive committee wrapped up an expected two-day meeting in a single session Monday.

FIFA is set to announce which woman will be appointed to the executive committee. That person will hold the position for one year, when the seat is opened up for election — although only female candidates will be considered.

Candidates for the key anti-corruption posts must get final approval from the congress floor on Friday. They can then start work with authority to order fresh probes into old allegations, monitor the governing body's billion-dollar annual spending and vet all FIFA officials for their integrity to hold office.

With the prospect of independent oversight of FIFA's sometimes shadowy business, speculation about possible appointments has centred on high-ranking personalities being lured from politics and civil society.

Their names have been suggested by former United Nations investigator Mark Pieth, who was picked by FIFA to advise on transparency and curbing corruption.

Critics of FIFA hope the chosen officials appointed to a revamped ethics court will revisit some allegations and prosecute other football leaders.

Also this week, a two-day FIFA medical conference that opens Wednesday will study cases of cardiac arrest among players and shape an anti-doping strategy for the 2014 World Cup.

On the sidelines in Budapest, Cayman Islands banker Jeffrey Webb is set to be elected Wednesday as leader of the North, Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) confederation, succeeding disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner.

Updated code of ethics

Warner resigned last June to avoid FIFA prosecution in a bribery scandal during Blatter's re-election, having survived previous allegations of financial wrongdoing and World Cup ticket scalping.

The 24-man executive committee is likely to approve an updated code of ethics, which was used to suspend seven of its serving or former colleagues in the past 20 months, including Blatter's former election rival Mohamed bin Hammam. He has appealed his lifetime ban from football, and a Court of Arbitration for Sport verdict is expected next month.

FIFA members can use congress debates on Friday to force votes on adding reform measures.

FIFA's ruling committee could also please clubs by approving an insurance policy covering seven-figure annual salaries of players injured on national team duty, and apply it before the London Olympics.

Longtime FIFA executive member Michel D'Hooghe will lead the medical conference, which was set to focus on cardiac arrest cases even before Bolton midfielder Fabric Muamba collapsed in an English cup match in March. Shortly after that incident, Livorno midfielder Piermario Morosini died after collapsing on the pitch during a Serie B game.

"It's a new alarm bell and it confirmed that we were right," D'Hooghe, a doctor from Belgium, said of FIFA's decade-long efforts to learn more about players' heart problems.

FIFA will analyze worldwide case studies, and has invited World Cup final referee Howard Webb to Hungary to discuss his first-hand experience of Muamba's case.

FIFA has asked World Anti-Doping Agency experts to discuss a biological passport system to monitor players' blood and steroid profiles. Pilot testing began ahead of the Club World Cup last December, involving Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Santos star Neymar.  

"I hope it will be in place for the World Cup but we must see how it goes medically, financially and logistically," D'Hooghe said.  

World Cup issues on the congress agenda include the "professionalization of refereeing" — a favoured Blatter project even before high-profile errors at the 2010 tournament — and increasing FIFA's promised $70 million fund to compensate clubs for letting their players go to Brazil.

South Sudan will be accepted as FIFA's 209th country.