FIFA anti-corruption panel seeks European support

GRAHAM DUNBAR AP Sports Writer Published:

GENEVA (AP) -- An anti-corruption panel advising FIFA wants a European lawmakers' group to press for "urgent" reform at football's world governing body when it meets on Wednesday.

FIFA adviser Mark Pieth's request for support from the 47-nation Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) hints at obstacles ahead of completing promised anti-corruption and transparency reforms by next May.

"It would be most welcome if the committee of the Council of Europe could add its voice to those demanding urgent change," Pieth wrote in a Dec. 3 submission seen by The Associated Press.

Pieth wrote that his group, including lawyers, anti-bribery experts and football officials, have already faced opposition since they began in January advising FIFA's ruling executive committee -- and challenging its authority.

"Currently there is some resistance to even such key suggestions, including from European associations," the Swiss law professor told the PACE committee dealing with sports issues.

The Council of Europe group meets in Paris to follow up criticism of FIFA this year in a report on sports governance. It also called for Sepp Blatter's 2011 re-election as FIFA president to be investigated.

Lawmakers are scheduled to hear witnesses including former FIFA international relations director Jerome Champagne, Transparency International sports adviser Sylvia Schenk and David Triesman, the former leader of England's failed 2018 World Cup hosting bid. Triesman has previously alleged that several FIFA voters asked for unethical favors.

FIFA will be represented in Paris by executive member Theo Zwanziger. The German lawyer heads a group created by FIFA to work alongside Pieth's team and present further reform proposals after a joint meeting in February.

Pieth said those priorities include setting rules to vet candidates for FIFA positions, completing contracts and spending development money from the body's $1 billion annual income.

The anti-corruption panel is "actively" supporting FIFA's revamped ethics and audit committees, which were "upgrading compliance programs, conflict of interest policies and other fundamental requirements of large economic players," Pieth wrote.

Still, Pieth has been frustrated by Blatter's executive colleagues blocking his "fundamental suggestion" that audit chairman Domenico Scala should join them as an independent member. Instead, they allowed him just to observe during discussion of financial issues.

"A deviation from this compromise is unacceptable," lawmakers have been told by Pieth, who will also work with Zwanziger on proposals for FIFA election procedures.

Blatter's election victory last year was targeted by the Council of Europe group, which was concerned he "exploited (his) institutional position" ahead of the poll.

FIFA suspended rival candidate Mohamed bin Hammam in a bribery scandal that the Court of Arbitration for Sport later said was not proven. FIFA cleared Blatter of any wrongdoing in the case.

Bin Hammam was scheduled to attend the session in Paris, but withdrew after resigning from football on Saturday. FIFA imposed a second life ban on the Qatari official for alleged "conflicts of interest" after investigating his management of the Asian Football Confederation's broadcasting contracts and bank accounts.