U.S. Markets open in 5 hrs 6 mins

FIFA exec wants shorter terms to help credibility

Jerome Pugmire, AP Sports Writer

FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during during a press conference in Tokyo Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. Chelsea FC and Corinthians meet in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup soccer tournament Sunday in Yokohama. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

PARIS (AP) -- Setting term limits for senior FIFA officials would help the governing body regain some public credibility following scandals over the past two years, executive committee member Theo Zwanziger said on Wednesday.

Zwanziger chaired a task force this year suggesting a maximum of two four-year terms for FIFA president and three four-year terms for executive committee members.

"There's no denying that the longer somebody remains in office, the closer you get to the apparatus and greater the temptations," Zwanziger said at a Council of Europe parliamentary hearing. "That's why we're moving to a term of office that be limited for officials."

Leading FIFA officials, including president Sepp Blatter, have held positions for more than 14 years.

The 76-year-old Blatter is serving his fourth term since being elected in 1998 to replace Joao Havelange, who had served since 1974. Nicolas Leoz, an 84-year-old Paraguayan, has headed South American soccerl since 1986 and is a key ally of 81-year-old Julio Grondona, FIFA's senior vice president and the head of the Argentine Football Association since 1979.

Since 2010, bribery scandals in elections for the presidency and the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contest, and a slew of allegations of financial wrongdoing implicating high-ranking officials have led to criticism of FIFA's governance.

The scandals removed presidents of three of FIFA's six continental confederations — Asia's Mohamed bin Hammam, North and Central America and the Caribbean's Jack Warner and Oceania's Reynald Temarii. Two more, Leoz and Issa Hayatou of Africa, were implicated in unproven allegations during a British Parliamentary hearing on the World Cup bidding, and Hayatou was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee for taking cash from FIFA's former marketing partner agency, ISL.

Grondona has been an executive committee member since 1988, Hayatou since 1990, and Leoz since 1998.

Wednesday's hearing was a follow-up to an April resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly — which brings together 318 parliamentarians from the 47 member states of the Council of Europe — calling on FIFA to fully investigate these scandals.

"If you only change people on the seats and you keep the structures, you will have the same problems three or four years down the road," Zwanziger said. "If they are made accountable as they have to be, and we can place a reasonable limit of terms of office so people don't have a lifetime job, then I think we can restore the necessary esteem that's important."

After his re-election, Blatter launched FIFA's self-reform program on June 1, 2011 in his post-victory speech.

"FIFA's reform process is not a smokescreen. It's not an alibi. Otherwise I wouldn't be here," Zwanziger, a German lawyer, said through an interpreter.

"It was necessary to engage a very intensive process of reform to have a proper balance of powers," he added. "The World Cup allocation to Russia and Qatar, the presidential elections of 2011. Further back there was the ISL document that wasn't published ... there were ongoing accusations of corruption, not all of them corroborated, but suspicions can damage the image of a body."

Zwanziger insisted Blatter backs the need for internal reform.

"I had a very serious discussion with Mr. Blatter," Zwanziger said. "I felt his determination was clear."

Others were more skeptical.

Sylvia Schenk, a sports adviser for the watchdog Transparency International, says FIFA must do more to delve into its past, as well as giving pledges over its future.

"One quarter of the whole executive committee — six of 24 — have been accused or suspended in corruption cases, or retired shortly before they would have been accused of corruption cases," Schenk said. "They happened with the same people in power. If the past is not dealt with then FIFA will never come to peace. People don't believe in these structures and if they don't believe they won't follow the rules and that will be a big problem."

Schenk believes FIFA's leadership should change.

"You have to start with new people at the top to show that there will really be change. In FIFA that hasn't happened," she added. "FIFA's a monopoly in a closed shop situation."