By Mark Hosenball and Mica Rosenberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Swiss lawyer heading up a committee charged with reforming the structure and management of world soccer body FIFA says major changes to the organization’s voting structure and imposing term limits on executive committee members will be difficult to achieve in the short term.
Francois Carrard, a former International Olympic Committee (IOC) director general, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that his committee supports a 12-year term limit for FIFA’s president, but such limits on executive committee members may not be the best course of action.
“There are situations in some countries where you have wise leaders who could be useful for more than eight or 12 years,” Carrard said before speaking at an international conference on sport security in New York.
Carrard did say his committee supports an age limit of 74 years old for FIFA executive committee officials.
FIFA has been criticized for not having term limits for its leadership, allowing Sepp Blatter of Switzerland to head the organization for nearly three decades. Swiss authorities opened a criminal investigation into Blatter in September and FIFA’s ethics committee suspended him from office for 90 days.
Blatter denies any wrongdoing. The Swiss probe added to FIFA’s troubles months after U.S. prosecutors announced indictments of nine high-level soccer officials and five marketing and broadcasting company executives. They were accused of orchestrating multi-million dollar bribery schemes over 24 years.
Carrard was appointed to head the 2016 FIFA Reform Committee in August. He was IOC’s director general for 14 years until 2003 and led the organization through its own crisis following the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics vote scandal.
Carrard told Reuters that none of his committee’s proposals have been finalized yet but they should be by December. These proposals would be presented to the FIFA congress for a vote on Feb. 26, the same day the body will elect a new president.
“We have to be very careful and refrain from over simplistic, Western ideas about corporate governance,” he said, stressing that FIFA is an international association not a company with shareholders.
He said his committee would be recommending significant changes to foster greater “financial transparency” in FIFA’s activities, notably including new rules to require public disclosure of the salaries of top FIFA officials, which have been considered secret. Later at the event, Carrard also said he would support increasing the number of women on FIFA’s executive committee.
Carrard said any proposals would require a three-quarters majority vote by FIFA’s 209 member nations. Carrard said it might be difficult to convince FIFA delegates to support radical reform proposals to the voting structure of the organization, which would significantly water down their influence.
Under the current system, tiny nations such as Liechtenstein and San Marino have the same voting power on major issues as large countries such as Russia and the United States do.
Carrard, noting that he had just a few months to draft and present initial proposals, said he believes that offering limited reforms first with an eye to presenting deeper changes down the line is the practical way forward. He said any more fundamental revisions to FIFA’s voting structure would still likely be “one to two years” away.
Carrard said that challenge “requires absolutely new leadership” at the top of FIFA.
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Mark Hosenball in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)