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Reform the theme for FIFA Congress; Blatter watched closely for signs he might stand again

05/28/2013 09:44 EDT | Updated 07/28/2013 05:12 EDT
PORT LOUIS, Mauritius - FIFA's willingness to heed criticism and enact reforms will be tested at its annual congress this week when football's governing body tries to move past two years of scandals.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter reported on the reforms already undertaken last year at Tuesday's executive committee meeting. But before the two-day congress in Mauritius opened Thursday, proposals to limit the age and terms of officials were dropped from the agenda, with any debate and possible voting put back to at least 2014.

"As no consensus has been reached among the member associations and their confederations on the agenda items 'term of office' and 'age limit', a more thorough analysis is required," FIFA said following its executive committee meeting. "Both items will be examined further and the congress will be asked to put them back on the agenda of the 2014 FIFA Congress with concrete proposals."

The 209 member countries will vote on other proposed changes for greater transparency and accountability at the congress.

In response to criticism that FIFA isn't taking the reform process seriously, Blatter said earlier this week that "it'd be unfair to say we are not doing well."

Advisers enlisted by FIFA during the two-year reform process, however, have argued that FIFA's reforms are "neutered" and Blatter's mission had fallen short of the "highest standards." Those advisers include Transparency International and members of an expert panel led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth.

Blatter told the FIFA website that his organization is on track and had "achieved a lot already."

"In fact, we are exactly following the road map which was established at the FIFA Congress (in) 2011," Blatter said. "Since then, we have been transparent on what was done and we have followed the majority of the recommendations made by the Independent Governance Committee."

In one motion accepted, the congress will elect a first female permanent member of the formerly men-only executive committee. While 77-year-old Blatter could indicate if he intends to seek another four-year term despite saying that it would be his last term when re-elected in 2011. The Swiss has been in charge of FIFA since 1998. The next election is in two years and he would be 83 at the end of another term.

Blatter has made clear his opposition to age restrictions. He says they could be "seen as discriminatory" — even though the International Olympic Committee, of which Blatter is a member, has them as well as president term limits.

"I've already said I was against the age limit as I believe it is not a relevant criteria. Not everyone is the same at 60, 70, 80," Blatter said before the issue was dropped from the agenda. "Passion makes the difference."

The evergreen septuagenarian is now likely to be closely watched throughout the week for any indication of his future plans.

Proposed sterner punishments for racism in football after the recent re-emergence of the problem, and the sport's ongoing battle with match-fixing will also be considered at the congress. Both are "high on the agenda," Blatter has said.

Brazil's preparations for the 2014 World Cup will be examined. Setbacks at some of the stadiums are set to bring closer scrutiny, notably the arena in Sao Paolo that was scheduled to open the tournament and may now miss its completion deadline. FIFA will make final plans for the Confederations Cup in Brazil next month after a small part of the roof collapsed at one of the stadiums scheduled to host matches at the World Cup warm-up event.

Meeting on an island famed for being the home of the extinct Dodo bird, FIFA's sternest critics say the sport's governing body needs to evolve.

The body has made reforms to its ethics committee and introduced a new code of behaviour and vetting procedures since the scandal-ravaged year and congress in 2011. Then, Blatter was re-elected as president after the withdrawal of now disgraced former Asian football president Mohamed bin Hammam.

There were also vote-rigging accusations surrounding the choosing of Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively, with Blatter conceding it was a mistake to award two World Cups at the same time.

The congress will also formally adopt the resolution that future World Cup hosts will be decided by all member countries, and not the exclusive executive committee. The executive committee will decide on a shortlist before member associations pick one. FIFA's new watchdog Audit and Compliance Committee also met this week and will report after its first year of work.

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Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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