Issues on the FIFA Congress agenda

From tackling racism to addressing gender inequalities, those at the 63rd FIFA Congress will have plenty to talk about.

FIFA President Blatter's future is uncertain [AFP]

These are the main issues up for discussion at this week’s 63rd FIFA Congress in Mauritius which starts on Thursday.

FIFA’s 209 member countries will vote on more reforms at the two-day congress, including proposals for age and term limits for elected officials. The 77-year-old FIFA President Sepp Blatter is opposed to preventing a candidate from holding office because of his age, saying it could be ‘seen as discriminatory.’

But the International Olympic Committee, of which Blatter is a member, now has an age limit of 70. Blatter was softer on possible term limits, saying this week “I am not against a limitation of a number of mandates… but then it should apply to everybody.” Blatter’s opinion matters because of his ability to sway the mood of the congress – and also because an age limit could affect his chances of re-election, should he decide to backtrack and stand again for the presidency.

In charge of world football since 1998 after succeeding Joao Havelange, who ruled for 24 years, Blatter said in 2011 that this term would be his last. However, he might give further hints at the congress in Mauritius that he’s willing to go back on that and bid for re-election in 2015 for another four years. Although he likely won’t make any clear announcement in Mauritius, he may float the idea of needing to see through the reform process as a platform to rally congress members to his cause and cut off the leadership ambitions of UEFA President Michel Platini.

The head of the Burundi football association and an Australian lawyer are two of four women vying to become the first female fulltime member of FIFA’s decision-making executive committee. The Congress will elect one of them to join what was an exclusive men’s club until last year. Burundi FA head Lydia Nsekera was co-opted for a place on the executive committee at the 2012 congress for a year and will stand to be a member of the powerful committee on a full four-year term. She appears to have the inside track, but Moya Dodd, the former Australia international and vice president of the Asian Football Confederation, will also compete for the new women’s place, as will Sonia Bien-Aime of Turks and Caicos Islands and Paula Kearns of New Zealand. 

There’s also a proposal to add two more women – likely the second – and third-place finishers in the ballot – to create a 27-member FIFA board with three women.

Blatter said the battles against racism and match-fixing in football will be ‘high on the agenda’ at the 2013 congress, with FIFA looking to pass stricter sanctions for racist abuse following recent troubles in Italy, especially. Blatter’s criticism of a fine against Roma as insufficient after its fans abused black AC Milan players indicates FIFA’s willingness to make stricter punishments compulsory for all countries.

FIFA’s anti-racism task force is expected to ask the congress to approve a mandatory five-game ban for a player guilty of racist abuse in any game, not just internationals, while punishments for teams like expulsion from competitions or relegation may be considered.

With the Confederations Cup starting next month and the World Cup just a year away, worries over Brazil’s preparations have again been highlighted with doubts that the Sao Paulo stadium, which will open the World Cup next June, will meet its deadline to be completed. Also, part of a roof at one of the Confederations Cup stadiums collapsed. FIFA may have to up its already stern criticism of Brazil’s progress – or look for other solutions – to ensure its showpiece tournament isn’t undermined.

Blatter’s predecessor and mentor resigned as honorary president of FIFA last month, just before the release of a FIFA ethics report that found he accepted bribes in a World Cup kickback scandal in the 1990s. But football leaders have been loath to criticise Brazil’s Havelange, who also resigned from the IOC in 2011 for his involvement in the same scandal involving former marketing company ISL.

Will the congress address his legacy? Blatter’s call for an ovation for Havelange at last year’s congress and UEFA president Michel Platini’s recent praise of the ailing 97-year-old official raises doubts that FIFA is truly sorry for past scandals. Also a reminder of FIFA’s checkered history, there may be clarity on the case of Chuck Blazer of the United States, an outgoing member of the executive committee and a former whistle-blower to corruption, who was banned from football for 90 days this month pending a full investigation after he was accused of embezzling at least $21 million.

Source: AP