BUDAPEST – FIFA is heading into calmer waters after a series of corruption allegations over the last two years, its president Sepp Blatter said on Tuesday.
“I am an optimist,” Blatter told reporters ahead of the world soccer body’s annual congress. “I am sure you will see at the congress that we are back in the harbour, not heaven yet, but we are taking more people on board and are heading to calm, clearer waters.
“The change began over the last year, or when the Ethics Committee started to act, and we have lost, directly or indirectly five members of the executive committee. That is a big number and new people have come in.”
A year ago, Blatter was elected for a fourth and final term as FIFA president against a backdrop of bribery and corruption allegations at a tense, acrimonious Congress in Zurich.
This year’s Congress, set for Thursday and Friday in the Hungarian capital, will be presented with a new set of statutes aimed at making FIFA more transparent.
Among the members to go last year were Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, a FIFA vice-president, and Mohamed bin Hammam, who were both disciplined and expelled for their part in a bribery scandal.
Bin Hammam of Qatar, one of the game’s rich power-brokers, was due to stand against Blatter for the FIFA presidency but withdrew his candidature days before the vote and was later banned from football for life by FIFA for trying to bribe Caribbean delegates to vote against the Swiss.
Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil, who, like Warner, was involved in repeated corruption allegations, quit earlier this year on health grounds.
The departures followed those of Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii who were caught up in a cash-for-votes scandal before the decision in December 2010 to award the World Cups of 2018 to Russia and 2022 to Qatar.
“New faces have come in, new people – and they speak up, they intervene, they are playing a very big part,” said Blatter, 76.
New members include young Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, Lydia Nsereka of Burundi – the first woman co-opted to FIFA’s executive committee since it was formed 108 years ago – Jeff Webb of the Cayman Islands and Zhang Jilong of China.
“The Caribbean Football Union have just had their congress and they call it a “congress of reconciliation,” Blatter added.
“Things are moving forwards. It is changing.”
Blatter said he was pleased that change had come to the CONCACAF confederation of countries in North and Central America and the Caribbean, even though several legal issues still had to be settled in the courts.
“For me it’s the end of what was happening there,” he said. “The dogs may still be barking but the caravan has left town.”
Blatter was also pleased about the addition of Nsereka, who is expected to become a full member of the committee at next year’s Congress in Mauritius.
“There was a big discussion about this,” he said. “It was not so easy to convince a male-dominated committee to have a woman but she has been the president of her country’s FA since 2004. She is a member of the International Olympic Committee, she is a businesswoman, she is a princess, she is very knowledgeable.”
Nsereka is also a member of Mark Pieth’s Independent Governance Committee looking into FIFA reform which has criticised the organisation’s past handling of corruption cases.
FIFA has delayed introducing some recommendations by the Pieth committee, drawing criticism from anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.
Asked if having Nsereka as a member of the Pieth committee and the executive would be a problem, Blatter said: “No, this independent group is not making my life difficult.
“It is not going to be an easy task for her on the executive committee but I am absolutely delighted she is on it. It was a memorable day yesterday, the first time in FIFA’s history a woman is on the executive. A fantastic day.”