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How to fix FIFA: Experts say agency needs outside reformer

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Sepp Blatter thinks FIFA can reform itself. Anti-corruption experts say an institution in that much trouble won’t be able to clean itself up without an outsider.

The arrest of seven top soccer officials in Zurich and Blatter’s resignation provide an opening for transforming what Transparency International’s managing director Cobus de Swardt termed FIFA’s “sordid empire of corruption.”

But any change clashes with the reality of politics at FIFA: Its 209 members from Vanuatu to Venezuela, and the powerful executive committee are unlikely to act against their own entrenched power and privileges.

Mark Pieth is a Swiss law professor and FIFA’s former top anti-corruption adviser. His work for FIFA ended last year with all of his key reform proposals being rejected.

Pieth wants Blatter to go now — not in seven to 10 months after a new president is elected. He is calling for an interim caretaker from outside to stabilize FIFA and restore its credibility. Only then should there be an election, which may not happen for up to two years.

“Blatter cannot cling to his job now for months as a lame duck,” Pieth told The Associated Press. “There is no use in wasting time and getting into political games. You don’t step down in bits and pieces.”

Pieth suggested “someone on the outside, but someone who knows the inside” as the caretaker. He mentioned former German football association president Theo Zwanziger or Sunil Gulati, the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

He also said Gulati might be a strong candidate for the long-term presidency.

“It has to be somebody out of the midst football, but someone who is not tainted by the former system,” Pieth said. “It shouldn’t be one of these old hands because they will be immediately in great trouble again and find themselves discredited.”

This won’t please the presumed frontrunners — Michel Platini, head of the European federation UEFA, or Issa Hayatou, president of the African federation.

A selection of ideas for changing FIFA.

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ALEXANDRA WRAGE, President of Trace

Wrage was part of an Independent Governance Committee at FIFA before resigning in 2013.

“Blatter wanted to appear to be a reformer,” she said in an email. “I don’t believe he was serious about reform then, and it’s a bit absurd to hear him talking about his commitment to ‘push through’ reform measures in the next few months that he rejected a few years ago.”

Wrage also supports a short-term caretaker from outside.

She calls for immediate restrictions on “the giving or receipt of gifts and lavish hospitality.” And she wants leaders to have a “one-time chance” to disclose conflicts of interest.

“Thereafter, there should be zero tolerance for conflicts that come to light,” she said.

Wrage is pushing for at least two executive committee members “from outside the soccer world.”

“This is a tightly knit club and its members have benefited enormously from the status quo,” she said. “It will take seismic change to restore FIFA’s reputation and there is no certainty we’ll see that. There’s a very real risk that we’ll have another president a lot like Blatter who owes his position to many of the same people.”

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TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL

Transparency has issued seven recommendations.

One key is that FIFA disclose officials’ pay, expenses and detail how money is spent.

National federations also should publish how much money they get from FIFA, and how it is spent.

Transparency also calls for term limits for executive committee members and asks sponsors to “take collective action to pressure FIFA … to meet the highest standards of compliance and ethics.”

It also asks for “tougher and more transparent compliance standards in TV-rights companies.”

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DOMENICO SCALA

Scala is the independent Chairman of FIFA’s Audit and Compliance Committee. Scala spoke the day Blatter resigned and listed priorities for change. He said “nothing will be off the table” in reforming FIFA.

He also focused on the structure of the executive committee. He said members should undergo “integrity checks,” a move that has already been rejected by FIFA’s member confederations.

He said many question FIFA’s transparency. He said FIFA should publicize the “compensation of the president and executive committee members.”

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PETER ALEGI, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY

Peter Alegi, a historian at Michigan State University who has studied sports governance, said a quick exit by Blatter increases the chances for change.

“If the noose tightens more on Blatter, if it reaches a lot of top FIFA executives, then I think there is a real possibility that at least the old guard will be thrown out, if not imprisoned,” Alegi said.

He also called for more diversity inside FIFA — women, former athletes, fans and even academics.

“Everyone who is now in FIFA comes from the same kind of class,” he said. “Obviously there’ll all men, and with very few exceptions.”

He is not expecting a revolution.

“It’s likely there will a kind of moderate reformer who comes forward,” he said.

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OTHER THOUGHTS

There have been suggestions to turn FIFA into a public company. Others argue the regional confederations are the problem, especially those in countries with weak judicial systems. Many of the regional confederations lack transparency and work like mini-FIFAs.

Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado published a study several years ago entitled: “How Can FIFA be Held Accountable?”

“FIFA demonstrated time and again that it has essentially no hierarchical, supervisory, peer or public reputational accountability, and minimal fiscal accountability,” Pielke wrote.

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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