FIFA adviser Pieth slams UEFA blocking tactics

GRAHAM DUNBAR AP Sports Writer Published:

GENEVA (AP) -- FIFA anti-corruption adviser Mark Pieth believes European officials are blocking reforms in world football to further their own careers.

Pieth told The Associated Press that he hoped influential UEFA members would show more independence as their president, Michel Platini -- the favorite to lead FIFA in 2015 -- makes "unanimous declarations" on their behalf.

"I am disappointed with what UEFA is coming out with, with the help of the British and the Germans," Pieth said in a telephone interview. "People who have been critical in the past of FIFA are putting their own interests first rather than the interests of the institution."

UEFA declined to respond to Pieth's criticism Wednesday.

German football federation president Wolfgang Niersbach rejected allegations it was blocking change at FIFA.

"In fact, a large majority of proposed reforms have been approved by the Europeans federations," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily.

Still, Pieth said some countries which were "making big noises in the past" when FIFA was rocked by bribery and vote-buying allegations were not pressing hard enough for reform.

"This is a pity because we have a remarkable chance at the moment," the Swiss law professor said.

Pieth targeted barbs at two FIFA vice presidents from Europe, Platini and Angel Maria Villar of Spain, despite FIFA President Sepp Blatter telling him last September not to criticize members of the executive committee.

Pieth spoke out ahead of a Feb. 26 meeting at FIFA which is central to the scope and success of Blatter's promised two-year campaign to modernize how the world's most popular sport is governed.

A FIFA working group, chaired by German executive committee member Theo Zwanziger, will take feedback from the six continental confederations to shape the slate of reforms being voted on by 209 football nations in Mauritius in May.

However, Pieth fears the so-called "football family" is straying too far from the agenda set by his advisory panel which reported to Blatter's ruling board last March. The panel, which includes international lawyers and financial compliance experts, is also scheduled to meet in Zurich later this month.

Pieth is clearly unhappy with UEFA's contribution to the debate, a proposal document published after UEFA's 53 member nations met in Switzerland two weeks ago.

"If you compare simply the lists we have come out with and what UEFA is prepared to buy, they are basically trying to cut half of it," he told the AP.

UEFA suggested allowing future FIFA presidents 12 years in office, four more than Pieth advised to help curb corruption, and an unlimited number of four-year mandates for executive committee members. Pieth suggested a 12-year limit.

UEFA also opposed one of Pieth's fundamental requests -- that candidates for FIFA office should be vetted for integrity by an independent panel within the world governing body's ethics and compliance committees. Europe suggested that only continental bodies should scrutinize their own people.

"The central organization needs to have a due diligence unit," Pieth insisted, adding that Platini helped veto an earlier proposal for a separate nominations unit doing background checks.

UEFA also proposed rules which could smooth France great Platini's path to becoming FIFA president. By requiring candidates to have backing from their home association, a nomination for Platini would block potential French rivals such as former FIFA international relations director Jerome Champagne.

"On the future, there is bickering and many people who have been asking for reform are at the moment thinking of their career," Pieth said.

Villar also represented a barrier to change, Pieth said, suggesting that the Spanish association president "hates the idea" of reform.

Villar, who has been billed by Blatter as a possible successor as president, chairs a FIFA legal committee meeting on March 7 which will help draft the reform slate for a ruling board session two weeks later.

"There is a lot of pushing and shoving going on behind the scenes," Pieth said. "We are in a very strange situation."

He expressed confidence in Zwanziger, a long-time skeptic of FIFA's decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, steering the next reform steps.

"He is very stubborn and he has his list of stuff that he wants to get through," Pieth said. "We need this fresh air in this house."