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    Anti-corruption advisers challenge FIFA to change

    Geneva: FIFA's anti-corruption advisers urged President Sepp Blatter's executive committee on Friday to "demonstrate leadership" and not undermine efforts to reform football's world governing body. The advisory panel published a slate of "fundamental" modernizing steps ahead of key meetings to shape what FIFA's 209 member countries can vote for at their May 31 congress.

    However, the nine-page document identifies European governing body UEFA as a barrier to progress. "I am just stunned by the pushback we are getting for issues that should be no-brainers," panel member Michael Hershman, an international expert on governance, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

    Hershman shares concerns with panel chairman Mark Pieth, who told the AP this week that UEFA power brokers Michel Platini and Angel Maria Villar seemed to prioritize their ambitions to gain power in future FIFA and UEFA presidential elections over genuine change. "Like Mark, I am a little upset at this point," said Hershman, a lawyer who served on the United States Senate investigation into the Watergate scandal. "Once you get politics into the reform process, you can't succeed with reform."

    FIFA said Friday it took note of the report. UEFA declined comment. Pieth's panel, invited by Blatter in 2011 to advise FIFA after damaging bribery and vote-buying allegations, used its latest report to stress points not addressed after its first submission last March. Aiming to "safeguard proper decision-making" at FIFA, the panel wants to allow two independent outsiders to attend all committee meetings, including the 25-member ruling board. Its opaque workings, including how it chooses World Cup hosts, are perceived as a major factor in damaging FIFA's credibility.

    The panel proposes term limits for the FIFA president and board members, and suggests all FIFA committee members should be vetted for integrity by an independent group at its Zurich headquarters. Public disclosure of "compensation and benefits" paid to FIFA officials, including Blatter's salary, is also required to improve transparency, the document proposed. "These are not extreme or punitive recommendations, they are well-established good practices and should not be controversial - or negotiable" panel member Alexandra Wrage, an anti-bribery compliance expert from Canada, said in a statement.

    Still, UEFA flatly rejected some of the central demands when it published feedback to FIFA's global consultation two weeks ago. UEFA said its 53 nations wanted to give the FIFA president a maximum of 12 years in office instead of eight, and allow FIFA board members unlimited four-year mandates while avoiding any vetting checks by the world body. Platini's group said each continental body should scrutinize its own people - a move Hershman suggested could be designed to win favor from confederations whose members have been implicated in ethical wrongdoing.

    "If it is being done for political maneuvering reasons, maneuvering for more votes, then whoever is responsible should be ashamed of themselves," Hershman said. "It's telling me that we're not anywhere close to achieving the change in culture that is going to be needed going forward." The panel's document will be studied in Zurich at a Feb. 26 meeting that will include the chief executives of the six confederations.

    FIFA board members get another chance to intervene at their next session on March 20-21, when Blatter will detail which reforms will be presented to the congress in Mauritius. Hershman praised FIFA for using the first year of reforms to improve its ethics court and financial compliance monitoring. "You can't argue that there hasn't been clear movement in the right direction," he said. "And I'm happy that they've opened the new whistleblower line."

    The global network of football players' unions, FIFPro, whose president Leonardo Grosso is a panel member, backed the recommendations. "FIFPro supports all the conclusions of the final report," the group's secretary general Theo van Seggelen wrote on his Twitter account. Though the report could be the panel's last formal contribution to FIFA's promised modernizing mission, its members intend to continue holding football leaders to account.

    "We will not be intimidated. We will speak our minds clearly and forcefully," said Hershman, adding that he appreciated the hard-working FIFA staff and the "difficult politics" involved in working there. "If FIFA didn't want to install best practice, then they shouldn't have asked us to be involved."