- Associated Press - Thursday, May 30, 2013

PORT LOUIS, MAURITIUS (AP) - The FIFA Congress opened Thursday with reduced expectations for reform after one area flagged for change was set to be delayed for at least a year.

With undercurrents of soccer politics at play, representatives of FIFA’s 209 member countries and its leadership under President Sepp Blatter met for the ceremonial opening of the two-day congress.

FIFA was expected to complete a two-year reform process prompted by one of its lowest periods _ the fiercely criticized 2010 votes in which Russia and Qatar won rights to stage the World Cup, and Blatter’s re-election in 2011 following a scandal-ravaged campaign for his opponent.

“Our congress is our annual opportunity for us, all the members of our great organization, to meet,” Blatter said, opening the congress. “To meet? Yes. To vote? Of course. And to take important decisions for the future of FIFA.”

But the reform won’t be completed when the work starts Friday in the Indian Ocean nation.

A possible vote of members on new rules to limit the age and terms of senior officials _ bringing FIFA into line with the International Olympic Committee _ was in effect dropped by FIFA’s executive committee Tuesday before the congress. Two other areas of reform also won’t be addressed _ making salaries and bonuses of top earners, including the 77-year-old Blatter, more transparent, and allowing independent observers onto the executive committee.

FIFA accepts it needs to change after more than a century in existence and recent cases of high-powered corruption. But critics insist it is unwilling to go far enough.

The independent reformers brought in by FIFA two years ago and led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth have already said the reforms proposed for this week’s two-day congress have not met the “highest standards.”

FIFA counters it is making progress, preparing a document this week that show, according to the body, the majority of reforms have or are being implemented.

The influential governing body has changed in places, strengthening its ethics committee, tightening financial controls and taking the decision on who wins the right to host the hugely profitable World Cup from the executive committee and leaving the vote to the 209 member associations. Also, FIFA will elect a woman to its decision-making executive committee for the first time.

But the age and term limits being dropped right before the congress have become a renewed reason for skepticism by those outside FIFA, and frustration for some inside.

“It is two years that we speak about (age and term limit reforms),” UEFA President Michel Platini said hours before the congress, making clear his European confederation was not happy. “(FIFA) postponed for one year one decision that we speak about for two years and we will never find a solution.”

Blatter, who also briefly attended Thursday’s UEFA meeting, had said this would be his last term when he was re-elected to the presidency in 2011. But the Swiss has hinted he again may seek re-election for another four-year term through 2019, when he will be 83.

“If they don’t want (the reforms), then they are not to say that it is Europe who stop the reform,” said Platini, a likely candidate to lead FIFA one day. “That is my point to you. Because we followed (the reforms) from the beginning. The rest is politics.”

Platini also didn’t think there would be progress on age and term limits in 2014.

“No. No,” he said. “Because it concerns Blatter. It concerns me. It concerns the age. It concerns people of 83 years. It concerns the people who are judge and jury.”

Also on FIFA’s agenda Friday is a proposal submitted by the Australian federation to make it easier for young players to qualify to play international soccer for an adopted country. The change would allow players to qualify for the new country if they have lived there at least five years from any age. The previous regulation said the player had to live in the new country for five years after reaching 18.

The Palestine Football Association asked to address the congress on the country’s soccer problems. Blatter promised FIFA’s help to Palestinian officials at Wednesday’s Asian Football Confederation meeting.


Follow Gerald Imray at https://www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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