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FACTBOX-Soccer-Main challenges facing FIFA

Source: Reuters - Fri, 17 Jan 2014 12:09 PM
Author: Reuters
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LONDON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Jerome Champagne, Sepp Blatter's former right-hand man, is expected to announce he is standing in FIFA's presidential elections on a platform of modernising FIFA for the 21st century.

The following is a factbox on some of the main issues facing world soccer's governing body.

MATCH-FIXING

Labelled the 'cancer' of soccer, match-fixing has become a pandemic, staining the credibility of leagues and competitions around the world.

The game was rocked last year when European police said a Singapore-based syndicate had directed match-fixing for at least 380 soccer games in Europe alone, with documented profits of eight million euros ($11 million) believed to be just the tip of the iceberg.

A further 300 suspicious matches were identified in Africa, Asia and Latin America including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and the Champions League for top European club sides.

FIFA, in conjunction with national federations and global policing agencies, will have to lead efforts to stamp out an issue that has resulted in life bans being dished out to players and officials, with at least one suicide (in South Korea) linked to the fallout from a match-fixing investigation.

Interpol secretary general Ron Noble says the fight against match-fixing will be a "life-long battle" and, "There isn't a country or region that is immune form it."

RESTORING FIFA'S CREDIBILITY

FIFA's reluctance to implement goal-line technology, the messy World Cup hosting decision-making process and the spectre of corruption have tarnished the reputation of world soccer's governing body like never before.

FIFA president Blatter has already admitted it was a "bad mistake" to stage a joint bidding process for the World Cup finals of 2018 and 2022, while the choice of tiny Gulf state Qatar for the 2022 finals left many confused and angry.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke has said the 2022 finals would not be played in the traditional months of July and August, and instead soccer's showpiece could be staged between Nov. 15-Jan. 15 due to the weather.

Although it would not be a surprise if the finals are held in the winter months, it would mean a massive disruption to the global soccer calendar and also affect other sports.

World soccer's governing body also set up an Ethics Committee in the wake of several corruption scandals and has moved to overhaul its powerful Executive Committee but FIFA must do more to shed the public perception that it lacks transparency and is used as a vehicle for self-interest.

GULF BETWEEN RICH AND POOR CLUBS, EMERGENCE OF SUPER RICH

Unprecedented revenues from television rights deals have created a chasm between top-flight clubs and the rest, particularly in Europe.

Even within top divisions there is growing disparity thanks to the emergence of the 'super rich', clubs bankrolled by wealthy owners and whose coffers are replenished each season by Champions League participation.

While the leading clubs are rewarded for their transfer spending excess with a bigger slice of the revenue pie, the fear of being relegated from the lucrative top divisions has prompted many clubs to live outside their means.

British football is a prime example of the vicious financial circle some clubs find themselves caught up in.

A survey by accountancy firm BDO last year showed that while teams in the elite Premier League have never had it so good, clubs at lower levels in English soccer are concerned about their finances.

Only three out of 10 clubs view their financial situation as very healthy, BDO said after surveying finance directors from 66 clubs in England and the Scottish Premier League. Two-thirds of the clubs surveyed were reliant on their main shareholder to cover their losses.

But while the risk of following the likes of Portsmouth, Coventry and Glasgow's Rangers into administration are very real, the rewards for breaking into the top flight can be too much to ignore.

Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace - the three teams promoted to the Premier League last May - can expect additional revenues of at least 120 million pounds ($185 million) over the next five years even if their stay in the top flight lasts only one season.

UEFA has tried to address the issue in Europe with the introduction of its Financial Fair Play rules and FIFA also needs to find a way to encourage a fairer distribution of wealth and prevent a handful of super rich clubs dictating leagues for years to come.

GRASS ROOTS BEING TORN UP

The immense spending power of the top clubs allows them to poach and hoard the cream of the crop from around the world.

This not only robs foreign leagues of their most exciting players, thereby making them less attractive to fans, it makes it more difficult for home-bred players to break through.

Again the results of this concentration of spending power is best viewed in England, where the last time a Premier League club started a match with 11 English players was in February 1999 (Aston Villa).

While globalisation and regulations regarding freedom of movement will limit FIFA's efforts to effect change, it knows it has to take steps to quell the talent drain in Africa and South America.

FIFA must also 'encourage' rich clubs to invest in home-grown talent rather than simply spending their way to success.

RACISM, FAN VIOLENCE

Blatter has already had to play down calls for a boycott of the 2018 World Cup in Russia by black players following racist abuse directed at players, while clubs across Europe have been subject to investigations concerning racist behaviour by fans.

UEFA has handed out fines and fan bans but seems unable to put a stop to the problem, and national associations seem reluctant to get tough with clubs whose fans persistently break racsim and discriminatory rules.

In South America, shocking scenes of fan violence have blighted the game in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina in recent years.

At the end of last year, television pictures showed dozens of fans fighting on the terraces at a Brazilian championship, interrupting play for more than one hour and leaving at least three people reportedly hospitalised in serious condition.

OTHER ISSUES

FIFA will also have to find a way to accommodate the growing power of African and Asian football confederations and their increasing desire for more places at the World Cup.

Since the finals format is unlikely to stray from 32 teams, those places are probably going to have to come from Europe or South America, which would be fiercely resisted by those confederations.

Calendar conflict between club and international soccer is also likely to be high on the agenda during the next FIFA term.

(Compiled by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Mike Collett and Justin Palmer)

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