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FIFA Takes Giant Step Towards Game's Future
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FIFA president Sepp Blatter moved on Thursday to avoid a collision with Europe's politicians on how soccer should be run in the future and prevent possible interference from sports ministers.

The announcement by Blatter in Barcelona of an agreement with the world players union, FIFPro is the first step in answering many of the political concerns about the problems facing the game in the European Union.

Up until now, Blatter has remained opposed to any views by EU governments, the European Commission - the EU's executive arm - and the European Parliament on how to address issues such as corruption, salaries and ownership within the sport.

In September, Blatter and IOC president Jacques Rogge wrote to EU lawmakers and politicians protesting about proposed changes to the way sport will be governed in the EU.

European football's governing body UEFA is seeking the adoption by the 25 EU governments of a European Sports Review completed in April which recommends closer control of sport in the EU including salary caps on soccer players and the monitoring of agents.

Up until now, FIFA said they opposed the paper, but Blatter said this was a "misunderstanding" and said FIFA has been targetted unfairly.

"Yes we want autonomy for the game, but we are not above the laws of any land and we want to work with the political leaders to find the solutions," Blatter told Reuters in a phone interview.

"For instance we would sign straight up to the first part of the report and we accept the concerns within the second part.

"But we will find and implement the solutions ourselves with political assistance."

At the heart of the FIFA's concerns about the review is a clause calling for a European Sports Agency. But sources close to the matter said this idea has now been dropped.

Last week, Blatter met UEFA president Lannart Johansson in a bid to avoid a showdown between the world's governing body and its European confederation.

Following the meeting, both agreed on soccer's right to solve its own problems, but also acknowledged that a political dialogue was also necessary.

Blatter confirmed that he will meet British sports minister Richard Caborn, who launched the review under his country's presidency of the EU in December, later this month.

"I want to work openely with him, but soccer, I believe, is still strong enough to solve its own problems and if I can show this and prove this to him, then there will be no need for new laws," he said.

The European Commission, under its president Jose Manuel Barroso, has always favoured self-regulation by industry and less red tape from Brussels, with many EU governments advocating the same approach, most noteably Britain.

"We still have a long way to go, but we welcome this attitude by Sepp Blatter," a spokesman for Caborn said.

"If we all sit down, the minister believes that in the end, there won't be much difference of opinion."

Thursday's memorandum of understanding" signed by Blatter and FIFPro chief Philippe Piat at the Nou Camp stadium vowed to resolve transfer disputes more quickly, fight doping, co-ordinate the international match calendar and combat racism.

"The unions, or in this case the players are at the heart of any industry and agreement with them is a very key step in going forawrd with a view of cleaning up the game," Blatter said.

(Reuters November 3, 2006)

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