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ZURICH (Reuters) - The official spearheading reforms at FIFA told Reuters on Friday that changes in the way world soccer's governing body decides on who gets the rights to host a World Cup may not eliminate the possibility of corruption but will make the process much more transparent.
Instead of the decision about who gets to hold the 2026 World Cup being taken through a secret ballot taken by FIFA's 24-strong executive committee as in recent awards, it will instead be based on an open vote of all 209 member associations.
"There can be no 100-percent guarantee, there is always a risk when you have national and monetary interests," said Domenico Scala, head of FIFA's independent audit and compliance committee, in an email response to a question about whether FIFA can have a clean vote.
But he said the openness of the new system meant that "we will know which country voted for which bid."
Scala also said a new rule that forbids bidders to host a World Cup from financing soccer development programs outside their own country would also curb some "illegitimate influence" seen in the past.
The changes are meant to address at least some of the concerns at the center of ongoing corruption investigations by U.S. and Swiss authorities. In particular, the FBI and Swiss prosecutors are looking at whether the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups by Russia and Qatar, respectively, may have been influenced by the alleged bribing of some officials.
FIFA this week postponed the bidding for the rights to hold the 2026 World Cup as it is roiled by criminal investigations. Swiss police last month raided a luxury Zurich hotel and arrested seven soccer officials wanted in the United States on corruption charges, including bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. Altogether 14 current and former soccer officials and business executives have been indicted.
The growing scandal prompted FIFA President Sepp Blatter to announce his resignation on June 2, just four days after winning a fifth term of office. The 79-year-old says he will remain in the job until a new president is chosen.
Scala said FIFA urgently needs to introduce term limits for officials as "long terms produce cronyism and interdependencies, which can ultimately lead to corruption."
However, he said a proposal this week by German football federation President Wolfgang Niersbach to end a one-country-one-vote basis for the FIFA's presidential election was off target because the system wasn't a catalyst for people to enrich themselves.
Reporting by Katharina Bart in Zurich; Editing by Martin Howell