(Reuters) - The head of FIFA’s new reform committee has said the soccer governing body's outgoing president Sepp Blatter had been unfairly criticised and there was no evidence of him being involved in corruption.
Swiss lawyer Francois Carrard was appointed earlier this month as the independent chair of FIFA’s 15-person reform committee which will hold its first meeting on Sept. 2.
In an interview with Swiss newspaper La Matin Dimanche, Carrard, former director general of the International Olympic Committee, said criticism of Blatter was more to do with him having been at the helm of the sport's ruling body for 17 years.
"There is something unfair in the way he is treated. I say that with complete independence. We are in the process of pillorying him. Unfortunately, it's always like that when somebody stays too long, the negative side gets noticed,” said the 77-year-old Carrard.
“This man has been unfairly treated. And if we talk about corruption... I have the whole U.S. proceedings on my table. In the indictment, there is not one word against him. Nothing. Today I am not aware of any indication of corruption against Blatter,” he said.
Seven FIFA officials, including now suspended FIFA vice president and executive committee member Jeffrey Webb, were among 14 people accused by the U.S. Justice Department in May of exploiting the sport for their own gain through bribes of more than $150 million over 24 years.
While Blatter does not appear in the indictment he has faced criticism for his handling of the organisation, which also faced a corruption scandal in 2011 and which is subject to a Swiss investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Carrard’s defence of Blatter is likely to raise eyebrows among those campaigning for reform of FIFA, given the scepticism about his committee which is made up of a majority of representatives from the regional confederations which control FIFA’s executive committee.
Carrard, who confirmed in the interview that he was being paid by FIFA for his new role, said there was a desire for reform within world soccer's governing body but that there had to be realism.
“I am convinced that there is a will to reform. FIFA took major blows, she is in deep crisis and I believe that all members have realised that drastic measures are needed,” he said, noting that some previous attempts at change had not got beyond the idea stage.
“On a cloud, you can advocate for reforms... but they will not necessarily be adopted. It takes knowledge of the “realpolitik”,” he said.
Writing by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Ken Ferris