FIFA to limit top domestic leagues to 18 teams

The world football body, FIFA, is demanding that top domestic football leagues reduce their number of teams to a maximum of 18. "This cannot be done immediately," FIFA president Seth Blatter said at the conclusion of the FIFA Congress. However, according to Associated Press, Blatter indicated he wants the leagues down from 20 teams by the start of the 2007-08 season. "This was the decision today of the congress, and we will do that," he said. "Clubs will be happy, they will go back to 18, they will save four (match dates) and four more days will be available." Blatter repeatedly has pressured major European leagues to reduce their first-division membership and lessen the number of games for premier players, who would then be more available to national teams. But the leagues have resisted because of financial concerns.

The proposal was one of several initiatives approved overwhelmingly by the congress. FIFA also will amend its laws to raise the minimum suspension for doping offences from six months to two years, but still allow national associations to reduce the penalties under specific circumstances.

The task force also recommended establishing a system to licence clubs within five years; require teams to provide youth development, have an appropriate stadium and training facilities, and have qualified administrators; and produce an annual financial report for review. Among other suggestions were better monitoring of agents and devising a method to track the flow of money in player transfers.

The congress also approved the establishment of a more independent ethics committee. FIFA members with legal backgrounds will be appointed to the committee, which will not be chaired by an executive committee member.

FIFA's finances improved from four years ago, when the organization acknowledged losses of about US$60 million, mainly due to the collapse of its partner ISL Marketing the previous year. For 2005, FIFA showed a surplus of US$162.7 million on revenues of US$664.4 million. General secretary Urs Linsi predicted FIFA will see its revenues jump about US$700 million in the next four years. "Four years ago, supposedly we were not good," said Blatter, who faced a stiff re-election campaign in 2002 because of the financial figures and amid allegations of mismanagement. "Now we're very good. We are criticized when we're poor, we're criticized when we're rich."