Blatter: World Cup corruption probe to stay secret

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ZURICH (AP) — Under pressure from FIFA's independent prosecutor to unlock the secrecy that surrounds a World Cup bidding corruption probe, Sepp Blatter shut down that populist move Friday.

In doing so, the longtime president showed he remains as influential as ever — even as he moves closer to a fifth term leading football's governing body.

Blatter was in combative form at a news conference after a two-day executive committee meeting, and used his chance to seize back control of an agenda dominated for a week by ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia.

Still, even on a day when Blatter told his executive committee he intends to run for re-election next year, he had to spend more time talking about a corruption investigation when addressing the media.

Responding to public pressure on FIFA to publish a report into alleged corruption surrounding the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, Blatter said his body is bound by its ethics code to keep it secret. He also chided the chief investigator, former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, for issuing a press release Wednesday calling for FIFA's executive committee to publish his report, rather than contacting Blatter personally.

"The FIFA president or secretary general have not had any demands or requests from Mr. Garcia to speak with us," Blatter said Friday. "The only contact that we have had ... was his press releases."

The probe centers on alleged corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests won by Russia and Qatar, and several executive committee members who joined since the December 2010 votes had backed Garcia's views this week. However, those voices apparently fell silent during Friday's meeting.

"Most of the requests coming for the publication of this report were from people (that) were not there on the second of December (2010) when the decision was taken," Blatter said. "Today there was not any longer any requests from any of these members in the FIFA to publish this report."

The issue will now likely quiet down until November. Then, FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert should be done reading the first-draft reports from Garcia's team.

Garcia can request opening formal cases against FIFA board members and final verdicts are expected around April. Eckert has suggested he will limit sanctions to individuals, and leave Blatter's board to decide on possible action against Russia or Qatar.

In another comment that could invite criticism from those seeking more transparency within FIFA, Blatter also rejected the idea of a televised public debate with election opponents in 2015.

"We shall not imitate all what is done in politics," the veteran Swiss official said.

At the age of 78, and after 16 years as president and 39 total years at FIFA, Blatter is preparing to stay through 2019.

"I am still in good condition," said Blatter, adding he was accepting the "let's say, demands, pleas" from FIFA's member associations to remain their president.

"If I still feel well and if they want me, I am at their disposal because I want to go on serving," he said.

In other news:

— FIFA agreed to ban third-party investors from owning players' transfer rights. Detailed rules will be passed by March and phased in over up to four years. UEFA and players' union FIFPro had campaigned for action against the practice which is popular with agents and clubs in South America, Spain and Portugal. UEFA said it threatened the integrity of competitions and players' freedom by promoting regular transfers to cash in profits.

— FIFA added the centenary Copa America to the international schedule for 2016. That means clubs will be obliged to release players for the 16-nation tournament, which is set to be hosted by the United States.

— FIFA will send experts to Canada to survey artificial turf playing surfaces for the 2015 Women's World Cup amid fierce protests from U.S. players. A law suit alleging discrimination by FIFA will be filed in Ontario next week with support from players in Brazil, Germany and Spain.

— Gibraltar's bid for membership was rejected because the British overseas territory is not an independent state. Gibraltar hopes to be in the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw next July, and will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

— FIFA agreed to reduce capacity at two 2018 World Cup stadiums — in Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg — to 35,000, lower than any of the 12 venues which hosted matches in Brazil.

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