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CONCACAF's Jeffrey Webb praises Sepp Blatter, says FIFA reform has worked

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - The head of soccer's governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean thinks Sepp Blatter has performed admirably since taking over as FIFA president in 1998.

Blatter said last week he would like a fifth term rather than stick to his previously stated intention to retire in 2015.

FIFA has been mired in controversy in recent years, with about half its executive committee members getting suspended or quitting in the wake of corruption allegations.

"FIFA is in a great place," CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb told reporters Tuesday. "From a footballing standpoint, from a World Cup standpoint, from revenues, from a commercial standpoint, the team of Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke has done a tremendous job.

"And obviously the reform process that he initiated, I think has been tremendous. Like I say, some would argue and say, well, we didn't get 100 per cent of the things that we wanted. But, you know what? I think they've made some huge improvements. The game is in a great position and a great place."

The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International ended its working relationship with FIFA in December 2011. Sylvia Schenk, TI's sports adviser, said then the group's conditions for joining a FIFA panel overseeing anti-corruption reforms were not accepted.

Webb, who is from the Cayman Islands and went to high school in Tampa, Florida, was elected CONCACAF's president in May 2012 and is a FIFA vice-president and a member of its executive committee.

At CONCACAF he replaced Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, who was elected president in 1990; Warner was suspended by FIFA's executive committee in May 2011 following bribery allegations and resigned the following month.

Webb said "you have a lot of allegations and so forth" that have not been "substantiated."

"I think we have over 300 million people involved in the game, and when you have that amount of participation, that amount of people involved, you're obviously going to have various personalities and various individuals with various agendas," he said.

A 113-page report submitted by CONCACAF's integrity committee in April 2013 accused former CONCACAF secretary general Chuck Blazer of violating U.S. and perhaps state and local laws by not having tax returns submitted for the organization from 2004-10.

"We've completed all of the information for IRS and so forth. We're fully complied," Webb said, adding the work had been performed for CONCACAF by the law firm Sidley Austin LLP. "We're waiting now on the IRS to hopefully reinstate CONCACAF."

Webb said CONCACAF is trying to gain title to the Havelange Center for Excellence, a training complex in Trinidad built in the 1990s that was funded with CONCACAF's development money. There have been allegations the complex and the land it sits on is owned by entities controlled by Warner.

"We believe that it is rightfully owned by CONCACAF and should be owned by CONCACAF," Webb said.

Webb believes there is "zero" chance the 2022 World Cup would be shifted from Qatar to the United States. He says it is "very much possible" the U.S. and Canada could submit a joint bid to host the 2026 tournament. He hopes rules for '26 bidding are established next year and a decision would be made in 2017.

He expects FIFA's scheduling committee will add the 2016 centennial Copa America in the U.S. to the international calendar, which would force clubs to release players for the 16-nation event. Webb expects 12-20 cities to be used as hosts, and said the leading contenders for the final are East Rutherford, New Jersey; Arlington, Texas, and Los Angeles/Pasadena, California.

While the U.S. has hosted 10 CONCACAF Gold Cups and co-hosted the two others, that tournament could be played elsewhere.

"I can't tell you that I agree that the other 40 countries in CONCACAF should ever feel like they don't ever have a right to host the Gold Cup. No way," he said.

CONCACAF has no plans to follow the example of Europe's governing body, which pooled television rights to qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup and 2016 European Championship. Home teams own the rights in CONCACAF, resulting in many U.S. road qualifiers being broadcast on networks with little distribution.

"That's up to each member to decide what's in their best interest," Webb said. "While it might not be in the best interest of the U.S., it's in the best interest of that member who they're playing against."

Webb said some broadcast rights already have been sold up until 2022.

With the World Cup a month away, Webb expects stadiums will be completed in time for soccer's biggest event. He thinks demonstrations will not detract from the 32-nation event.

"The citizens of Brazil, obviously, some of them will use the tournament to highlight other things. It just shows the power of the game really," he said. "And of course if they believe that the government should be investing in schools and educations and more medical facilities and so forth, those things are very important as well. But for us, I think we're focusing on the game."

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