FIFA asked to relax its rules on naturalization

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BERNE, (Reuters) -- FIFA will consider a proposal to relax the rules on the naturalization of players at its annual Congress and give its executive committee greater powers to suspend member federations.

The Congress, where the main item is the presidential election between incumbent Sepp Blatter and challenger Mohamed Bin Hammam on June 1, will also be asked to rubber-stamp moves to tighten up on friendly internationals.

Soccer's governing body will consider a suggestion that a player over the age of 18 need only live in a new country for three rather than the current five years before he can play for its national team.

FIFA said the proposal, included in the Congress agenda, had been made by the United Arab Emirates football association.

Many feel the regulations are already too relaxed and allow players to switch nationalities too easily.

Portugal and Mexico have fielded foreign-born players with no parental connections to the country, as have a number of African countries.

Blatter once said that he feared a World Cup being played with teams full of Brazilian players who had changed nationalities.

Until 2004, a player only needed the passport of the country he wanted to represent, which many nations were happy to fast-track.

But after Qatar tried to sign up Brazilian forward Ailton, FIFA ruled that players must have lived in their country for at least two years before they could play for it. That was later increased to five.

The Congress will also be asked to allow the executive committee to suspend a member federation for a single violation of FIFA statutes. At the moment, it can only do this for repeated serious violations.

FIFA's executive committee announced in March it would take greater control over international friendlies.

This came after a fake Togo team played in one game in September and seven penalties were awarded in two matches in Turkey in February.

Congress has been asked to approve the new rules which include allowing FIFA to change the referee if it thinks he is not qualified for the game.

The Congress agenda said: "FIFA would like to highlight the fact that it is of vital importance to have clear provisions regarding the authorisation of international matches in order to protect the integrity of football."