NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) – The leader of soccer’s governing body urged nations Wednesday to avoid treating fans like “prisoners and wild animals” by using fences to hold them back in cramped stadiums.

“We have to go to the roots,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter said. “We have to go to the causes of some of the tragedies or accidents that happen.”

Blatter made the plea at FIFA’s annual Congress, where several issues were discussed. No votes were taken to decide two significant agenda items – the plan to restrict clubs to a maximum of five foreign players in starting lineups and the idea of lowering the maximum age for the Olympic men’s tournament from 23 to 21.

Most discussion centered on things FIFA would like to implement down the line, improved fan and player security among them.

Nine fans were killed June 1, 2008, at a World Cup qualifier in Liberia when a metal barrier gave way in an overcrowded stadium. On March 29, as many as 22 died in a stampede shortly before another Cup qualifying match between Ivory Coast and Malawi.

Since 1964, more than 1,300 fans have died in crushes at overcrowded stadiums during international matches worldwide.

Blatter, who ordered investigations into those deaths, said he remains saddened by both tragedies – adding that he believes they would be avoided if fencing wasn’t used or if stadium officials simply turned people away once the venue reached capacity.

“People are not yet in the stadium, the match is starting or is trying to start, there is a lot of noise around and then people like to press,” Blatter said. “Ladies and gentlemen, fences in the stadium are not adequate for (soccer). Who are behind fences? Prisoners and wild animals. Are (soccer) fans in these two categories?”

In South Africa, organizers of the next World Cup have pledged that the problems that can lead to stadium stampedes in Africa won’t be an issue during the continent’s first World Cup in 2010.

Other developments from the session included:

-FIFA will continue exploring a plan that would restrict clubs to a maximum of five foreign players in starting lineups, but stopped short for the second straight year of calling for a definitive vote. The “6+5” rule has raised the ire of the European Union, because it believes the policy would violate discrimination laws. Blatter said he would like to see the plan voted upon at next year’s meeting in South Africa. “The 6+5 will come,” Blatter said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

-Instead of voting to change the men’s Olympic age standard, a task force was planned to further investigate. Under existing rules, the Olympics are generally open to players under 23. FIFA’s executive committee backed a plan earlier this year to reduce the age cap. Blatter said it’s possible FIFA could see its 28-team tournament (16 men, 12 women) trimmed by the International Olympic Committee in the future, but insisted soccer would remain in the games.

-The Congress overwhelmingly approved a change to FIFA rules about avoiding outside or governmental intervention with national federations. Any nation found in violation now would face sanctions, even if it did not seek the outside influence. A new rule was also added, saying FIFA’s executive committee members – which now include Russia’s Vitaly Mutko, who has been his country’s sports minister under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – may be reappointed or relieved of duties at any time.

-FIFA showed a $184 million profit in 2008, thanks mostly to additional television and marketing deals struck for the 2010 World Cup. The Congress approved FIFA’s 2010 budget, which includes about $1.1 billion in expenses, more than half related to operational costs for the World Cup in South Africa.

-Players who hold dual nationality may – at any age – declare the federation from which they want eligibility. The measure, brought to the floor by the Algerian federation, passed 112-82. Previously, players had to declare which nation they would play for before turning 21.

-All but three of FIFA’s 208 national federations were represented, with Angola, Lebanon and Yemen absent.

AP-ES-06-03-09 1625EDT


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