MUNICH, Germany -- FIFA will set up an independent ethics committee to combat scandals involving referee bribing and match-fixing.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Monday the new panel will be the key item on the agenda of the FIFA Congress, which starts Wednesday, two days before the opening match of the World Cup.
"It's an important step forward," Blatter said. "I'm sure the congress will follow up. It's necessary where there are deviations in football."
He said a truly independent ethics committee "given the tools" to work effectively should replace a current ethics committee format that has an executive committee member in charge. Blatter gave a three-month timetable after the World Cup for the new guidelines and powers to be worked out.
FIFA's executive committee also decided to accept World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, avoiding a conflict before the World Cup.
But while adopting WADA's minimum two-year doping sanctions, Blatter said FIFA reserved the right to treat each case on its merits.
Previously, FIFA wanted to impose minimum six-month bans. WADA warned that soccer's place in the Olympics would be at stake if FIFA did not accept the standard two-year minimums.
"I'm pleased to say we've reached agreement with WADA," said Blatter, adding that the "principle of individual case management is upheld."
FIFA's amended disciplinary code "will mention words 'in principle' -- individual case management allows for flexibility upward or downward" in sanctions, he said.
Appearing at a news conference after FIFA's executive committee meetings, Blatter also held up an Olympic oath-style "declaration" that all players and officials must sign, promising fair play at the World Cup.
But while he spoke, independent auditors -- at the request of FIFA -- were investigating reports that some of the Paraguayan national soccer federation's tickets had ended up with agencies or even scalpers.
FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi said the investigation was ongoing and would not make further comment.
As a separate investigation on the bribery scandal that has rocked Italian soccer continues, Blatter said an increased focus on referees and an ethics committee with real powers would help address some problems.
"We've had to note that the system applicable to organizing football is not faultless and a number of scandals have affected football -- for instance, the problem with referees," Blatter said. "We realize there were similar problems with other associations. I'll not mention all places there were fire -- or smoke -- Brazil, Belgium, one of the Balkan states.
"When you see a circle drawn, the referee is at the heart of it," he said.
Italian referee Massimo De Santis has been barred from the World Cup after being implicated in the scandal that is centered on Juventus and involves allegations of match-fixing, illegal betting and manipulation of referee assignments.
Blatter said the introduction of professional referees in the wealthy leagues and a transfer system for officials between continents would help.
In other developments, FIFA confirmed the Club World Cup format in Japan will include the winners of all six continental club championships, ensuring Oceania's right to a direct entry to the December tournament.
The executive board will present 13 motions from its Taskforce for the Good of the Game during the congress.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press