By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - The sudden resignation from FIFA's executive committee of Paraguayan Nicolas Leoz means almost half the men who decided on the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals have left world soccer's governing body.
Leoz, 84, president of the South American confederation CONMEBOL, has quit the executive role he has held with FIFA since 1998 and his position as CONMEBOL's president after 26 years.
He is the fifth man who voted in December 2010 on the World Cup hosts to leave with the whiff of corruption trailing in his wake. Three others have gone with their good names unblemished while two more were banned from even voting at the time because of their involvement in vote-selling allegations.
In all, 12 executive committee members have been accused of some form of corruption since October 2010 with Leoz, Jack Warner (Trinidad & Tobago), Mohamed Bin Hammam (Qatar), Ricardo Teixeira (Brazil), Chuck Blazer (United States), Amos Adamu (Nigeria), Reynald Temarii (Tahiti) and Vernon Manilal Fernando (Sri Lanka) facing the most serious allegations.
Leoz, Warner, Bin Hammam, Teixeira and Blazer have resigned with Bin Hammam banned from football for life. All of them have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Adamu was banned for three years and Temarii for one year while Fernando is serving a provisional 90-day suspension.
Leoz, one of FIFA's crusty old guard, has quit shortly before FIFA's Ethics Committee announces its findings into a bribery probe in which he was implicated in 2008.
He was identified during a criminal trial in Switzerland as having received kickback payments from FIFA's former marketing partner ISL, which went bankrupt in 2001.
The Paraguayan, who has been suffering with heart problems for years, cited "health reasons" for his departure and said in a statement on Tuesday he was leaving his roles with a clear conscience.
"I feel very happy because I'm retiring with the tranquillity and knowledge of having done a sincere, honest job," he said at a news conference in Asuncion.
He follows out of FIFA four disgraced colleagues who were among the 22 men who voted in Zurich on December 2, 2010 for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia and the 2022 finals to be staged in Qatar.
The fall-out from their vote, especially that of awarding the finals to Qatar among vote-trading allegations between members, was the catalyst for FIFA president Sepp Blatter to announce a series of reforms to ensure that FIFA was never tainted by corruption allegations again.
Among them was that FIFA's Congress of 209 member nations would decide the destination of future World Cups and not the executive committee, but the reform process has been fraught with problems over the last few months.
On Monday, Alexandra Wrage of Canada resigned from the committee proposing the reforms saying FIFA had was actively blocking the reform process.
In some ways, though, the very top of FIFA is reforming itself partly because time is up for the old guard.
The men who left under a cloud now have no active part in football and have been replaced in the main by younger men, and the first woman on the executive, Lydia Nsekera of Burundi, who for now, at least, seem intent on change.
The most high profile departures involved FIFA vice-president Warner and Bin Hammam who were implicated in the votes-for-cash scandal in Port of Spain in May 2011 when Bin Hammam was set to challenge Blatter for FIFA's top job.
Despite both proclaiming their innocence, Warner eventually resigned as president of CONCACAF, the confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean, and his seat on the FIFA executive and walked away from the sport before facing any charges.
However last week delegates at this year's CONCACAF Congress was told his management of the organisation was "fraudulent."
Delegates in Panama City also accused his long-term general secretary Blazer of mismanaging CONCACAF's money for years.
Blazer announced his resignation from the FIFA executive committee last year after losing his job with CONCACAF in the wake of the allegations against him.
Bin Hammam, meanwhile, was banned from football for life last year and now pursues his own business interests in Qatar, but is not involved in their World Cup preparations.
Brazilian Teixeira was another long-serving FIFA executive committee member who was frequently associated with abusing his position and was publicly accused of bribery more than once.
Teixeira, the powerful head of the Brazilian FA (CBF), who was also married to the daughter of former FIFA president Joao Havelange before divorcing after 20 years, also has nothing to do with the sport any longer.
Two other FIFA executive committee members - Temarii and Adamu - were already tarnished before the vote for the 2018 and 2022 finals was made and were serving suspensions after vote-selling allegations against them in the Sunday Times newspaper.
In the main, those departing have been replaced by younger members who have promised a far more open approach to their governance.
Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein was voted on to the executive at the age of 35 two years ago and worked tirelessly to overturn an earlier decision that banned Muslim women from wearing the hijab to play football.
Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, the new 48-year-old president of CONCACAF, made it clear last week that openness and transparency was paramount in the future.
"The new CONCACAF foundation must be built on core principles of transparency and integrity," he said.
"Our challenges have been well documented and are numerous - we lack accountability and transparency. Each and every one of us realises that trust must be regained at every single level - players, fans, referees coaches, our football family."
The new United States representative on the FIFA executive, Sunil Gulati, 53, said he would be willing to disclose what payments and expenses he receives from the world governing body as long as he was not bound by a confidentiality agreement.
(Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Ken Ferris)