New Cambodian chief hits back at FIFA threat

May 10, 2006

PHNOM PENH, May 10 (Reuters) - Cambodia's new soccer chief defended his recent election on Wednesday and criticised a FIFA threat to ban the country from international competition on the grounds it was a political appointment.

General Sao Sokha, the national Military Police commander and close ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was elected last month as President of the Cambodian Football Federation (CFF) to replace Khek Ravy, a politician from the royalist FUNCINPEC party.

FUNCINPEC is the junior partner in the Hun Sen-dominated coalition.

In a letter to the CFF reported in local media, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said the election had been 'flagrantly violated on the grounds of political interference' and that Khek Ravy - CFF head since 1998 - should be reinstated.

'We have sent a letter explaining to the president of FIFA that we did nothing wrong,' Sao Sokha told Reuters. 'I was legitimately elected and accepted by the former head of the CFF.'

The Phnom Penh Post said Ravy was replaced in a snap election in April after complaints from officials at the Ministry of Education that he had been illegally holding the post since 2003.

The paper said FIFA had also threatened to suspend its $250,000 annual funding if he was not reinstated.

'There was no interference from the government. I have asked that FIFA continues to help us, but if it doesn't I don't have to bow my head to FIFA,' Sao Sokha said. 'Cambodia will not die just because we are not allowed to play football internationally.'