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FIFA watching France for interference

June 26, 2010
Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG -- FIFA is monitoring the fallout in France over Les Bleus' World Cup failure, warning that it won't hesitate to suspend the 1998 champions if it discovers government interference with the team.

France President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to personally investigate the squad's meltdown, and met with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot on Wednesday to discuss ways to reform French soccer.

France was eliminated from the first round of the tournament after going on strike, failing to win a match and having striker Nicolas Anelka thrown off the squad for insulting the coach.

FIFA statutes prohibit governments from interfering with the independence of FIFA members.

Iraq was suspended for such interference in 2008 and FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who is French, said Saturday that there's "no reason to have a different approach for a European country."

Valcke said he had already spoken with Bachelot over the matter.

"I told them to be very careful, because every time there is interference FIFA will react like any country," Valcke said. "We will definitely look at what France is doing, and that's not just because I am French.

"No [government official] can ask for someone to resign. There is a system in place to run football around the world and that system is under FIFA. We are always warning people about how this pyramid is working. I hope to avoid having to send an interference letter for this situation."

In FIFA's official rule book, Article 13.1.(g) states that national federations are obliged "to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties."

At its 2009 congress in the Bahamas, FIFA members agreed to take a tougher stance against federations whose work was interfered with by third parties -- namely "politicians, governments, states, media, etc."

FIFA agreed then that federations should be punished even if they were not at fault for the third-party interference.

Greece was European champion when it was suspended from world soccer for several days in 2006 because its parliament tried to change a law regulating professional sports organizations.

Spain was threatened with expulsion just weeks before Euro 2008 because the incoming national government wanted sports federations to hold elections before the Beijing Olympics later that year.

Iraq was suspended for several days in May 2008 after its government disbanded all national sports bodies. The dispute threatened Iraq's place in the World Cup, and was resolved three days before it was scheduled to play a qualifier against Australia.

When countries are suspended, national and club teams plus referees cannot take part in international matches and officials are barred from attending soccer meetings.

A suspension would affect France's preparations to organize the 2016 European Championship. It was awarded the hosting rights last month by UEFA.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press