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July 6, 2010

Nigeria backs down on soccer ban

Associated Press

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has dropped a threat to suspend the national soccer team from playing for two years because of its poor World Cup showing and corruption allegations.

In a statement, Jonathan's office said the decision came after a meeting Monday with the Nigeria Football Federation. The federation's executive committee fired the group's president and vice president Sunday in an effort to appease the government.

The federation "assured the president of their commitment" to building a national soccer program "that will bring glory, rather than consistent embarrassment to Nigeria on the world stage," the statement read.

FIFA had set a deadline Monday evening deadline for the Nigerian government to drop its suspension plans or face even harsher international sanctions than those Jonathan threatened to impose. In a statement, FIFA acknowledged that the government had backed off and "therefore, the Nigerian Football Federation remains vested with all its statutory rights."

FIFA regulations forbid governments from interfering in national soccer federations, and it has suspended countries for breaking the rules -- a ban that extends to club teams, referees and officials.

A presidential spokesman announced last Wednesday that Jonathan wanted the Super Eagles suspended for two years to allow Nigerian soccer to be restructured after it left the World Cup with just one point over three matches.

Earlier Monday, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said at a news conference that his organization has taken "all adequate steps" to resolve the dispute.

"We do hope that everything comes back to normal," Blatter said.

FIFA dispatched Nigeria's most senior soccer official -- Amos Adamu, a member of its 24-man ruling executive -- to talk with the government.

Nigeria is due to send a women's under-20 team to its World Cup, which kicks off next week in Germany.

Nigerian club Heartland also stood to lose its place in the African Champions League if it could not play a home game against Egypt's Al-Ahly scheduled next week.

The dispute between Nigeria and FIFA flared after the national team returned from a disappointing tournament in South Africa.

Nigeria earned a 2-2 draw with South Korea in its final game. But it lost to Argentina 1-0 in its Group B opener and fell to Greece 2-1 in a game that turned on the first-half ejection of midfielder Sani Kaita.

The suspension threat by Nigeria's government also followed corruption allegations that plagued the team before the World Cup. Presidential spokesman Ima Niboro said last week that all funds directed toward the Nigeria Football Federation would be examined and "all those found wanting will be sanctioned."

FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot could not confirm on Monday if Nigeria's federation had yet been paid any of the $8 million prize money it is due from FIFA for taking part in the World Cup.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press