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July 2, 2010 3:07 pm
World football’s governing body has given the Nigerian government 48 hours to rescind its decision to suspend its national team from all international competition for two years, saying it would not tolerate political interference in the sport’s organisation.
The Super Eagles’ early World Cup exit has gone down badly in the west African country and prompted Goodluck Jonathan, the president, to demand an overhaul of the Nigerian Football Federation, including an investigation into alleged corruption.
But Fifa demands that all football federations be independent and has acted swiftly to insist on a halt to the government’s plans.
Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s secretary-general, told a South Africa radio programme: “Nigeria went too far and Nigeria will be suspended if they don’t change their position in the next 48 hours.”
Mr Valcke plans to meet Nigeria’s Fifa representative to discuss the issue, at which he is likely to warn that sanctions would involve a loss of financial support from Fifa.
Fifa’s position was reinforced at a media briefing at which spokesman Nicolas Maingot said it was sending a letter to the NFF imposing a deadline of 6pm on Monday [1600 GMT] to cancel its decision to withdraw from international competition.
“A suspension goes beyond the suspension of the national team, it also involves the freezing of the financial help and no referees can participate in international competition,” Mr Maingot said. Plans by the Nigerian government to set up a management committee were not acceptable, he added.
But Nigeria could take the view that since one of the strongest sanctions Fifa can impose would be suspension from international tournaments – which is exactly what the government planned to impose on its national team anyway – it might as well proceed with its intentions.
Fifa has this week already sent a warning to French President Nicolas Sarkozy that any interference by his government in the affairs of the French Football Federation would not be tolerated.
France has gone through a period of soul-searching following the national team’s dire World Cup campaign, sparking a debate involving senior politicians about how the professional game should be run. This led to the resignation of FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes.
“Why should we be so strong on France when they did what they did and we say nothing about Nigeria,” Mr Valcke said. “We have 208 members ... if you have one country going against our statute, going against the football system, the pyramid of football...all is destroyed.”
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