Fifa threat to ban France over political interference

Jun 30, 2010
Gavin Mortimer

Sepp Blatter has warned the French government to keep its nose out football

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has told the French government not to get involved in the running of its national football team as the inquest into 'Les Blues' disastrous World Cup campaign continues. And he warned that any more interference could lead to the French Football Federation being banned from international competitions.

His shot across the bows of the French government came yesterday, as discredited French football coach Raymond Domenech prepared for his appearance this morning before the country's National Assembly. Domenech and the recently deposed president of the French Football Federation, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, were summoned to face the deputies at 9am sharp.

Blatter has become increasingly concerned  with what he sees as political interference by President Sarkozy and his ruling UMP party following France's appalling World Cup campaign. France finished bottom of Pool A, failing to win a game and suffering humiliating defeats to Mexico and South Africa, but it was the internecine warfare that most dismayed Sarkozy with players going on strike after forward Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech.

Since the squad returned from South Africa on Thursday, the government has promised the French people that never again will such a calamity be allowed to happen. Escalettes was the first casualty. He resigned on Monday, a few days after sports minister Roselyne Bachelot announced that his position was untenable. Domenech had already intended to step down at the end of the World Cup come what may, but even with those two gone French politicians appear to want to go further.

There have been calls from the UMP for a commission of inquiry to be established and last week Sarkozy held a meeting with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Bachelot to discuss reforming the way the sport is run in France. After the meeting Sarkozy's office issued a statement, saying: "The head of state asked the ministers to make sure that those responsible draw the consequences for this disaster." The statement went on to say that a report on the state of the game in France will be completed by October and "following their conclusions, the government will launch a more generalised review of the governance of sporting federations."

Blatter is reportedly so alarmed at the prospect of presidential meddling that he took the unusual step of warning Sarkozy not to tamper with how football is run in France. "We don't want political interference," said Blatter, speaking to reporters in Johannesburg on Tuesday. "The national sports law exists but in the Fifa statutes, no political interference can be tolerated."

Acknowledging that he was sending a "clear and clean message" to President Sarkozy, Blatter continued: "In France they have made an affair d'etat with football, but football remains in the hands of the federation."

And Blatter emphasised that Fifa would not hesitate to act if they felt they had to: "We will help the national association and if it cannot be solved by consultation, then the only thing we have is to suspend the federation," he said. "Definitely, I can tell you that political interference will be dealt with by Fifa notwithstanding what kind of interference and what is the size of the country."

Sarkozy's political opponents, meanwhile, accuse him of opportunism and exploiting Les Bleus' shambolic World Cup for his own political gain. Bruno Le Roux of the Socialist Party has described the fallout from the French team's failure as "grotesque and ridiculous" while a former minister of sports, Marie-George Buffet, labelled the decision to summon Domenech and Escalettes before the National Assembly as a "circus".

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