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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 27, 2008

FIFA warns Iraq to stop meddling in sport

SYDNEY, May 27 (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter has urged the Iraqi government to stop interfering in sport to avoid being banned from international soccer and this year's Beijing Olympics.

FIFA slapped a temporary suspension on the Iraqi football team and threatened to extend the ban to one year after the government announced last week they were disbanding the National Olympic Committee of Iraq.

The first impact of FIFA's decision would be to abandon Iraq's World Cup qualifying match against Australia in Brisbane on Sunday.

Blatter said Iraq's actions were in strict breach of FIFA's regulations outlawing political interference and the executive board was forced to take action.

'This was a very sad decision.... but the executive board were left with no other alternative other than to suspend the federation,' he told a news conference on Tuesday.

FIFA's executive board, which completed a two-day meeting in Sydney on Tuesday, has left the door open for Iraq to earn a reprieve by giving the government until Thursday to reverse their decision or face a 12 month ban from international football.

That decision will be put to the FIFA Congress, which meets in Sydney on Friday and requires a 75 percent vote to be passed.

Blatter said the Iraqi government's actions had also set off alarm bells in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the matter would discussed at the next IOC executive board meeting.

'The result might be that there will be no Iraqi athletes in Beijing,' Blatter said.

'I just cannot understand why a country which is so much disturbed by international situation (sic)...why the government would intervene a few days before a very important issue in football and before the Olympics.'

The Iraqi government notified the Iraqi Football Association on Monday that it was not affected by the government decision to disband the National Olympic Committee of Iraq, in the hope that FIFA would agree to lift the ban.

But Blatter rejected the Iraqi government's position, saying the decision to disband the Olympic committee had far-reaching effects.

'By dissolving the national Olympic committee they have automatically dissolved all the sports federations including football,' he said.

'The reasons they have advanced is that they say the people at the helm are not any longer reliable, but this is not for the government to say that, this is for the football community to say that.'

However, Blatter said he was confident a solution would be found before Sunday.

'I'm not a betting man but I try to be a prophet,' he said. 'This is important for Iraq because football has given them so much hope as we saw when they won the Asian Cup last year.

'Yesterday (Monday) there was a group of young Iraqis here, they wanted to meet me at the hotel... and they were crying and saying 'we want to see our team play Brisbane'.'

'I think Iraq will play, they must play... I have a good feeling.'

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