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Jan 4, 2009

FFA throws support behind Phoenix

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has announced a strengthening of support for the Wellington Phoenix's long-term involvement in the A-League.

Its future came into question in November when Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed bin Hammam said he did not support the Oceania Confederation club remaining in the Australian A-League beyond 2011.

That is when world governing body FIFA's approval for the club to be treated as a "special case" expires.

FFA chief executive Ben Buckley's initial response to bin Hammam's unexpected comments was to simply state Wellington were guaranteed their place in the A-League until 2011.

He added he was "aware of the concerns raised" about the club's Oceania Confederation status.

However, the FFA is now more prepared to throw its weight behind the Phoenix following remarks from FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Australian television.

Blatter said the issue was not an AFC one and if the FFA and New Zealand Football (NZF) want the Phoenix to remain in the A-League, they would get FIFA's "blessing".

FFA head of corporate and public affairs Bonita Mersiades indicated those remarks had eased much of the pressure on the club.

"We were very encouraged by President Blatter's comments," Mersiades said.

"We are firmly committed to Wellington Phoenix being in the A-League and are also committed to working with the Phoenix on any issues raised by Mr Hammam."

Mersiades believed Hammam's comments were not just aimed at the Phoenix but also at other clubs playing in competitions outside their own country within the AFC.

Singapore's S-League comprises clubs from China, Japan and South Korea.

NZF chairman Frank van Hattum has already voiced support for the Phoenix, indicating he is willing to hand over the club's licence to owner Terry Serepisos if it would help simplify its status.

Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata also welcomed Blatter's words.

Despite the club's unique straddling of two confederations, he said its mantra had always been straightforward as it set about reapplying for an A-League licence beyond 2011.

"We view ourselves as an Aussie club which happens to reside in New Zealand. We want to be part of the A-League for the long haul, and we want to be part of Asia."

FFA chairman Frank Lowy has talked of expanding the A-League to 12 teams by the 2010-11 season despite the global financial slowdown.

Meanwhile, Mersiades was in Wellington this week speaking to Phoenix management and players and was impressed by the health of the fifth-placed club off the field.

"And obviously they're in a good position at the moment (with three rounds remaining) in terms of how the season is finishing and face the potential of being in the finals for the first time, which would be terrific."

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