Corruption in Football

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Spain at “serious” risk of being ejected from World Cup: disgraced soccer boss
Fifa argues Spanish national soccer body broke rules in trying to remove Ángel María Villar

The suspended president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), Ángel María Villar, has warned there is a “serious threat” of Spain being barred from the 2018 World Cup over alleged government meddling in Spanish soccer’s governing body.

In a rare public appearance, Villar, who was arrested in July as part of an ongoing operation targeting corruption in the upper echelons of the sport’s top body in Spain but who technically still holds the RFEF’s top job, was keen to distance himself from the FIFA threat revealed by this paper late last week.

Fifa confirmed to EL PAÍS it had sent a letter to the RFEF expressing its concern over a possible lack of independence at the federation after Spain’s National Sports Council (CSD) said in May it planned to repeat those elections in May which saw Villar reelected as head of Spanish soccer’s governing body over suspicions at least five regional soccer chiefs had received kickbacks for supporting Villar for the top job.

Current RFEF head Juan Luis Larrea informed Fifa of the planned move, designed to draw a line under the Villar era, one marked by murky dealings.

But the response was a clear warning from Fifa. Under Fifa rules, national soccer federations must be able to act independently without the involvement of third parties. The involvement of the CSD in the election process could breach article 13 of the FIFA statute and see all Spanish sides ejected from competitions including the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“I categorically deny any action or intervention in relation to the RFEF or Fifa. As you know I have been suspended and wasn’t able to [take any action],” said Villar on Monday, referring to the Fifa threat.

“The CSD is the only organization responsible for the fact Spain could be left out of the World Cup,” said Villar who presided over a golden age for soccer in the country as Spain came out of the wilderness to win three major tournaments: the European Football Championships of 2008 and 2012 and, in 2010, the World Cup.

“Fifa is just making sure its rules are being followed,” said Villar, noting that membership of the organization was voluntary and authorized by the CSD but once a country signed up, it had to accept its statutes.

To highlight the seriousness of the threat that Spain could be left out of the World Cup, Villar referred to the case of the 1992 European Cup, won by Denmark, which had failed to qualify but was let back in after Yugoslavia was excluded from the competition. “There are countries like Italy waiting to jump on any chance to occupy a free spot,” he said.

Speaking of legal proceedings currently underway against him as part of the Operation Soule, Villar said he was innocent.

“They have used judges and prosecutors,” said the disgraced soccer chief. “There are people who want to chop off my head. They are a lynch mob,” he said.

For the Spanish government, the Fifa warning is a clear setback. The government had assumed new elections would be necessary to put an end to the Villar era and breathe new life back in to the federation. CSD sources have confirmed Larrea has asked for a meeting with sports minister Íñigo Méndez de Vigo to address the issue.

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