Spain starting to worry about threat of Euro 2008 ban

( dpa ) - After weeks of belittling the possibility, Spanish football is starting to worry about the threat of their national team being barred from playing at the 2008 European Championship finals.

This is the threat that FIFA and UEFA have made to Spain because of alleged political interference in the functioning of the Spanish football federation (RFEF).

Spain may be banned from international competition if the government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero tries to intervene in the RFEF's election process, according to FIFA president Joseph Blatter.

Blatter is unhappy with a recent ruling from Zapatero's government forcing Spain's non-Olympic sporting federations to hold elections before the Beijing Olympic Games.

The crisis deepened on Friday after a court had ruled against an injunction filed by the head of the RFEF, Angel Maria Villar, who is also a vice-president of both FIFA and UEFA.

Villar, a midfielder in the 1970s for Athletic Bilbao and Spain, has been president of the RFEF since 1988, and is keen to be re- elected for a sixth term - but not before November.

He has so far played down the crisis, in the hope that the government would back down and allow the RFEF to delay its elections until November.

But as this did not happen, Villar, who qualified as a lawyer after hanging up his boots, filed a lawsuit two weeks ago against the government's order demanding pre-Beijing elections.

But on Friday afternoon Villar learned, to his chagrin, that his injunction - which denounced "government interference of any kind in the running of the Federation" - had been rejected by an administrative court in Madrid.

This court has agreed with the government that "it is in the public interest" to have elections at all of the sporting federations before the Olympic Games.

In his injunction, Villar had cited the threat of Spain being barred from the 2008 European Championship finals - to be played in Austria and Switzerland in June - if the government's decree was put into practice.

The court's ruling accepts that the RFEF is part of FIFA and, therefore, should not be subjected to government interference.

But the ruling insists on the primacy of "the Spanish judicial order."

Blatter had earlier said that interference in football affairs is not a new problem for FIFA.

"It first occurred in Portugal where a letter from us was sufficient to change the law governing sport. In Greece, we had to suspend their federation indefinitely and everything was sorted out in 48 hours."

The Spanish media have reacted to the court ruling with trepidation and concern, worried that Luis Aragones' team is now really running the risk of being barred from Euro 2008.

According to radio station Cadena COPE, "this is becoming a serious crisis."

The digital version of sports daily AS, meanwhile, has already started to criticize Villar for not having resolved the problem earlier.

Rival daily Marca, for its part, continues to take comfort in the words of sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky, who on Thursday said that "FIFA's rules regarding elections are 100 percent compatible with Spanish law and with its electoral processes."

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