FIFA warned Spain that its participation at the 2018 World Cup in Russia is "under threat because of government interference," according to Martyn Ziegler of the LONDON TIMES. FIFA has written to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) saying that "the government's involvement in the election for the federation's new president amounts to interference." A statement from the RFEF said, "The RFEF wants everything to return to normal, that has always been the main objective of the current board of directors. We underline that we all want the national team to participate in the 2018 World Cup, especially after its brilliant qualifying campaign." Spain captain Sergio Ramos said, "I cannot believe that Spain could lose what we have worked so hard for on the pitch due to an institutional dispute, I struggle to believe that" (LONDON TIMES, 12/16). In London, Ben Rumsby reported FIFA warned the RFEF it would be "in breach of the world governing body's statutes" if the Spanish Superior Sports Council (CSD) "forced it to stage a presidential election" following the arrest and suspension of Ángel María Villar. The letter followed a complaint allegedly lodged by Villar, who resigned as the SVP of FIFA and VP of UEFA following his arrest in July but is "still de facto president of the RFEF despite pressure from the CSD for the federation to elect a successor." Spain was previously "at risk of being thrown out" of Euro 2008 -- the first of its "hat-trick of major tournament triumphs" -- also over "alleged government interference in RFEF electoral business" (TELEGRAPH, 12/15). Also in London, Luke Brown reported FIFA can suspend the membership of any national football team if it judges the association has been "influenced by external political pressure." FIFA rules state, "Each member must manage their affairs independently and ensure that there is no interference by third parties in their affairs." Earlier this year, the Pakistan Football Federation was banned by FIFA due to "undue third-party interference" (London INDEPENDENT, 12/15). REUTERS' Richard Martin reported Spain PM Mariano Rajoy said that he was "not concerned by the suggestion his country would be barred from competing in the World Cup." Rajoy: "I cannot contemplate that scenario, I'm absolutely convinced Spain will go to the World Cup and that we are going to win it. The government's behavior is exemplary and those in charge of the department for sport (CSD) have the total support of the prime minister" (REUTERS, 12/15).
A-League execs said that poor crowds have not "tempered enthusiasm for expanding the league" and they are "confident attendances will lift over the summer," according to Ben McKay of the AAP. The first 10 rounds have seen 91,000 fewer fans through turnstiles compared with last season, a drop of 13%. The average A-League crowd stands at 11,902 this season and is "likely to drop further given the traditional summer slowdown." Past A-League seasons show "waning attendances through summer as the sport contends with the popular Big Bash League, other sports and holidays." The numbers have "spurred" Football Federation Australia into creating a crowd focus group, with a "number of initiatives to be rolled out over summer." That includes "kids-go-free offers" for at least one match for every club and an advertising drive targeted at young families (AAP, 12/15).
STAYING THE COURSE: In Sydney, Dominic Bossi reported FFA remains committed to its trial of the "controversial" video assistant referee and "will continue to use the innovation in the A-League for the foreseeable future, in spite of a series of errors and delays to games." A-League Head Greg O'Rourke refused to suspend the season-long trial of the VAR after a series of delays, inconsistencies and errors "plagued another weekend of games." O'Rourke said, "The VAR is set to be introduced in more global leagues around the world next year and it is a case of getting it right rather than walking away from the trial" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 12/17).
Just when it appeared that FIFA was "emerging from its morass of legal problems, the organization is back in trouble with the law," according to Tariq Panja of the N.Y. TIMES. It has been accused of "using a proprietary foam without respecting and supporting the patents of its inventor." The foam, which gained int'l renown after being used at the 2014 World Cup, was invented by Heine Allemagne, who said, "FIFA robbed my idea; this is anti fair play." Last week, after years of Allemagne’s "unsuccessful petitions for FIFA to respect his rights," a Rio de Janeiro court acknowledged his patent in 44 countries. The court ordered FIFA to "stop using the spray in any of its competitions or risk a fine" of $15,000 per game. FIFA said that it could not comment on the case "because the dispute was continuing." The ruling can be appealed, though FIFA, which is based in Zurich, has spent more than $100M in legal fees since U.S. authorities in '15 unsealed an indictment that accused several senior officials of "corruption dating back decades." Initially, FIFA "tried to do right by Allemagne." FIFA offered $500,000 to buy the patent five months before the 2014 World Cup. That deal did not go through. Allemagne said that he hoped FIFA President Gianni Infantino "would act in better faith than his predecessor." Allemagne: "It was a chance for him to show whether he was a great man or just mediocre like the pirates of the past." He added that he "wanted greater recognition from FIFA after somehow spending 15 years developing the water-based spray." He also wants the Rio court to award him $100M in damages (N.Y. TIMES, 12/15).
Norway's footballers signed an equal-pay agreement that will see all int'l senior male and female players "paid the same wages." The women's team will receive a pay raise of 2.5M kroner ($394,500), meaning that as of next year, the sides will be paid 6M kroner ($946,700) each, the Norwegian FA confirmed. Norway's male players "agreed to take a wage cut to help achieve parity," with the £44,739 ($59,600) they previously received from commercial activities "directed to the women's team" (London INDEPENDENT, 12/15).
Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) President Marco Polo del Nero was suspended by FIFA's ethics committee on Friday, a move that "could bring him closer to facing trial" in the U.S. on charges of racketeering and money laundering. Del Nero was banned for 90 days from all football activities. The suspension "can be extended for a further 45 days while the ethics committee's investigatory chamber carries out a formal investigation" (London GUARDIAN, 12/15).
Raheem Sterling was allegedly "attacked and racially abused" as he arrived at Man City's training ground on Saturday in preparation for the club's game against Tottenham. The England int'l was believed to have been kicked and branded a "n-----" by a man who appeared to be waiting for the 23-year-old at the players' entrance of Man City's football academy training base, according to sources (London TELEGRAPH, 12/16).