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Thursday, September 22, 2011

FIFA forces Syrian Football Association elections




By James M. Dorsey

World soccer body FIFA has appointed a committee to organize new Syrian Football Association (SFA) elections following the resignation of the group’s board and last month’s banning of the country’s national team from competing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.

The committee has been tasked with organizing the elections by December 11. None of the SFA members that are part of the committee are entitled to stand in the election.
The SFA board resigned after taking responsibility for the banning of the Syrian national team for fielding an ineligible player in two World Cup qualifiers against Tajikistan. The Syrian Olympic Committee accepted the board’s resignation.

Syria coach Nizar Mahrous quit after his team was disqualified. “Ihave lost the will and power to work after all that has happened. All the efforts we did have been wasted,” Mr Mahrous was quoted by the Syrian press as saying.

The boards of both the SFA and the Olympic Committee are largely populated by people appointed with the approval of embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Assad and his regime face mounting international condemnation and economic sanctions for the brutality of its failed crackdown on six-month old mass anti-government protests. Some 2,600 people have so far been killed in the crackdown.

The Olympic Committee accepted the SFA resignations after investigating SFA staff and players for allowing George Murad to play the matches against Tajikistan in violation of FIFA rules because he had been a member of Sweden Olympic team in 2003 and 2005. The investigation concluded that SFA staff was responsible for the FIFA violation that led to the banning of the Syrian team.

Whether a newly elected SFA board will be independent or not is likely to depend on the state of affairs in Syria at the time of the election. Some 2,600 people have been killed in six months of mass anti-government protests that embattled president Bashar al Assad has failed to squash in a brutal crackdown. The protesters backed by US and European economic sanctions on Mr. Assad’s regime are demanding the president’s resignation.

FIFA said earlier this month that it was monitoring events in Syria following the board’s resignation and the ban. FIFA was looking at whether a new SFA board is elected without political interference, which is hard if not impossible to achieve in a country that is wracked by civil strife and regime brutality in a bid to cling to power at whatever cost.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

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