By James M. Dorsey
World soccer body FIFA is taking a close look at the affairs of the Syrian Football Association (SFA) 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 SFA board in resigning took 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.
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.
A FIFA spokesman said the world soccer body was monitoring events in Syria following the board’s resignation and the ban. FIFA is likely to be 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.