JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - FIFA warned French politicians on Saturday to beware of meddling in the running of soccer amid national soul-searching and high-level meetings over the traumatic exit of Les Bleus from the World Cup.
“I spoke to the sports minister’s office and told them to be very careful,” FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said.
“There is an autonomy of the sporting movement, and there can’t be any political interference in what’s happened.”
The South African campaign of the 2006 runners-up could hardly have been worse. Players revolted over the expulsion from the squad of striker Nicolas Anelka for insulting the coach, and France came bottom of their group after a draw and two defeats.
Such is the national angst that President Nicolas Sarkozy urged a soccer shakeup and met team captain Thierry Henry.
Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot has slammed “immature gang leaders” in the camp and said French Football Federation chief Jean-Pierre Escalettes’s resignation is “unavoidable.”
“We will definitely look at what France is doing,” Valcke, a Frenchman himself, told a news briefing at the World Cup headquarters in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.
“Long story short — it means that no one can ask for someone to resign. The person is elected. If he has the feeling that in what he has done he failed, then he can resign. And then elections will have to be organized.”
Just like FIFA interventions in countries such as Kenya or Iraq, there would be no special status for France if it came to that, Valcke said.
“It is not because it’s a European country that we should have a different approach,” he said. “They can meet, they can discuss, they can find ways to make sure that this will not happen, they can ask for apologies from the different people involved. But any time there is interference, FIFA will react.”
Valcke later told Reuters Sarkozy’s meeting with Henry and other high-level contacts over the French soccer fiasco were an understandable reflection of the national trauma.
“It’s the French way of dealing with a situation somewhere, if I may say so,” he said.
“Maybe the world took it as a bad joke. In France, it was not a bad joke, it was a sad story and a lot of people in France have the feeling that they have been cheated by these players.”
Officials should, however, know where to draw the line, he added.
“Our politicians are clever enough. It’s one of the countries of diplomacy, France, where I am sure they will understand and they know where they can go and what they have to avoid doing.”
Editing by Ken Ferris