Uruguay soccer leaders quit in fan violence crisis
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Uruguayan soccer has lost its leadership with little more than two months before its national team is to compete in the World Cup.
The entire executive committee of the Uruguayan Football Association quit Monday in a crisis that also involves President Jose Mujica and the football players union.
“It seems nonsensical to me that the executive committee resigns two months before the World Cup, because the big loser here could be the national team,” Edgar Welker, vice president of the Penarol soccer team, told The Associated Press.
Uruguay’s clubs will try to designate a temporary committee to lead the country’s soccer until the end of the World Cup, Welker said, adding that the crisis should not affect the leadership of the national team’s coach, Oscar Washington Tabarez.
The crisis blew up when Mujica abruptly withdrew police protection Thursday from the home stadiums of Penarol and Nacional, the most popular teams in Uruguay, after Nacional fans injured 40 police officers in postgame violence the night before.
“We Uruguayans cannot continue in this irrationality, accepting human stupidity. We need to react urgently,” the president said.
Uruguay’s soccer federation and its clubs decided to play Saturday’s games anyway, but the players pulled out Sunday, saying they wouldn’t be safe without police in the stadiums.
After all five leaders of the federation’s executive committee quit Monday, the country’s leading newspaper, El Pais, raised the question of whether the development could threaten Uruguay’s participation in the World Cup, which begins June 13 in Brazil.
Citing unidentified sources, El Pais suggested that FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, could be investigating the resignations and could suspend Uruguay from the tournament if it determined Mujica put political pressure on the committee.
FIFA rules are designed to protect soccer from political intervention. To make governments back down in conflicts over the sport, FIFA can threaten suspension from international football matches and meetings.
The body’s media department said FIFA had no comment on the situation in Uruguay.
Welker said the government had nothing to do with the resignation of Uruguayan Football Association President Sebastian Bauza and the other executives.
“I don’t see a government move behind this, nothing of the sort,” he said.
Francisco Figueredo, executive secretary of the South American Football Confederation, told the AP in Asuncion, Paraguay, that neither his group nor FIFA was investigating the Uruguayan crisis.
“Neither is Uruguay’s participation in the World Cup at risk, because the selection (national team) has nothing to do with police, nor violent fans,” he said.
Associated Press writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and Pedro Servin in Paraguay contributed to this report.