- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2016

MADRID (AP) - The Spanish government’s top sports official is hoping the recent changes at FIFA will put an end to the governing body’s intimidation tactics.

Miguel Cardenal, the president of the country’s Higher Sports Council, has asked a tribunal to probe alleged wrongdoings by FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar, who is also the head of the Spanish soccer federation and the highest-ranking UEFA vice president.

Cardenal, who has been at odds with Villar for years, said the country’s soccer federation recently sent a letter to FIFA asking it to accuse the Spanish government of interference and threaten to ban it from international soccer competition.

“This is a mechanism that was used in the past,” Cardenal said in a recent interview with the AP. “There used to be an attempt to pressure the governments with threats. This can’t happen again, it would be unacceptable.”

Cardenal also said he doesn’t think the “new FIFA” would resort to such an attempt.



“With everything that has happened with FIFA in recent years, if this type of attitude persists, then it means that they didn’t understand anything about what has happened to them,” Cardenal said.

Gianni Infantino was elected FIFA president two weeks ago, replacing Sepp Blatter.

Villar is facing disciplinary proceedings for the alleged misuse of funds within the federation. The federation is accused of favoring small club Recreativo de Huelva through improper loans.

Villar, who has been president of the Spanish federation since 1988, has denied wrongdoing and formally accused Cardenal of misusing his position as a government official to attack him. A judge has reportedly agreed to open an inquiry into Cardenal because of Villar’s allegations.

Villar, who is also a member of the FIFA executive committee, was warned and fined 25,000 Swiss francs ($25,000) by FIFA’s ethics committee last year for misconduct during the 2018-2022 World Cup bid investigation.

“I’m certain and I’m confident that FIFA would never try to cover up an investigation into the alleged improper use of funds,” Cardenal said. “In past years, FIFA certainly would have come to aid Villar. Villar believes that FIFA still uses its old weapons, so he went asking for help.”

A court this week rejected Villar’s attempt to have more control over election rules at the Spanish soccer federation, but he can still appeal. He has been re-elected six times and is expected to run for another four-year term in April.

The Spanish federation declined to comment after a request made by the AP.

Here are some other topics discussed by Cardenal, who has been in charge of the sports council since 2012:

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CLEAN FEDERATIONS

Cardenal said the government has worked hard to improve the local sports federations and make sure officials are acting properly. He said in recent years there have been changes in several federations, including tennis, rugby, kickboxing, archery and sailing.

“I think that right now the level of governance in the Spanish federations is very good,” he said. “We have been working with them, explaining how things need to be done, and the majority understands what is needed. There are only a few isolated problems.”

The council recently also notified the local sports tribunal about alleged wrongdoings involving the president of the local basketball association.

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MATCH-FIXING

Cardenal said match-fixing is the biggest threat to the integrity of sports, but the problem in Spain is not as widespread as in other parts of the world.

“The culture of betting is a lot more recent here, so it’s not as big of a threat,” Cardenal said. “It isn’t worst here than it is in other countries, but we know that it remains a problem. We can’t relax, we have to keep working, knowing that there will always be attempts to cheat.”

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FAN VIOLENCE

Cardenal said there is a strong push to rid Spanish stadiums of disrespectful chants by fans.

“There used to be some tolerance for verbal violence,” he said. “Our interest is to make sure that sporting events are a spectacle for the family, for the kids. I think we have changed things and now it’s a different experience going to stadiums. You don’t hear the intolerant chants that you heard in the past.”

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni

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