FA denies links with football licensing cartel

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The Independent Online
STEVE BOGGAN

The Football Association denied last night that it was involved in a multi million-pound football licensing cartel following a raid on its offices by European Commission investigators.

Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, said he had been "bewildered" when two officials from Brussels, accompanied by staff from the Office of Fair Trading, burst into FA headquarters in west London at 9.15am demanding access to its files.

At the same time, the Football Associations of France and Denmark were raided as part of an investigation into the practice adopted by Fifa, the world governing body, of insisting that only balls that it has licensed are used in top matches. Sports manufacturers welcomed the raid, arguing that the Fifa licensing costs amounted to about pounds 4.35 on the price of a football, but the English FA said that it received none of the money. Its offices in Lancaster Gate, were raided by officials acting on behalf of the European Competition Commissioner, Karel Van Miert.

A spokesman for Mr Van Miert said a complaint had been received a year ago from the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry which alleged that Fifa - and its affiliates, including the English FA - were violating the free and fair competition articles of the European Treaty.

According to the Commission, Fifa charges manufacturers 1 Swiss Franc (about 55p) to label its footballs "Fifa Inspected" and 2 Swiss Francs to label them "Fifa Approved", but it says other royalties and administrative costs of the scheme push prices much higher.

Fifa insists that all World Cup matches and qualifiers are played with such balls but it argues that, given that it owns the competition, that is its prerogative.

It made no comment yesterday, but one Fifa source said it would launch a fierce defence of its position. "We choose the balls for the World Cup, but in all other competitions we tell our federation members that they may use either Fifa inspected or approved balls, or a third category which carries no Fifa logo and is not licensed but simply complies with the rules of football," the source said. "Using that type of ball results in no income for Fifa but they are free to use it."

Mr Kelly said he thought the raid was "a wind-up". He added: "My response is to co-operate. I don't know what it is we are supposed to have done, but it's not a major issue."

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