Football: Fifa cool on new players' union

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The Independent Online
Diego Maradona's new international players' union has received a muted reception from Fifa, the sport's world governing body, who claimed yesterday they knew nothing about the new organisation.

The former Argentina captain launched the International Association of Professional Footballers on Monday in Paris where he had the backing of a host of top players including Manchester United's Eric Cantona. But a Fifa spokesman, Keith Cooper, said: "It's impossible to have a reaction because we don't have any documents about the new union. The only thing we know is what we read in the newspapers."

Maradona, who will be the association's president, wants it to promote and safeguard players' rights. He said the union's objective is to counterbalance the power of Fifa, although he stressed he did not want to pick any fights with the game's international administration.

Maradona has the support of players such as Rai of Brazil, Liberia's George Weah, Gianluca Vialli of Italy, Sweden's Tomas Brolin, Germany's Michael Rummenigge and Abedi Pele of Ghana. But Cooper stressed that players were already represented in national unions, for example the Professional Footballers' Association in England. These work with national football associations which in turn work with Fifa.

"If there suddenly appears to be another organisation which covers the same ground as the network that already exists, we can't embrace it with open arms and cast aside the existing network," he said. "If it is not intended to be in any way confrontational, that's good. If they wish to establish a dialogue we would be happy to hear from them."

Cooper said they had no details about the new union, its statutes or its likely membership, and had received no sign from Maradona that he wanted to meet leading Fifa officials to discuss any plans. Fifa's main committees, which take the major decisions influencing the future of the game, are staffed by administrators and managers rather than by players.

Until the birth of the new union, there was no worldwide movement to represent players' interests on issues like rules, transfers and competition schedules. The union is guaranteed to be high-profile because of the headlines attracted by its leading lights.

Maradona, once considered the world's greatest player, has been banned twice for 15 months by Fifa in the last four years for failing drug tests. His latest ban, for using banned stimulants during the 1994 World Cup finals, ends this month.

Cantona is also serving a worldwide ban for his kung-fu assault on a Crystal Palace fan, but will make his Manchester United return at the start of next month. "We hope that from now on, whenever there is an important decision affecting the sport, affecting spectators, affecting us, that it goes through us," the French international said.