Football: Leagues plan to fight Fifa over cup

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EUROPE'S LEADING leagues have taken on the game's world governing body, Fifa, about releasing players for the controversial Confederations' Cup in January.

Officials said yesterday that a letter backed by 10 of the continent's leagues was sent to the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, last Wednesday protesting about the eight-nation competition which has annoyed clubs because it comes in the middle of the season.

"As yet there has been no reply from Fifa or acknowledgement of the letter, which is a bit disappointing," the English Premier League spokesman, Mike Lee, said. "We have offered them a meeting [on the matter]."

The tournament, won by Brazil last year and is set for Mexico from 8 to 20 January, coincides with league and cup fixtures in England, Spain, France and Italy.

Although England and Italy, for example, are not competing, clubs like Juventus, Arsenal and Chelsea have French internationals in their ranks who are due to play. Arsenal, who have the Frenchmen Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira and Nicolas Anelka in their squad, said yesterday that they were reluctant to release players.

The Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, whose club has Franck Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly on its books, said: "I think it is a waste of time and I will not be releasing my players for the Confederations' Cup.

"And if Fifa try to impose sanctions they will be ignored. The tournament is another one they have dreamed up from nowhere. It's got nothing to do with promoting football."

The competition features the world champions France, runners-up Brazil, Bolivia, United States, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and New Zealand.

Lee said the clubs were annoyed by the competition since it had been set up without consulting them. He said the European governing body, Uefa, also backed their view that the event was unfair.

The letter was supported by the leagues from Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, England and the Netherlands following a meeting at the end of last month.

It was sent directly to Blatter by the English Premier League's chief executive, Peter Leaver. A copy was also sent to the Uefa president, Lennart Johansson, who was also invited to a meeting on the subject with Blatter.

"The leagues resolved that any attempt by Fifa to impose sanctions on any club or player in respect of a refusal to release a player to play, or a refusal to participate in, the Confederations' Cup would be resisted by all leagues, " he wrote.

"The leagues fully supported the position of Uefa in relation to the Confederations' Cup. No such competition should be organised or sanctioned by Fifa. The leagues would be happy to meet with you, if you so wish."

The Belgian league director general, Jean-Marie Philips, said last month the cup had no special sporting value but was linked to commercial partnerships. He noted that clubs would also be forced to pay their players' insurance fees for the trip to Mexico.