Weah still to receive fair play award

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George Weah will be presented with world football's fair play award by the Fifa president, Joao Havelange, despite the striker's recent head-butting of the Porto captain, Jorge Costa.

"Fifa has named the Liberian for its 1996 Fair Play award and it is not going to change its decision," Havelange said.

"A reaction, provoked, cannot erase 10 years of loyalty everywhere and in every competition. I will be happy to give him the award personally on 20 January in Lisbon and I'm confident that Costa himself will be there beside me on that day to shake his hand."

The Milan striker, who claimed he was proved by Costa's racist taunts, was suspended for one match by Uefa, European football's governing body, pending a fuller investigation. He has offered to apologise if Costa acknowledges the provocation.

The incident took place in the players' tunnel after a European Champions' League match last month. Costa, who needed surgery on his nose, has not accepted the offer and was reported to be considering suing Weah.

Weah served out his suspension during Milan's 2-1 home defeat by Rosenborg of Norway on Wednesday. The defeat put the Italians out of the European Cup.

Havelange also warned that football could be pulled out of the Olympics if the sport continues to be treated like an "outcast". A proposal to replace the men's Olympic tournament with an under-23 world championship is among the items on the agenda at the executive committee meeting of the sport's governing body, Fifa, in Barcelona today.

Havelange noted that all matches during the Atlanta Games were played outside of the host city. "The tournament in the United States was played everywhere but Atlanta," he said. "Soccer brought in 1.4 million spectators, more than the other disciplines combined, without receiving any [financial] compensation." Havelange's figures are disputed by ticket sales reports showing that football drew 736,475 spectators at the Atlanta Games. Track and field events sold the most tickets (1.13 million).

Havelange said he supports the creation of an under-23 world championship "played one year before the Olympics and not necessarily in the same country." However Europe's governing body, Uefa, is opposed to the under-23 idea.

Fifa and the International Olympic Committee have been in conflict for three decades on whether top players should take part in the Olympics. Fifa is against an open competition because that would clash with its own World Cup, while the IOC wants the best players possible to boost the prestige of the Olympic tournament.

Looking ahead to the 2002 World Cup, which will be jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea, Havelange called the unprecedented arrangement "a decision of international politics. What is good for politics is almost always bad for sports."