Nigerian president suspends Cup losers

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Nigerian president suspends Cup losers

ABUJA, Nigeria - The president of Nigeria suspended the national football team from international competition for two years after its poor showing at the World Cup, his spokesman said Wednesday.

The announcement by President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman also follows corruption allegations that surrounded the team in the run-up to the competition.

Spokesman Ima Niboro said all funds directed toward the Nigeria Football Federation would be examined and “all those found wanting will be sanctioned.”

Niboro gave no other specifics about the investigation into the team, other than saying Jonathan’s decision came after reading a report submitted by the presidential football task force. Federation spokesman Ademola Olajire told The Associated Press that he had no information about the suspension.

“We have not been directed,” Olajire said. “We have no letter” from the president.

Nigeria’s state-run television broadcaster made only a brief mention of the suspension Wednesday afternoon, first saying the president wanted to build a “permanent football house” for the program.

The Nigerian Television Authority newscaster also said that Jonathan promised the government “would investigate misapplication of funds during the 2010 World Cup.”

The Nigerian Football Federation’s executive committee had earlier tendered an apology to the government and “all football loving Nigerians” for the early exit.

Nigeria left the World Cup competition with just one point, which it earned in a 2-2 draw with South Korea in its last game. Nigeria lost to Argentina 1-0 in its Group B opener and fell to Greece 2-1 in a game turned by the first-half expulsion of midfielder Sani Kaita.

The Nigerians haven’t won a World Cup match since 1998, having two losses and a draw in 2002 and failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. The team, nicknamed the Super Eagles by loyal supporters and the Super Chickens by dissenters, faced almost countrywide derision after finishing third in the African Cup of Nations earlier in the year.

Nigeria fired coach Shaibu Amodu in February and later hired Swedish coach Lars Lagerback to take charge with only about four months before the World Cup.

But local newspapers questioned Lagerback’s selection and made allegations about endemic bribery in the program.

The football federation also had to pay a reported $125,000 fee to cancel its reservations at the Hampshire Hotel north of Durban in South Africa. Nigerian officials apparently complained the three-star hotel was noisy, mosquito-infested and unsafe.

Analysts and watchdog groups consider Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people, as having one of the world’s most corrupt governments.

Nigeria now risks being banned by FIFA from all international football because of the political interference in the national administration of the sport.

“At the time of writing, we have no official information on this matter,” FIFA said in a statement. “However, in general, FIFA’s position regarding political interference in football is well known.”

Nigeria’s next scheduled international match is a qualifier for the 2012 African Cup of Nations, at home to Madagascar in early September. FIFA statutes demand that national federations manage their affairs independently, or face suspension from world football.

National and club teams, plus referees, would be barred from participating in international matches and football officials are prevented from attending meetings. FIFA president Sepp Blatter had already expressed concern over the French government’s investigation into France’s first-round exit from the World Cup.

“Definitely I can tell you that political interference will be dealt with by FIFA notwithstanding what kind of interference and what is the size of the country,” Blatter said Tuesday.

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