Iraq cleared to play Australia

SYDNEY - Iraq's World Cup qualifier against Australia will go ahead as planned this weekend after Fifa agreed to temporarily lift their suspension.

SYDNEY - Iraq's World Cup qualifier against Australia will go ahead as planned this weekend after Fifa agreed to temporarily lift their suspension.

The match had been in doubt after Fifa announced on Monday they were suspending the reigning Asian champions in response to their government's decision to dissolve their National Olympic Committee.

But Fifa agreed to revoke the ban after the Iraqi government provided written assurances that they had not dissolved the Iraqi Football Association (IFA).

Fifa released a statement yesterday confirming they had lifted the ban so Sunday's World Cup qualifier would proceed but warned Baghdad that it was only provisional and had conditions attached.

Fifa said they still had concerns over the Iraqi government's attempts to control its national federations and have called for a delegation from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the IFA to join them in Zurich to discuss the issues.

"This letter [from the Iraqi government] is a positive step, however it does not fully answer all of Fifa's concerns about the governmental attempts to control the Iraqi federations and the Iraqi National Olympic Committee," the Fifa statement said.

AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam, who had led the push to suspend Iraq as part of his strong stance against political interference in sport, welcomed the Iraqi government's letter but also said they needed to reverse their decision to dissolve their national Olympic committee.

"This process would be completed only when the suspension imposed on the Iraq Olympic Association and all sports bodies is lifted," he said.

"Only such a move can lead to reinstilling of trust in Iraqi sports."

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, speaking on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq in Stockholm, praised Fifa's move as "the right decision".

But he indicated that the Baghdad government stood by its decision to dissolve the National Olympic Committee of Iraq.

"The national Olympic committee lacks legitimacy but the Iraqi Football Association has been exempted from the cabinet's decision," he said.

"There will be elections within three months' time to elect a new Olympic committee, but the football federation continues its work as normal," he said.

Australia, which had stood to lose about A$3 million (about R22,2million) in ticket sales and sponsorship if the match was cancelled, welcomed the announcement the game was back on.

"This is great news," Football Federation of Australia (FFA) chief executive Ben Buckley said.

"It has always been our hope that the games could go ahead as they are critical matches in Australia's World Cup qualification preparation, and football is what we're here for." - Reuters

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