MADRID • Spain could be out of next year's World Cup before football's showpiece event even begins.
World governing body Fifa has warned the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) that the Spanish government's involvement in the election of the RFEF's new president could lead to the 2010 world champions being expelled from the tournament in Russia.
The RFEF is led by Juan Luis Larrea on an interim basis after former president Angel Maria Villar was forced to step down on corruption charges.
Even though he is only a stand-in, Larrea has made clear he wants to see out Villar's term, which was due to end in 2020.
Last month, Luis Rubiales, the former head of the players' union and an ally of Villar's, put forward a motion of censure against Larrea with the objective of becoming president himself. That motion is scheduled for a vote on Jan 16.
At the same time, the Spanish Cabinet, acting on requests from the Spanish National Sports Council, demanded fresh RFEF elections because of irregularities in the vote last May. Fifa sees this as external political interference.
"We can confirm that Fifa recently sent a letter to the RFEF showing its concern with the situation the federation is in and reminding it that... all member associations should manage their affairs independently," Fifa said in a statement on Friday. "All associations must be assured that there is no outside interference from third parties in its internal affairs.
"Fifa is in contact with the RFEF and in the next few weeks a delegation of Fifa and Uefa members will travel to Madrid to analyse the situation the RFEF is in."
The RFEF and the Spanish government insisted on Friday that Spain would go to the World Cup in Russia.
"I just can't see that scenario," Spain Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said at a press conference in Brussels. "I am absolutely convinced Spain will go to the World Cup, and will win."
A HORRIBLE THOUGHTI cannot believe that Spain could lose what we have worked so hard for on the pitch due to an institutional dispute, I struggle to believe that.SERGIO RAMOS, Spain captain, dismissing the possibility that La Roja will not feature in Russia next summer.
Spain are one of the favourites to lift the trophy in Russia next year after topping their European qualifying group.
Spain and Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, speaking ahead of the Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi, could barely contemplate the possibility of a World Cup without La Roja.
"I cannot believe that Spain could lose what we have worked so hard for on the pitch due to an institutional dispute, I struggle to believe that," he said.
Yet Fifa's threat is very real.
It banned Indonesia from competing in World Cup qualifiers in 2015 after Fifa said the central government had taken over its federation's affairs.
In October that year, Kuwait was suspended from participating in international competitions over a government Bill which it said interfered in the independence of the country's football association.
Last year, Benin was suspended after a local court stopped its football federation elections.
The need to fall in line with Fifa's statutes saw the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) amend its constitution last year.
Prior to the FAS' first open elections in April, office bearers were previously appointed by the Government under Article 19.3 of the FAS constitution, which states that "all council members shall be appointed by the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (now called the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) - including the president - and shall, unless otherwise decided by the Minister, hold office for a period of two years".
The RFEF confirmed that talks will take place to address the situation. "The RFEF passed on (Fifa's) concerns to the minister for sport and is expecting to organise a meeting on the matter," a statement read. "The RFEF wants everything to return to normal, that has always been the main objective of the current board of directors."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE