LONDON (AP) _ The governing body of world soccer said Friday it has lifted the ban on English clubs playing exhibition matches in Europe, saying it was satisfied ″adequate measures″ had been taken against hooliganism.
But it said the suspension of English teams from official tournaments in Europe still stands.
″We do not want to isolate English clubs for longer than we have to,″ Guido Tognoni, spokesman for the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), told The Associated Press by telephone from Mexico City.
″Everyone in Europe has learned from the Brussels disaster. We want to open the door just a little to the English clubs, who we feel have suffered enough,″ Tognoni said.
Fans of Liverpool, England’s most successful club team of the past decade, were held largely responsible for causing a stampede that led to 38 deaths at the European Champions Cup final in Brussels last May. Most of those who died were supporters of the opposing team, Juventus of Turin.
Following the riots, English clubs were banned indefinitely by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) from taking part in competitive tournaments. FIFA, which governs world soccer, followed suit by banning the clubs from playing against all foreign teams anywhere.
But FIFA was criticized for acting too harshly and amended its ruling, allowing English clubs to play exhibition games outside Europe.
Confirming a Swiss radio report that FIFA had lifted the ban on exhibitions inside Europe, Tognoni said the decision was taken at a meeting of the FIFA executive committee on Thursday.
″What we are saying is that the clubs can now play ‘friendlies’ in Europe as well as in the rest of the world,″ Tognoni said from Mexico City, where FIFA officials are attending Sunday’s draw for next summer’s World Cup finals. ″Of course, the UEFA ban still applies and the clubs can’t play in European competitions until UEFA lifts its own ban. I don’t know whether this decision will influence them.″
FIFA President Joao Havelange, according to Tognoni, was ″convinced that, in England, serious steps have been taken to fight against hooliganism.″
Commenting on fears that English supporters traveling abroad to neighboring countries might stage fresh outbreaks of fan violence, Tognoni replied: ″Friendly games have potentially much less of a conflict risk than competitive matches. We are confident this will prove a positive move.″
At UEFA headquarters in Bern, Switzerland, spokesman Andre Vieli said he had not yet been officially informed of the FIFA decision, but that the UEFA ban barring English clubs from all European competition ″was unlikely to be changed soon. The UEFA executive committee has always said it needs more than two or three months to judge the conduct of English clubs,″ Vieli said.
English Football Association press officer Glen Kirton said on a British Broadcasting Corp. news program that his officials had been pressing FIFA for some time to lift the ban on exhibitions. ″We believe it is time for our clubs now to be allowed to play, in certain conditions, overseas,″ he said.
He refuted the suggestion that English fans still could not be trusted. ″I think we have said that we need a breathing space to get things right domestically. Without wishing to prejudge the situation, it does appear there has been an improvement in crowd behaviour this season. We will make sure that any of our clubs playing in Europe do so under the very tightest of control.″