Soccer-Spain to decide whether to suspend main candidate to lead soccer federation

FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate and current President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation Pedro Rocha arrives to appear at a court in Majadahonda, Spain, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Juan Medina

MADRID (Reuters) -Spain's government said on Tuesday it will decide whether to suspend the frontrunner to lead the country's soccer federation (RFEF) while it determines with world governing body FIFA how to reform an organisation mired in a corruption scandal.

Jose Manuel Rodriguez Uribes, president of the state-run Superior Council of Sport (CSD), told a parliamentary hearing he had called for a meeting of the CSD board after Spain's sports tribunal TAD on Monday opened a case against Pedro Rocha and the RFEF's leadership for "very serious misconduct" and a criminal court judge advanced a separate investigation over alleged corruption within the federation.

"I have conveyed to (FIFA) our concern and our determination to take every measure to ensure that a reputational crisis such as this can never happen again," Uribes said in the hearing.

Spain is trying to turn the page on a series of scandals within the RFEF as it gears up to co-host the World Cup in 2030.

Rocha, who had been acting as the RFEF's stand-in president and hoped to be anointed permanently in the next month, was placed under investigation by a judge last week after testifying as a witness in court. He was the sole candidate to succeed the disgraced former head Luis Rubiales.

The RFEF said in a statement the TAD case is not related to the corruption probe but rather whether the federation overstepped its duties after Rubiales resigned.

"All decisions have been taken with the utmost caution and respect, given the interim situation in which the institution found itself," it said.

The RFEF's leadership said the TAD proceedings lacked accuracy and rigour and that they reserved the right to take legal action.

Rubiales and colleagues have been under investigation since June 2022 over potential malfeasance for a deal with former Barcelona player Gerard Pique's Kosmos firm to relocate the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia in a deal worth a reported 120 million euros ($129 million).

Rocha was vice president of the federation under Rubiales and head of the financial board when the RFEF signed the Saudi Super Cup deal.

Rocha's office said in a statement the irregularities in TAD's case would be challenged.

"The accusation, which is totally surprising and defies all logic and legal sense, is that he has exceeded the powers conferred on him with regard to a series of decisions that he had to take as acting president for the good of the game," his office said.

Last month, police searched the RFEF and two executives were fired, prompting FIFA and its European counterpart UEFA to request a detailed update on the corruption probe.

Uribes said the government was working to reform its sports laws and create a sanctioning system as well as appointing an ethics committee and an ombudsman to represent sportspersons' rights.

(Reporting by Charlie Devereux, Emma Pinedo and Fernando Kallas;Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris)

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