Football: Sri Lanka eyes new start after graft scandal

Football: Sri Lanka eyes new start after graft scandal

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka's new football supremo Ranjith Rodrigo vowed Thursday to rebuild the country's image the day after one of his predecessors, Manilal Fernando, was handed a lifetime ban for corruption.

The Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) said the decision by the game's world governing body FIFA to increase an eight-year ban on Fernando to life was a serious setback to the island's footballing ambitions.

"His football chapter is closed, but this has caused damage to our image and our standing in FIFA," Rodrigo, who took over as FFSL president earlier this year, told AFP.

"The challenge for me is to recover from this setback."

He said the allegations surrounding Fernando and the opening of a probe against him in October last year had cast a "cloud" over Sri Lankan football, but the nation could now move on.

"This issue was a cloudy sky, but now it is beginning to clear. We want to move on, get help from FIFA and the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and help our players improve their game," Rodrigo said.

Fernando was not immediately available for comment Thursday after his appeal against the original sentence backfired spectacularly.

Fernando, a former member of the FIFA executive board, had appealed against an original eight-year ban imposed on him at the end of April, while the chief investigator in the original case, Michael J Garcia, also appealed against the leniency of the punishment.

The FIFA Appeal Committee reached a decision in favour of Garcia. "The appeal lodged by Mr Garcia has been upheld by the appeal committee," read their statement.

Fernando is an ally of former Asian football boss Mohamed bin Hammam, who is fighting claims of bribery and financial misdeeds.

Fernando also had a seat on the AFC executive committee.

His suspension was thought to be related to investigations into scandal-hit ex-AFC chief bin Hammam, whom he had backed strongly.

Bin Hammam, a Qatari businessman, was accused of trying to buy votes in FIFA's 2011 presidential election, and banned from all footballing activities.

He remains suspended from football despite having the FIFA life ban overturned last year.

Fernando accompanied bin Hammam on a trip to Caribbean nations ahead of the vote. Bin Hammam was later accused of trying to bribe officials during the visit.

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