SAO PAULO (AP) -- FIFA has asked the Brazilian football federation to explain why lawsuits are being filed in civil courts to change a sports tribunal decision that altered the outcome of the Brazilian league last year.
FIFA said Thursday it wants "an update" from the Brazilian federation on the lawsuits, which could be a breach of the governing body's statutes and lead to sanctions for clubs and the federation itself.
The sports tribunal stripped four points from Portuguesa because it used a suspended player in the league's final round last year, dropping the club into the relegation zone and benefiting defending champion Fluminense, which had initially been demoted.
Portuguesa fans went to court against the decision, and in two cases the federation has been ordered to reinstate the club in the first division.
The ongoing legal disputes could prevent the new season from starting on time, and police could get involved as well, if bribery allegations are confirmed as prosecutors investigate whether a Portuguesa official received money to deliberately get the team relegated by withholding information about the player's suspension from those responsible for the squad selection.
The controversies leave Brazilian football under increased scrutiny with the World Cup just months away. Brazil's image has already been tarnished by problems in its World Cup preparations -- with host city Curitiba still in danger of being dropped -- and a flood of fan violence plagued domestic matches throughout 2013.
"FIFA is paying close attention to everything that is happening in Brazil because the World Cup is just a few months away," Carlos Miguel, the lawyer representing the national federation in the league lawsuits, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It knows that everybody is talking about this so it wants to know exactly what is happening."
An article in FIFA's statutes says it is prohibited for members to take "disputes affecting leagues" to civil courts.
"Recourse to ordinary courts of law is prohibited unless speci?cally provided for in the FIFA regulations," article 38 says.
Portuguesa says it has nothing to do with the lawsuits so it is not breaching any FIFA rules, although it has been publicly against last year's decision by the sports tribunal and said it would fight until the end to try to stay in the first division. Fluminense had become the first defending champion to be relegated in the Brazilian league.
The federation has been fighting the lawsuits, winning some but losing others. This year's Brazilian league is scheduled to start on April 20, but the national federation has to release the match schedule in a few weeks.
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