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Australia's ailing soccer league reduced to 10 sides

LONDON (Reuters) -- Australia's ailing top-flight soccer league will be cut back to 10 teams next season after administrators deemed North Queensland Fury's parlous financial state could endanger the competition's wider development.

Fury, based in the tropical port city of Townsville, had been under league administration for the past year after its founding owner withdrew his support following a debut season in which the club lost millions.

Football Federation Australia propped up Fury for the A-League's 2010/11 season, which coincided with the country's failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, but said the club had failed to raise enough capital to justify its survival.

"The decision was determined after considering the financial position of the club for season 2011/12 as too big of a financial risk for FFA to undertake," the governing body said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Despite the hard work put in, the target of A$1.5m ($1.5 million) of capital from the Retain the Fury campaign was not met, with less than A$300,000 being pledged," FFA CEO Ben Buckley said.

"Whilst the club and the advisory board had attracted some very encouraging sponsorship commitments, the projected loss to run the club next season is still in our assessment in excess of A$2m."

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Local media estimated the FFA had ploughed between A$7-9 million into Fury during its two seasons in the A-League.

The club's management was unable to provide immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

Fury was dealt a hammer blow earlier this year when former England striker and marquee signing Robbie Fowler left the club to play for Western Australia-based Perth Glory.

The FFA has been roundly criticised for its administration of the league and accused by local pundits and media of expanding the fledgling competition too quickly.

Three teams were added in the past two seasons, with Melbourne Heart's entry last year expanding the competition to 11 sides, even as average attendances have plummeted and a raft of clubs remain heavily reliant on FFA hand-outs.

Administrators had planned to expand the league to 12 next season with the addition of a second Sydney side, but scrapped the bid due to financial concerns.

In September, the FFA had to intervene to save east-coast club Newcastle United from crippling debt by switching the franchise's license to a wealthy local mining magnate.