Tag Archives: FIFA

Expanded Dreams: The International Soccer League, Part Three

The International Soccer League’s modest but successful start in 1960 had made waves in the American soccer community. Its twelve team league – eleven of them imported from overseas, alongside the New York Americans (who weren’t really American at all) – saw Brazil’s Bangu beat Scotland’s Kilmarnock in a final of impressive quality, 25,440 fans attending the game at the Polo Grounds in Harlem, New York City, broadcast on network television.

The question as 1961 began was how the ISL would take the next steps to embed itself into American sporting culture, and spread from its sole base so far in New York. The ISL’s impresario, Bill Cox, said the league had made a small profit in 1960, despite spending a fortune bringing over teams from Europe and South America. The ISL was ready to expand its horizons.

The Future of American Soccer?

Cox also faced the challenge of working with the existing soccer infrastructure. Could he find a way to develop the league for the long-term benefit of American soccer? Or would he have to take on the entrenched forces head-on, and beat them dollar for dollar? The American Soccer League – the country’s existing, established national league, albeit one of lower quality than the ISL – had long been making its money by arranging exhibition tours with high-profile teams from overseas. This was precisely the market Cox was trying to corner.

Cox had, though, so far kept relations with the ASL warm enough. A few of the New York Americans’ own ethnic players had come from ASL teams, and the ISL had a formal tie to the ASL.

Cox continued his efforts to keep the ASL and the United States Soccer Football Association (the USSFA – later to become the USSF) onside with his venture. In January 1961, he went on a media blitz offering support for the future of American soccer, especially the Olympic team, struggling on an international level.

“In every year from now to the next Olympics in 1964, our league is willing to help with clinics, travel expenses for amateur players and other expenditures to a modest degree,” Cox said in widely quoted remarks. “The International Soccer League is prepared to contribute money, ideas and personnel toward the development of improved amateur players. In its first season, the league has stimulated interest in this sport on the secondary school level.”

His efforts bore fruit, at least for his own league in the short-term. In the summer of 1961, the American Soccer League only scheduled one international exhibition game during the ISL season. And the USSFA would soon play a key role in ensuring the league could continue without FIFA sanction.

Montreal Concordia

Crucially, the league also took its first step to expansion outside of the New York metropolitan area. Concordia Club of Montreal would play at the 25,000 capacity McGill University Stadium in the 1961 season, Cox revealed. Indeed, Cox’s aim was to make Montreal a second base for the league, with the initial plans stating that seven games would be played there, along with the first-leg of the two-legged final, scheduled for August 3rd.

Concordia were backed by Joe Slyomovics who was, according to the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, a “millionaire Czech immigrant.”

Concordia also played in one of Canada’s two small-time professional soccer leagues, the National League, containing six teams from Toronto along with Concordia of Montreal.

The ISL saw an opportunity for soccer to establish itself in Canada as baseball had declined in popularity, the attendance numbers for the Montreal Royals in International League baseball having collapsed. The Star-Phoenix confidently asserted in January 1961 that “Pro soccer, making a second bid for a Canadian foothold, has recorded uneven progress, but the roots are apparently firm and the future bright. The game still has a long way to go but already it has supplanted baseball as one of Canada’s Big Three in team sports, joining hockey and football.”

Slyomovics announced that Concordia would only retain half-a-dozen of its players from 1960, including left back Hector Lopez, left half Tommy Barrett, inside forward Hector Daderio, two goalkeepers and fullback George Savage.

Like New York, the Canadians would look to stock most of their roster with quality international players, especially from the Britsh Isles. Cox stated that because of the ISL’s success in 1960, foreign teams were far more confident in loaning out their top players.

“All doubt has vanished now,” Cox said confidently. “We are being offered not the reserve players we had to take last year but the foremost ones. This means our New York team should be the equal of the foreign invaders, and that Concordia also will be well stocked with the best foreign performers as [well as] its own Canadian stars.”

The rumour mill began to spin. Saskatchewan’s Leader-Post reported that Concordia had offered Leicester City’s Welsh international forward Ken Leek – who had been in Wales’ 1958 World Cup squad as an eighteen-year-old – £50 a week to join them. Leek, only 20, had requested a transfer after being dropped for Leicester’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the 1961 FA Cup final. The speculation was spot-on, as Leek soon signed on loan with Montreal (during the ISL season, Leicester would transfer Leek permanently to Newcastle United).

The wages being offered by the ISL were, by 1961 standards for British professionals, enormous. In 1960, the maximum wage in the Football League stood restricted at £20. Led by Jimmy Hill, England’s professionals were agitating hard for the maximum wage restriction to be abolished. In January 1961, the Football League capitulated and the maximum wage was abolished.

The New York Americans stocked their roster with talent that their player-coach, Welshman Alf Sherwood, described in glowing terms: “We had only six chaps from England on the team last season,” he explained. “all young and not with a great deal of experience. This time we not only have more English players, but more formidable, well-known performers as well. Every man in this group has been playing top-level soccer for eight or ten years.”

The imports included Ken McPherson, a prolific scorer for Newport County and Scottish centre-forward John McCole of Leeds United.

But the ISL’s growing stature and appeal to leading players had begun to cause international irritation. Cox received a blow in January when the West German league became the first to bar its clubs from entering the ISL. Bayern Munich would not return for a second season, though the league would eventually lift its ban, allowing Karlsruhe to represent West Germany in the 1961 ISL season, replacing Eintracht Frankfurt, who had originally been scheduled to play.

Expansion

As the winter of 1961 moved on, Cox soon began announcing the final line-up of teams to the league, now to be enlarged to 15 teams from 12 in 1960. Everton were the marquee English representative, a real coup for Cox, the Liverpudlians having made a considerable splash with their transfer spending in the previous 12 months (they would eventually finish fifth in the First Division, shortly before the ISL began play). Also from the British Isles came Ireland’s Shamrock Rovers, League of Ireland champions in 1959.

Along with Montreal representing Canada and Karlsruhe of West Germany, six other nations would make their debuts in the ISL with Turkey’s Besiktas, Romania’s Dinamo Bucharest, Czechoslovakia’s Dukla Prague, France’s Monaco, Israel’s Petah Tikvah and Spain’s Espanyol all scheduled to take part.

Returning were champions Bangu of Brazil, along with the defeated finalists, Scotland’s Kilmarnock. Yugoslavia’s Red Star Belgrade also made their second appearance as did Rapid Vienna of Austria (the latter would hope to improve on their 1960 performance, where they had lost all four of their games).

The ISL divided the 15 teams into two sections of play once again, with the winner of each section to play in the final. Montreal competed in both sections.

Field of Dreams

Yet before the season even started, the ISL’s long-term plans received a considerable blow. The City of New York had taken over the ISL’s main venue, the dilapidated Polo Grounds in Manhattan, and in March 1961 confirmed its plans to demolish the stadium and build a public housing project on the land. The City did confirm that the 1961 sports’ schedule would go on as planned, but the future suddenly looked less clear for the ISL beyond that.

The Polo Grounds were a mess. The ISL’s attendance in 1960 – averaging well over 10,000 at the Manhattan stadium – did not look so bad when the brand new professional American football team in the city, the Titans of New York, only drew around 15,000 fans for their debut season in the autumn of 1960, also played at the Polo Grounds.

The owner of the Titans, Harry Wismer, later recalled the poor conditions, worsened for his team by the ISL’s games in the summer of 1960.

“From our clean, sunny, New Hampshire camp we were scheduled to make our league debut in the shabby, desolate Polo Grounds, which had been deteriorating steadily since the New York baseball Giants moved to San Francisco for the 1958 season. A soccer league had played on the “pitch,” but that merely aggravated conditions for football. The stands and seats were encrusted with grime. There was not enough parking space. The neighborhood was not good. In brief, this was the worst possible place to attract paying customers.”

The Polo Grounds, April 1963

The Polo Grounds, April 1963

A Renegade League?

International entanglements caused other problems. On May 21st, only four days after the ISL’s season opener, FIFA suddenly announced that the ISL was an unauthorised league and any club competing in it would be suspended from playing in all affiliated leagues; Everton, waiting to play their ISL opener against Montreal, became very nervous and said they would wait to hear official word from the Football Association before taking part in the league.

FIFA had passed a new rule in April, stating that international tournaments had to be under the control of national associations. The controversy erupted due to comments made by Stanley Rous, a FIFA Vice-President (and soon to be president), that the league had not sent in the correct papers showing it adhered to this rule. Montreal’s owner Joe Slyomovics was dubious about the concerns: “Each team participating in the International Soccer League has received permission from the governing bodies in their own countries,” he commented, adding “Rous is only one man, and I don’t see in what capacity he made the statement.”

The ISL said that there had been a “technical difficulty,” with its paperwork lost somewhere between between New York and Switzerland. It was affiliated to the USSFA, it said, through its relationship with the ASL. Not having heard back from FIFA after sending in the required schedule and affiliation information, the ISL said it had presumed it could proceed. James McGuire, the Vice-President of the United States Soccer Football Association, stated that he had asked FIFA officials in Zurich to “phone me collect” to clear up the misunderstanding, explaining that he had sent a cable stating any obstacles to the ISL proceeding as planned “would be extremely harmful to the sport in this country.”

At 4am New York time on the morning of Everton’s game against Montreal on May 23rd, McGuire received his collect call from Zurich, FIFA’s executive secretary Dr. Helmuth Kaeser calling to say that “as long as the rules and regulations are on the way, we have no intention or desire to stop the tournament.”

The ISL’s second season could, after all, continue as scheduled.

To be continued. . .

FIFA vote farce

FIFA From Rous to Blatter: All For The Good Of The Game!

FIFA vote farceOnce upon a time, FIFA was not corrupt, it was just a Eurocentric empire run for the good of a few countries in western Europe unwilling to open the doors of the World Cup to the rest of the world. Those were the 1960s, when Englishman Stanley Rous’ FIFA preferred to pander to the racist South African football association over finding ways to integrate the developing world into its halls of power. Or when Rous let games take place in the bloodstained torture chamber of the Pinochet regime in Chile.

I suppose those were the good ol’ days.

As Tim Vickery puts it in an important historical reminder of all that today, there is a reason much of the rest of the world is less up in arms about the Blatter era than the English press.

There was no pre-Havelange and Blatter garden of Eden — just a different FIFA with different defects. With its lack of historical context it is unclear whether the current hysteria in the English press is motivated by a genuine desire to carry the game forward on a global basis — or by nostalgia for when English rule was unchallenged.

The lack of accountability of the current FIFA is surely unsustainable, the quasi-feudal personal fiefdoms that develop inside the organization are disturbing and the fat-cat lifestyle of some of those at the top makes the stomach turn. But for all its flaws and problems, it is not hard to understand why much of the developing world prefers the post-Havelange FIFA to what came before.

Of course, from any objective standpoint of the good of world soccer, the fact that FIFA was f*cked up in the pre-Havelange era doesn’t make it any more right for it to be f*cked up in the post-Havelange era. Havelange and Blatter have made corruption and commercial exploitation a way of life in the sport’s global governing bodies. That may beat colonialist arrogance as a defining ruling trait, but not by a lot.

The cesspool of corruption that has followed the game’s drastic commercialisation under Havelange/Blatter is a great betrayal of the movement that overthrew Rous’ arrogant rule. The overthrow of Eurocentric rule in the 1970s was born of a genuine desire to spread the game around the world and allow more nations into the World Cup, a development that has allowed it to become a kaleidoscope of global talent on display.

Back then, there were administrators from the developing world who wanted to use their growing voice within the game to end discrimination and racism in sport, and to protect world soccer from the deleterious effects of rampant commercialism.

What would Ydnekatchew Tessema, the head of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in the 1970s and a true visionary of the game from Ethiopia, make of today’s farcial FIFA election? Or that each FIFA confederation (perhaps excluding UEFA) is run by a tainted leader?

It was Tessema who helped forge the coalition that ousted Rous in 1974 with the election of Havelange, but it was not with CAF being used as a tool of Havelange – rather, it was a necessary move by CAF to end the roadblock to African development Rous seemed insistent upon. As Paul Darby wrote in his excellent book Africa, Football and FIFA:

The fact that Tessema was in a position to threaten the withdrawal of African support for Havelange’s presidential challenge illustrates that CAF was not only gaining confidence to assert itself within world football politics but was also beginning to recognise the potential that its voting powers offered the African continent. Indeed, it is clear from African accounts of the 1974 FIFA Congress . . . that the African nations did not see themselves merely as pawns in a power struggle for the control of FIFA. Instead, they saw Havelange as the means through which to achieve a realignment of the distribution of power and privilege within world football which would more adequately reflect their growing stature.

Tessema led the push for Africa to receive more places at the World Cup by fighting for the principle that each nation should have one vote within the governing body, one that Rous had tried to circumvent. Rous was blunt about his belief developing nations did not deserve the same rights within the global game:

Many people are convinced that it is unrealistic, for example, that a country like England, where the game started and was first organised, or that experienced countries like Italy and France, who have been pillars of FIFA and influential in its problems and in world football affairs for so many years, should have no more than equal voting rights with any of the newly created countries of Africa and Asia.

Tessema was curt in his response to this patronising attitude.

Although we acknowledge the role played by certain continents in the creation of FIFA, its development and their moral, material and financial contributions, we estimate that democratic rule dictates that all rights and duties that form an international organisation should be the same for all. This is why in the framework of legitimacy, and by following a process consistent with the interests of world football and its unity, a progressive equilibrium of the representation in the heart of FIFA and its competition is required.

At the same time, Tessema was cautious about submitting to the tide of dollars flooding into the sport: Tessema fought against alcohol and tobacco sponsorship in African football, and warned against the consequences of young talent leaving African shores. In the mid-1980s, not long before his premature death from cancer, Tessema stated:

African football must make a choice! Either we keep our players in Africa with the will power of reaching one day the top of the international competitions and restore African people a dignity that they long for; or we let our best elements leave their countries, thus remaining the eternal suppliers of raw material to the premium countries, and renounce, in this way, to any ambition. When the rich countries take away from us, also by naturalisation, our best elements, we should not expect any chivalrous behaviour on their part to help African football.

It is sadly now the case that FIFA under the Havelange-Blatter regime has largely made African football a pawn for its own needs by submitting world football to the power of money for its own rapacious greed, with the corruption that has wrought around the world. That money is now the tool by which Blatter maintains his fiefdom, and that corrupt the successors of Tessema. There are no Tessemas today.

Nor is there any chivalry in the way FIFA operates. One example can be seen in the distribution of money from the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa – most of the money, of course, kept by FIFA itself.

Sepp Blatter explained that the money actually paid out was to be given to those who had developed young talent. “We are pleased that we can share the success of the 2010 FIFA World Cup with the clubs by providing them a share of the benefits of our flagship event, in particular to recognise their efforts in the development of young players.”

Those payments did not go to the countries from which these players developed and that desperately need it, but to the rich European clubs who poached them at young ages. The largest payments from FIFA after the 2010 World Cup went to clubs from England ($5,952,133.30), Germany ($4,740,666.70), Italy ($3,880,666.70), Spain ($3,699,066.70), France ($2,202,666.70) and the Netherlands ($1,858,266.70). The first African nation in the list is South Africa, with its clubs receiving $662,666.70.

FIFA uses its largesse to cement the support that earns Blatter 186 votes even after all the revelations of the past year, and indeed, past decade – the rest of the world is also bought off by dubious development programmes whose monies often end up in brown envelopes, as we wonder where the development actually is.

FIFA has certainly overseen a massive expansion of the game’s popularity worldwide since the Rous era, and part of that does explain the continued support for the Blatter regime as Vickery says. The English FA’s hypocrisy is hard to stomach, given their willingness to play FIFA’s game until their failed 2018 World Cup bid and the lonely fight against FIFA’s obvious corruption that Andrew Jennings was left to.

Still, that is no reason for the rest of the world to say that makes turning a blind eye to Blatter OK. FIFA has co-opted and corrupted the growth of world soccer for its own benefit rather than fostered it in a truly beneficial way for the grassroots of the sport – at least in the postwar era. The history of the treatment of women’s football (short shorts?!) or the struggle it took for African football to gain recognition in the halls of FIFA is evidence of that, nevermind the blatant bribery present and submission to the power of the dollar above all. The support for Blatter in the FIFA Congress is not high-minded, it is deeply self-interested.

And when we are left hoping for sponsors to save the world’s game from FIFA, remember this. The last few weeks have certainly dented FIFA and Blatter, but it’s hard to see where the movement to truly reform it for the good of the goddamn game will come from in this day and age.

Fifa’s Half-Hearted Fight Against Corruption Continues Its Tepid March

Corruption in MalaysiaThis isn’t a post about the World Cup bidding process fix we all knew was in and we are just starting to learn the details about, but a follow-up to Monday’s discussion of Fifa’s supposedly aggressive initiative to tackle match-fixing around the world.

It’s been admitted by Fifa that hundreds of games have been fixed in the past few years. In response, it’s investing a few million bucks a year out of its billion dollar-plus cash reserves into education of players and coaches about match-fixing. Note: that’s education, not investigation.

We commented that given the key problem in world soccer with regard to match-fixing is the lack of investigation, this seemed like a half-hearted effort by Fifa. The world’s leading authority on match fixing, Declan Hill, agrees, explaining he told the very same thing personally to Sepp Blatter back in 2008 with apparently no impact:

In FIFA’s announcement about their new anti-corruption centre, there is no actual money being put aside for investigations or enforcement. Nor is there a mandate to investigate corruption inside FIFA. Without these things the centre will largely be a sham. To be clear, FIFA does not investigate match-fixing or corruption. Nor does Interpol investigate crimes. All of the money that FIFA has given to the centre is for education.

Ask yourself – what do players need education for? Do you really need to explain to them which goal they are supposed to score in? What does a referee need education for? Is it really that difficult to figure out they are supposed to do their job without taking bribes?

I am not being facetious. If there are no investigation or enforcement arms at this anti-corruption centre, then to teach athletes and referees about the dangers of match-fixing is simply providing a bunch of ‘how-to-be-corrupt’ courses. No one will be afraid to take the money. Why should they be? There are no resources devoted to catching people who are fixing games. So the anti-corruption centre promises to be one of those well-constructed snooze-fest places where people go to hear their bosses give seminars full of corporate nonsense and then leave to get on with the lives.

As it happens, there is a concrete example in the news in Asia right now illustrating this very problem, with several reports of match fixing in Malaysia coming out this week. Police in Malaysia have asked for help from Fifa in investigating suspicious activity:

The police need intelligence from world football governing body Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) to kick-off investigations into a global match-fixing network allegedly involving Malaysians.

Federal Criminal Investigation Department chief Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Mohd Zinin said this was necessary for the police to analyse and launch certain operations in connection with the case.

“We want the investigating team from FIFA to provide us intelligence on the alleged match-fixing network operating from Malaysia,” he told reporters at the Selangor police headquarters here today.

It was reported that in the near future, FIFA head of security Chris Eaton would lead a team of investigators to Malaysia, as part of the probe into claims that more than 300 matches in three continents were influenced by match-fixers.

The only problem? As Hill notes, Fifa doesn’t really have a match fixing investigative team. Eaton himself commented this week to the Malay Mail: “We are not an investigation agency. We are a football organisation and our duty is to protect, prevent and eliminate such illegal activities.”

Eaton, head of global security for Fifa and a former Interpol official, does have a long track record in investigating organised crime (check out his linkedin profile).

But Fifa still has not provided much muscle for him to work with. In January, Fifa surprisingly backtracked on an agreement to hire Interpol’s senior anti-corruption detective Frederick Lord, raising eyebrows regarding the organisation’s commitment to fighting corruption right when allegations of wrongdoing within its own halls were circling following the controversial World Cup bidding vote. The Telegraph of London reported:

Lord is a former colleague of Fifa’s security adviser, Chris Eaton, an Australian detective who stepped down as Interpol’s director of operations last March to advise Fifa on security issues.

Lord, who has spoken extensively on anti-corruption issues at conferences around the world, previously worked in the Australian police’s Internal Affairs Covert Services Unit, which focused on police corruption.

Fifa’s withdrawal of the offer to Lord prompted security sources to suggest that the organisation lacks the stomach to tackle the reputational issues it faces.

One source suggested that Fifa executive committee members had objected to the appointment because they feared Lord would conduct internal investigations, but a Fifa spokesman denied this.

The recent bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was mired in controversy following allegations of corruption against Fifa officials. Fifa executive committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii were banned for one and three years respectively by Fifa’s ethics committee, and four other officials were also banned.

The effectiveness of Fifa’s investigation into allegations of collusion between the Spain-Portugal and Qatar bids has also been questioned after the ethics commission was unable to establish a case against them.

If Fifa cannot get its own house in order, it’s of course little wonder its efforts around the world to tackle match-fixing seem so tepid.

FIFA’s Half-Hearted Tackle On Match-Fixing In Soccer

Sepp Blatter as NeroIt sounds like a major investment in the important battle against match fixing in soccer around the world: “FIFA pledged to donate 20 million euros (17.5 million pounds) to Interpol to help fight match-fixing on Monday,” Reuters reported, going on to quote Sepp Blatter’s sadness and shock at the continuance of match fixing under his gaze:

“It is crucial for us to go together with political authorities, with police authorities to fight those who want to destroy our game,” Blatter said.

“I’m a sad president because, after 36 years in FIFA, I thought we would be at the end of a wonderful development of the game.”

The investment is not quite as dramatic as all the column inches devoted to it seem to be presuming. This money will be provided by Fifa over ten years, and breaks down to $5.73m in the first year, and $2.1m in the remaining nine years. According to the Telegraph, the money given to Interpol won’t actually go to investigations, but to developing preventative programmes – educating players, coaches and officials on match-fixing.

Though there’s nothing wrong with that approach, this is barely a pittance from Fifa’s coffers to tackle something Blatter described today in apocalyptic terms: “Match fixing shakes the very foundations of sport. We are committed to doing everything in our power to tackle this threat. We have to try to put an end to these activities.”

A police commissioner in Bochum, Germany, where a major match-fixing ring was smashed in 2009, offered this “chilling warning” to Fifa:

Bochum police commissioner Friedhelm Althans told reporters: “Working in international drug trafficking is very dangerous, here they have a very low risk and earn more money than they earned years before by drug trafficking,”

Althans added there were “four, five or six” more criminal gangs currently active in Europe similar to the one which Bochum police smashed in 2009.

Prosecutors believe the 200-strong ring bribed players, coaches, referees and officials to fix games in a number of European countries and then made money by betting on the results.

Six people are currently on trial in Bochum and another 14 are expected to follow.

Althans said that in the Bochum investigation, alone, around 300 matches were under suspicion including internationals, Champions League qualifying games, Europa League games down to the German fourth division.

“Around 1.7 million euros was paid to players and referees and this is barely the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We have a new phenomenon of organised crime.

“There is indeed a worldwide network of people active in this field, it isn’t just about pursuing individual clubs and players but about attacking the roots and drive out these worldwide networks.”

Fifa generated a surplus of $631m between 2007 and 2010. Fifa has over $1.2bn in financial reserves tucked away. So this supposedly major investment to tackle a worldwide threat that Blatter says “shakes the very foundations of sport” doesn’t seem to be drawing a huge amount of that surplus to invest in its eradication.

Of course, Fifa does have other anti-match fixing investments. It has an ‘early warning system’ (EWS) that examines betting patterns to try and figure out where something fishy might be. The problem, though, is the lack of an investigative unit to get to the roots of this, something this latest investment does not (cough) fix. Months ago, the always on-the-ball Declan Hill pointed out this was the sport’s biggest need in a careful critique of a Fifa seminar on match-fixing:

Fixers are also intelligent. They spend a lot of time hiding their bets – just fixing the underdog team means that there will be no unexpected movement in the bets. The EWS guys – or any other gambling monitoring – cannot detect these types of fixes, unless the fixers make a series of errors (which they usually do not).

Finally, and this is key to understanding the entire FIFA seminar, even if the EWS spots a possible corrupt match – so what? FIFA has no investigators to investigate it. Interpol has no investigators to investigate it. The sports world in general has no investigators to investigate it. No matter what dramatic headlines declare, no matter what ‘consultants’ tell you, no matter what sports executives say in solemn tones at these types of seminars – until there is an International Agency to fight sports corruption these events will be for show only.

So who has the money to help create such an Agency? Who has the clout? Who, according to its own president, sees a clear and present danger from match-fixing to sport demanding the creation of such an Agency?

Paving The Way For South Africa 2010: Ydnekatchew Tessema, Forgotten Hero Of African Soccer

National team player, national team coach for his country’s only major international triumph, co-founder of his continent’s FIFA confederation, president of that confederation for 15 years, and in many ways the man who set in motion the whole chain of events that led to South Africa becoming the first African nation to host the World Cup: the late Ethiopian visionary Ydnekatchew Tessema deserves greater prominence in the annals of soccer history than he has received.

Tessema’s remarkable story intertwined with deconolisation, the fight against apartheid in South Africa and the battle for respect and opportunities for African soccer in the face of a Eurocentric FIFA.

Tessema, born in 1921, was a hell of a player (scorer of 318 goals in 365 games for Saint-George SA) and a coach: in the latter role, he took his native Ethiopia to their sole major tournament triumph, at the 1962 Africa Cup of Nations.

But it was as an administrator that Tessema left his true imprint on the sport. In 1953, four African nations attended the FIFA Congress for the first time: Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa and Sudan. At first, FIFA resisted African claims for representation on its Executive Committee; in The Ball Is Round, David Goldblatt says “Initially their efforts had been brusquely rebuffed by FIFA’s European majority on the grounds of a barely disguised and contemptuous racism.”

The African nations, though, found support from the Soviet bloc and South America, and it gained representation on the Executive Committee in 1954 (Engineer Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem of Egypt became the first African to sit on it) and earned the right to set up its own FIFA Confederation.

That confederation, the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF), was formed at a Constitutional Assembly on 8 February 1957. Tessema (still a player in his mid thirties) was one of the delegates there representing the four countries present: Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Africa. The Statutes of CAF were drawn from those proposed by Tessema and Sudan’s Abdel Rahim Shaddad. Tessema was voted onto the body’s first executive committee, with Engineer Salem the first president.

Immediately, CAF faced a major crisis, with founding member South Africa under its Apartheid regime stating it could only take either an all-white or all-black team to the first Africa Cup of Nations to be held that year; CAF excluded them from the competition and threw South Africa out of CAF altogether in 1961. It was, according to fellow founding CAF delegate Abdel Halim Mohammed, Tessema’s “firm stand” at CAF meetings that South Africa must field a mixed team that had ensured the confederation was the first international organisation to isolate South Africa in the sporting world.

Tessema

Tessema at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden

In 1963, Tessema became the Vice-President of CAF, and led the move to form Africa’s first continental club competition, the African Cup for Champion Clubs. In 1966, Tessema (fluent in French, English and Spanish) joined FIFA’s Executive Committee, at a critical moment for African football in FIFA’s halls of power. As its membership grew, so would — theoretically — its voting power in the halls of FIFA.

FIFA operated under (and still does) a one member, one vote policy at the FIFA Congress: meaning for every African country taken in, the power of its original European members was weakened. Sir Stanley Rous, head of FIFA, put bluntly the fears this brought up for the existing powerbase:

Many people are convinced that it is unrealistic, for example, that a country like England, where the game started and was first organised, or that experienced countries like Italy and France, who have been pillars of FIFA and influential in its problems and in world football affairs for so many years, should have no more than equal voting rights with any of the newly created countries of Africa and Asia.

Writing in the 1980s as that sentiment lingered on, Tessema had an eloquent response for this:

Although we acknowledge the role played by certain continents in the creation of FIFA, its development and their moral, material and financial contributions, we estimate that democratic rule dictates that all rights and duties that form an international organisation should be the same for all. This is why in the framework of legitimacy, and by following a process consistent with the interests of world football and its unity, a progressive equilibrium of the representation in the heart of FIFA and its competition is required.

CAF’s rise in the 1960s, meanwhile, was tightly linked to the wave of pan-Africanism sweeping the continent. National pride became linked to joining the African community of football in membership of CAF. Politics and football were seen as reflections of each other. And this led to an almighty fight between CAF and FIFA over both politics and football as African demands for more power within FIFA reflected the demands of decolonisation politically in the international arena. And Tessema’s fight against racial discrimination in the African continent became a part of this struggle.

It was at this time that CAF fought its battle with FIFA to gain an automatic place for Africa at the World Cup finals. CAF had 30 members by the mid-1960s, but only half a place at the World Cup finals: the winner of the Africa Cup of Nations faced a playoff against the Asian Cup winner to qualify. The costs of competing and the low likelihood of qualification for the World Cup meant many poorer countries did not enter CAF’s premier competition. And this in turn, in a clever sleight of hand by FIFA’s existing European and South American powerbase, threatened their use of their growing membership in FIFA’s sovereign Congress: FIFA decreed that “National Associations which do not take part in two successive World Cups or Olympic tournaments will be stripped of their right to vote at the Congress until they fulfil their obligations in this respect.”

Tessema and CAF’s leadership, with the global voice of Ghana’s first post-independence leader Kwame Nkrumah supporting them, announced a boycott of the 1966 World Cup unless Africa received one full place at future finals. FIFA’s response was to fine the threadbare boycotting nations 5,000 Swiss Francs each. Tessema wrote a furious letter to FIFA pointing out the absurdity that only one World Cup place was awarded to a total of 65 nations in the continents outside Europe and South America. FIFA relented, and Africa was awarded a full place for the 1970 World Cup finals (Morocco becoming the first African nation to play in the World Cup since Egypt in 1934). This was to the dismay of Brain Glanville (still a World Soccer columnist today), who wrote that “It is quite true that football in countries such as the U.S.A. and Ethiopia would be encouraged by World Cup participation, but only at the expense of cheapening the World Cup, a pretty heavy price to pay when this tournament is, or should be, the very zenith of the International game.”

Not coincidentally, politics as well as World Cup positions were dividing CAF and FIFA: led by Sir Stanley Rous, FIFA secretly supported the establishment of a new, second Confederation in Africa, the Southern African Confederation, a South African puppet clearly aimed at giving the Apartheid regime legitimacy, as South Africa had been suspended from FIFA against Rous’ wishes in 1961 under pressure from CAF (FIFA’s Executive Committee had lifted the suspension in 1963 following a visit by Rous to South Africa, only for the FIFA Congress to reimpose it the next year). Led by Tessema, CAF’s delegation threatened to walk out on the FIFA Congress in London in 1966 if FIFA’s leadership backed the reinstatement of South Africa again.

tessema-fifa

Meanwhile, internally in CAF, Tessema continued to modernise the organisation and expand its role in Africa, even as he faced challenges in a power struggle for CAF leadership.  He led a key Organising Committee that led to a restructuring of CAF in 1972, and the same year was elected as its president (a position he would hold until his death in 1987). The continent’s first youth competition was soon instituted, as was an African Cup Winners’ Cup tournament. CAF’s revenue grew, with television and marketing rights to the Africa Cup of Nations profitably sold for the first time in 1982, and it became less reliant on outside support and focused on continental development of the game.

Tessema had worked hard to grow Africa’s standing globally, particularly in the face of intransigent European leadership at FIFA. One key strategy he employed was to cement ties between the African continent and South America, with an African select team appearing at the 1972 Brazilian Independence Cup, for example. Tessema then played a key role in the victory of Brazilian João Havelange over the reactionary Sir Stanley Rous for the FIFA presidency in 1974: for all his later corrupt dealings, that victory by Havelange was crucial for orientating FIFA beyond its previous Northern European pole and led to unprecedented opportunities for African teams.

Notably, rather than Havelange manipulating CAF to gain their support to defeat Rous, it was Tessema who had used the leverage of the forthcoming 1974 election to force Havelange to withdraw Brazil from a 1973 multi-sports festival in South Africa aimed at giving the Apartheid regime international credibility. As Rous himself wrote: “The Brazilians withdrew, I am told on good authority, because Tessema, the president of the African confederation threatened that Mr Havelange would lose the support of the African associations in his fight against me for the presidency of FIFA.”

Paul Darby, in his excellent book Africa, football, and FIFA: politics, colonialism, and resistance, explains Tessema’s sophisticated strategy:

The fact that Tessema was in a position to threaten the withdrawal of African support for Havelange’s presidential challenge illustrates that CAF was not only gaining confidence to assert itself within world football politics but was also beginning to recognise the potential that its voting powers offered the African continent. Indeed, it is clear from African accounts of the 1974 FIFA Congress . . . that the African nations did not see themselves merely as pawns in a power struggle for the control of FIFA. Instead, they saw Havelange as the means through which to achieve a realignment of the distribution of power and privilege within world football which would more adequately reflect their growing stature.

At the same FIFA Congress, a motion by Tessema required the automatic expulsion from FIFA of any country that practiced ‘ethnic, racial and/or religious discrimination in its territory’, thus ending — to the chagrin of Rous — the ambiguity that surrounded South Africa: Rous was still pushing to end their suspension. But Havelange’s victory ended that hope, and under his leadership, South Africa were expelled from FIFA in 1976.

In 1978, the number of World Cup places Africa should hold came up again at FIFA, but this time, it was an easier fight for Tessema to win some numerical justice for Africa: their number of places doubled at the 1982 World Cup to two.

As the years went on, some began to question Tessema’s long tenure, and the divisions between African nations hampered the realisation of the Pan-African dreams of the 1960s. But Tessema remained a force for the good of the sport until his death in 1987: he was a lone voice at keeping alcohol and tobacco sponsorship out of African football, and he warned against the growing trend of young African talent leaving for European shores. He spelled out the latter concern clearly in the 1980s:

African football must make a choice! Either we keep our players in Africa with the will power of reaching one day the top of the international competitions and restore African people a dignity that they long for; or we let our best elements leave their countries, thus remaining the eternal suppliers of raw material to the premium countries, and renounce, in this way, to any ambition. When the rich countries take away from us, also by naturalisation, our best elements, we should not expect any chivalrous behaviour on their part to help African football.

One wonders what Tessema would make of African football today: a World Cup host, with numerous world stars, but still struggling for domestic development in the game.

Shortly before his death, Tessema, according to Darby, “reiterated his belief that CAF must continue to struggle to ensure that Africa procured within FIFA, ‘the place which is ours by right and which would allow us to play the role of a real respected partner and not that of a puppet’.”

Few have done more to propel Africa towards its proper place in world soccer than Tessema.

References: Darby, Africa, Football, and FIFA; Goldblatt, The Ball Is Round; Le Sueur, The Decolonization Reader; Mangan, Europe, sport, world: shaping global societies; Rous, Football Worlds. Photos courtesy of The Tessemas website.

Africa, football, and FIFA: politics, colonialism, and resistance


The 2014 World Cup In Brazil: Or, Ricardo Teixeira’s Fiefdom

And so, with the 2010 World Cup passing into the history books, we peek ahead to 2014, as the World Cup returns to South America for the first time since 1978, heading to Brazil. It has been a long break for the continent: 4 of the first 11 World Cups staged were held there, but none of the 8 since. And now the question comes: is Brazil ready to run this show?

This is, of course, the same question that exhausted South African ears over the past several years. It turned out that South Africa was prepared and that Danny Jordaan, CEO of the World Cup Local Organising Committee, had done a tremendous job. Jordaan, briefly a professional soccer player himself in the early 1970s ahead of his time as an anti-apartheid activist, is by all reports tough, humble. and hugely capable. The whiff of corruption does not follow him around as it does so many connected to FIFA (OK, there is one very faint whiff).

The man in charge of the 2014 World Cup, Ricardo Teixeira (president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF)), has spent the past two decades doing little but generating suspicion of corruption in many of his dealings running Brazilian soccer. Teixeira is head of the Local Organising Committee, and also sits on FIFA’s 24 man Executive Committee.

Brazil’s Congress extensively investigated the corruption impeding the domestic game in Brazil at the highest levels in 2000-01: Teixeira, president of the CBF since 1989, was forced to admit he had lied about having only one bank account (conceding he had a second, operated out of the Cayman Islands at Delta Bank, at the time under investigation by the US government for money laundering). This Independent newspaper report on the Congressional investigation paints a picture of Teixeira struggling to hide his corrupt dealings, and making a promise to resign from his post in 2003 that he has yet to fulfil:

The president of the CBF was once the son-in-law of the former Fifa president, Joao Havelange. Teixeira has none of his mentor’s aristocratic bearing and has been regarded as an arrogant bully boy, yet even he has embraced humility as the inquiry has progressed. Even before his long-awaited appearance at the commission last week, Teixeira declared that he would leave the post at the end of his current mandate in 2003 and spoke openly about his mistakes. He admitted that some of the clauses in the Nike contract had needed correcting, and he agreed that he had erred in selling dairy produce from his farm to the CBF. As he shuffled through his files last week he gave the appearance of a schoolboy trying to cover up the fact that he had not done his homework. He had not brought an up-to-date version of the Nike contract and could not recall to how many politicians the CBF had made donations.

Ah, yes, João Havelange: the corrupt FIFA chief and the father-in-law of Teixeira at the time of the latter’s sudden elevation from obscure lawyer to head of the CBF. Soon, Teixeira was rich, with a condo in Miami, bodyguards, and an ever-increasing salary.

Ricardo Teixeira, FIFA, corruption

That CBF deal with Nike mentioned above left many wondering where all the money had gone: it certainly hadn’t filtered into development of the domestic game. The results of the Congressional investigations were damning for Teixeira:

The probe that exposed Teixeira began with a Brazilian congressional investigation (aka CPI) into a $4 billion, ten-year contract the Nike Corporation had with the Brazilian football conference (CBF). The investigation, as is the wont of many investigations, discovered a network and underlying web of deceit, lies, and illegal dealings that ran the gamut from forgery to outright theft of funds and bribery. The first CPI was in fact brought to a close with many of its investigative discoveries squashed because the committee itself voted to keep the report of its findings secret from publication. The reality was that many of the members of the investigative body were tied in with the CBF. Men such as Eurico Miranda were on the committee. Miranda also happened to be an owner of a team in the CBF, the Vasco da Gama club.  But Miranda, and others like him with CBF tie-ins, saw no reason to recuse themselves from the investigation or any ensuing votes because of this obvious conflict of interest.

It was a second CPI that the Brazilian congress convened that did trap Teixeira and others that were involved with the illegalities involving the soccer industry in Brazil.

Among the discoveries involving Teixeira were (1) he as the president of the CBF took on loans for over $30 million for the organization from a New York bank at the interest rate of about 53% annually; (2) he received from this same bank a personal loan but at the rate of 10% annually; (3) he supposedly helped to broker a $9 million fee to Jos Hawilla for acting as a go-between for the CBF and a Nike deal. Hawilla was a journalist for the Traffic Company. (That name Traffic sound familiar?) and (4) falsifying an expense of $8 million to be paid to a former partner, Marelo Tiraboschi, for being a supposed middleman for a ten-year sponsorship deal worth over $175 million with a company named Ambev.

The investigation was a humiliation for Teixeira, as it concluded that “Lack of control, disorganisation and bad management reign rife in the CBF. Mr Ricardo Teixeira, as president, is directly responsible for creating an environment which is ripe for an administrative disaster.”

The hundreds of millions of dollars that poured into the CBF’s coffers in the 1990s due to their lucrative deals with Nike and television company Traffic (run by a close ally of Teixeira) were spent without a budget, while expenditure on hotels and transport for officials rose 600%, and junket trips to the ’94 and ’98 World Cup were given to many people who had nothing to do with the sport, the investigation found.

Amazingly, Teixeira was reelected for a seven-year term as head of the CBF in 2007.

Last year, Teixeira was convicted of avoiding customs taxes, after returning home from the 1994 World Cup in the United States with 17 tons of imported goods that he failed to pay tax on.

Indeed, to go back to 1994, Teixeira had a run in with Pelé ahead of the 1994 World Cup that saw the star banned from the World Cup draw in Las Vegas, as Rob Hughes wrote in a 1994 New York Times article on Pelé’s elevation to Sports Minister in the Brazilian government:

And while Pelé, to my knowledge, has had a public run-in with only one man, that man happens to be Ricardo Teixeira, who presides over the CBF, Brazil’s soccer federation. More than that, Teixeira is the son-in-law of João Havelange, the Brazilian president of FIFA who single-handedly barred Pelé from the World Cup draw in Las Vegas a year ago.

It was an horrendous example of Havelange’s vindictiveness, and an early warning that the aging president intends to maneuver his son-in-law into becoming his successor in charge of the world game.

Pelé, then as now, was the catalyst between soccer and the American people; Havelange the autocrat blankly refused to speak Pelé’s name, or to discuss with his FIFA executive his reason for banning from the ceremony the greatest player the game has known.

We knew the reason. Pelé had accused Teixeira of corruption, of accepting a million-dollar bribe to favor one television contract over another, and Teixeira was suing Pelé in the Brazilian courts. So Havelange, having installed Teixeira on FIFA committees, shut out Pelé.

The backstory was that Pelé had attempted to purchase the broadcasting rights in Brazil to the 1994 World Cup, but had refused to pay $1m into a Swiss bank account as ordered by the CBF, under Teixeira’s direction. And then he had refused to keep quiet about it.

But Teixeira eventually won back the support of Pelé, whose attempts to lead reform of the Brazilian game in the 1990s failed. And that support from Pelé, coming right after the results of Brazil’s Congressional inquiry came out in 2001 and threatened to skewer Teixeira’s career, saved Teixeira, as they shared the stage to condemn the inquiry’s results. In Soccer Explains The World, Franklin Foer cites a columnist for the Brazilian sports daily Lance! on this sad moment for Brazilian soccer: “The union of Pelé and Teixeira is the biggest stab in the back that those of us fighting for ethics in sport could receive . . . He has sold his soul to the devil.”

This man, then, Ricardo Teixeira, is responsible for organising the 2014 World Cup, an organisation already described as “amazingly” behind schedule, and subject to Teixeira’s political needs, according to Tim Vickery:

Teixeira’s need to keep his power base onside has already affected the organisation of the tournament. Many state presidents wanted 2014 games to be staged in their domain, so the CBF successfully lobbied Fifa to have 12 host cities, rather than the original plan of between eight and 10. Seventeen cities applied – one later pulled out – and, to save Teixeira from the political embarrassment of excluding some of them, the final decision was pushed to Fifa.

Vickery, the most accomplished observer of the South American game we have in the English-language, concludes that the Teixeira-led power structure is the main danger to the preparations:

For all its progress, the moment in Brazil is very different [from South Africa]. Its football administrators could not be further removed from activists. They represent the old, semi-feudal Brazil.

Federal Deputy Paulo Rattes wrote a Congressional report on 2014 planning. “What struck me about South Africa,” he said, “was that there was participation from society and political leaders.” In Brazil, meanwhile, “it is a black box that no one enters, only Ricardo Teixeira and his friends.”

That black box of Teixeira is where the World Cup is headed in four years, sad to say.


Africa, FIFA and Government Interference: Dealing With Corruption In Soccer

The most important development in African soccer taking place this year might not be the World Cup in South Africa — despite its successful staging (oh, yeah, it seems to have turned out that Cabinda is not in South Africa) — argues Paul Doyle in an excellent Guardian piece on domestic African leagues, specifically, the possibility that Kenya might be leading the way with new leadership in the Kenyan Premier League:

Africa is a football-mad continent but has only ever sent three teams to the World Cup quarter-finals. It had six sides at the 2010 tournament but mustered only four wins – the strong showing of Ghana, a country with a good FA and innovative clubs, cannot mask the general trend of underachievements, including by Cameroon and Nigeria, countries who boast bountiful talent but finished bottom of their groups. When it comes to African football, tales of corruption, incompetence and infighting remain more common than success stories.

“Too many national associations are failing African football,” Nicholas Musonye, general secretary of the Council of East and Central African Football Associations, says. “We cannot have strong national teams without strong leagues but we do not have strong leagues because too often the associations are run by the wrong people, people who get involved for politics or money, not for football. Until we sort ourselves out, we will have the same old circus.”

To tackle this, Doyle explains, the Kenyan Premier League was formed, and significantly, it is owned and run by the 16 Kenyan clubs themselves.

The KPL represents a great example of African football sorting itself out, a successful rebellion by people who genuinely care about football against the powerful people seeking to hijack it for their own ends. Over the past decade the hijacking has at times been so blatant as to be farcical – an investigation into corruption in the Kenya Football Federation (KFF) in 2005 found that from the first eight matches played by the national team following the arrival of a new president “there was not a single penny banked by the treasurer as proceeds from gate receipts”. There were also reports of top KFF officials acting as unregistered agents to sell players abroad and embezzling funds given by Fifa. Even 30 computers donated by Fifa disappeared.

Kenya’s clubs, sick of being hindered rather than helped by their federation, began agitating for reform and, in the face of repeated sabotage and intimidation by the KFF, eventually took over the running of the domestic league, forming, in 2008, the country’s first professional league, the KPL, and only the second one in the continent, after the South African Super League, to be owned entirely by clubs.

“When you have a company that owns the league and the 16 clubs are equal shareholders and equal decision‑makers, then you automatically have three things,” Bob Munro, chairman of Mathare United and a KPL official, says.

“First, you have complete accountability, because you basically have 16 auditors as every shilling that comes in belongs to the clubs together and they sit and decide how best to allocate it – how much goes to the clubs, how much to a common pool for staff, referees, marketing and so on. Secondly, you have complete transparency because there are no secrets when there are 16 owners. And, thirdly, you automatically have fair play – if any official or referee tries to favour one club, the 15 others will fire them. Fair play, financial accountability and democratic transparency, that’s all you need to have good football management.”

At the end of the piece, though, Doyle raises a point that is worth considering further in global terms: when politicians attempt to stamp down on corruption within the national associations that run the sport, should they always automatically be chastised and threatened with a ban from international competition by FIFA?

Doyle raises this point with regard to the much-mocked move by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan two weeks ago to wipe clean the slate in Nigerian soccer by banning the national team from play.

But, as this BBC article explains, this was not simply a populist move by Jonathan; he was attempting to deal with a serious crisis in the institutions of soccer in Nigeria, run not for the good of the game but with a strong whiff of corruption pervading the air.

The actual banning and un-banning of the team is irrelevant,” says Churchill Olise, owner of elite football academy Ebede FC in Shagamu.

“What matters is that at last the powerful have realised the seriousness of our problem.

“Sport is the one area where we can compete internationally – and win. We simply cannot continue to waste our young talent.”

In theory, an abundance of gifted young players ought to make Nigeria a global super-power in the game.

But insiders point to squandered talent, a national sport strangled by poor infrastructure, and football officials obsessed by gaining re-election for themselves. There is also evidence of corruption.

“The sackings just scratch the surface,” says Wilson Ajua, a lawyer and owner of Rainbow FC in Lagos.

“The president should take it further. The structures must be cleaned out and rebuilt.”

He points to problems deeper than corruption.

“Many of these local clubs are like empty shells without good players,” he says.

“I believe the state of football in Nigeria is dead. The clubs are run as political tools, not as businesses.”

Jonathan’s extreme action suddenly made more sense just days ago when it came to light FIFA had been warned the Nigerian team was “at risk” of involvement in match-fixing; and, as Declan Hill discussed, this will continue to be the case when players are not paid for their participation in the World Cup directly, but often see their money disappear into the pockets of corrupt national officials (this, incidentally, doesn’t only happen in Africa). Significantly, Jonathan’s more important action was not the headline-move of banning the national team, but his demand that the Nigerian Football Federation be dissolved and its books opened to anti-fraud police.

Jonathan had to back down from his action when FIFA intervened. But the idea brought up above by Olise that Jonathan did not go far enough as the entire sport’s infrastructure needed cleaning out raises a serious question: who, exactly, is going to be able to clean out a corrupt or incompetent national association of a sport if a national government is not allowed by FIFA to do it?  FIFA, obviously, does not do it. And once entrenched, changing the guard at national association level from the grassroots up is extremely difficult. Isn’t it, indeed, in part the responsibility of national governments to ensure their national associations of their national sports are following good governance principles?

That, at least, is the conclusion of Doyle’s insightful piece. In Kenya, he observes, while the national league appears to have enlightened leadership, no such change has taken place at national league level, with the existing dubious leadership of Football Kenya Limited still in place, despite the urging of reform from the national government:

This week Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, requested that the FKL step aside and let clubs vote for new officials. It was only a request, mind, because Odinga knows that any more forceful move by him would incur the wrath of Fifa, who are fundamentalists when it comes to upholding their ban on governmental interference in football – sometimes with the effect that they prevent reform.

And as he quotes Elias Makori, sports editor of Kenya’s biggest newspaper The Nation:

“What Fifa needs to do is stop insisting on no government interference and instead insist on good governance,” Makori says. “It needs to help the right people and thwart the opportunists by drawing up a model constitution for all its associations and demanding that it is respected. If the status quo remains, it is hard not to be pessimistic.”

This is a brilliant suggestion by Makori, it seems to me; sure, it wouldn’t necessarily be easy to ensure model constitutions were implemented properly, but their mere existence — and an end to a blanket ban on government “interference” in soccer by FIFA — would set standards for each national association to be held up to by a country’s clubs, players, fans, regional confederation, FIFA and government officials alike. There is simply to much money in world soccer in every country, too many people involved, to simply trust a few officials to run the sport right with no serious system of standard principles and oversight to be in place for national associations.

Nigeria and Match-Fixing at the World Cup: The Vulnerability Remains

Just to end the week on a depressing note, we hear about a BBC Newsnight report that says FIFA was warned Nigeria might be “vulnerable to match-fixing.”

BBC Newsnight understands a member of Uefa’s Disciplinary Services Unit – which is responsible for investigating match-fixing – first became suspicious during qualifying rounds of the World Cup.

It is alleged that certain Nigerian players came forward and said their team was vulnerable to manipulation.

On the morning of Nigeria’s first match, he alerted Fifa’s new Early Warning System, set up to look for signs of match-rigging, of his concerns.
German journalist Christian Bergmann also had a call just before the first Nigerian game of the tournament from a Uefa contact who said there were suggestions that “some players from the Nigerian team are actually involved in some form of manipulation”.

In their second game of the tournament, Nigeria were strong favourites to beat Greece and took an early 1-0 lead.

But after just 33 minutes Nigeria had a man sent off and Greece subsequently scored their first ever World Cup goals to win 2-1.

As ever, we turn to Declan Hill for the informed commentary, and he follows up on his earlier concern about the laxness of FIFA’s “early warning system” to look out for match-fixing by commenting that it does little to protect players who come forward:

FIFA’ early warning system is practically useless. They don’t investigate. They don’t protect the players. If you are a whistle-blower and you come forward to expose your fears, don’t expect protection and don’t expect the situation to improve.

And again, as he did earlier in the tournament, Hill makes clear that the root of the problem remains the fact that players performing at a multi-billion dollar sporting event, elite professionals in the world’s richest sport at its apex, aren’t guaranteed to be paid the money due to them because FIFA refuses to pay players directly:

The Nigerian Football Association has been so utterly incompetent for so long that many Nigerians have been desperate to close it down and start again. The Nigerian government got involved. Perhaps more tellingly, the great star Jay-Jay Ochoa pleaded with FIFA not to pay the World Cup bonus to the Nigerian FA. His fear was that the money would disappear before it could reach the players.

The basic scenario that leads to corruption at World Cup tournaments is that many of the national football association are so incompetent they cannot guarantee their players will receive any salary or bonuses for playing in the world’s biggest tournament. Until FIFA stops this exploitation, pays the players directly and establishes a proper investigative unit (as UEFA has) they expect lots of these types of stories.

FIFA’s glitz and riches will be on display this weekend in its showcase pair of final World Cup games. But we should not forget its hesitation in tackling this issue. If we think the failure to deal with the need for technological aid for referees in key decisions until it’s too late is bad, it pales in comparison to the unwillingness to deal with a threat that may well eventually allow a major scandal at a World Cup to unfold due to the failure to take enough preventative action on the threat of match-fixing.

The World Cup, because of the scale of the gambling on it, is the easiest event to hide unusual betting patterns on. And evidence continues to grow that until FIFA takes the action urged by Hill — “pays the players directly and establishes a proper investigative unit” — the World Cup will remain vulnerable to being undermined in a far darker way than just by innocent officiating errors.


Third Place Consolation: Should FIFA Abolish The Losers’ Bowl At The World Cup?

Main Entry: con·so·la·tion
Pronunciation: \ˌkän(t)-sə-ˈlā-shən\
Function: noun
Date: 14th century

1 : the act or an instance of consoling : the state of being consoled : comfort
2 : something that consoles; specifically : a contest held for those who have lost early in a tournament

In private meetings, according to David Maraniss’ biography When Pride Still Mattered, the legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi called it the “Shit Bowl”, “a losers’ bowl for losers.” He was referring to the now-forgotten National Football League equivalent of this Saturday’s 2010 World Cup Third Place Game between Germany and Uruguay: the Playoff Bowl (official name, the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl), that ran from 1960 to 1969, and whose introduction was probably more inspired by the now-defunct third place game in the NCAA men’s college basketball championship (that ran until 1981) than its FIFA World Cup equivalent.

The playoff bowl originated in 1959 as a vehicle for the National Football League (NFL), then facing fierce competition from the American Football League (AFL) some years before the two merged, to get an extra post-season game on television: before 1959, the winners of the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NFL played for the Championship, and that was that. By pitting the runners-up from each Conference against each other to play for third place on national television the week before the championship game, the league doubled its post-season exposure.

Following the AFL and NFL merger in 1966, a new playoff structure was introduced in 1967. Four teams now advanced to the playoffs. The Playoff Bowl — the Losers’ Bowl — survived a couple more years, but it had lost importance for NFL television exposure due to the expansion of the playoffs. It disappeared into the dustbin of history; the NFL, perhaps with Lombardi’s words ringing in their ears, has struck all the Playoff Bowl games from their official competitive record, now classifying them only as exhibitions. For the record, the Detroit Lions have the most third place finishes in the NFL, winning three Playoff Bowls. Lions as Losers? Pah.

Also often forgotten is that the FA Cup featured a third place game for a short period from 1970 to 1974. The first such game saw Manchester United claim third place over Watford, in front of a crowd of just over 15,000 at Highbury, Brian Kidd scoring twice. The games appear to have been dropped four years later due to a lack of interest.

Bowling Green Tournament, Consolation Game Silex vs Louisiana

Louisiana Bulldogs, winners of the Consolation Game at the Bowling Green Tournament, 2008.

Which brings us to Saturday’s game. Is it a Losers’ Bowl, something FIFA should abolish as an anachronism, perhaps pretending it never existed in the first place, as the NFL tries to do with its Shit Bowl? Or is the World Cup Third Place Game, in fact, often the provider of entertaining games and curious moments we should cherish, as Mark at Two Hundred Percent points out:

So the World Cup third-place play-off is the most meaningless match in international football? Holders of tickets for England’s Wembley friendly against Hungary in (count ‘em) five weeks may have a view. There wasn’t a great sense of that meaninglessness when England were in the 1990 version, with Bobby Robson as animated as he ever was when exhorting England to “now go and win it” after David Platt’s late equaliser against Italy. And, more pertinently, Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov wasn’t beating the ground with indifference in 1994’s game when he had to make do with a share of that tournament’s “Golden Boot” (the laces and the insole?) after hitting the post.

So it is that Miroslav Klose, if fit, Diego Forlan, Thomas Mueller and even Luis “the Cat” Suarez can find meaning in this year’s “consolation match.” Certainly nations who appear less regularly in the later stages of international tournaments seem to regard third place as something worth playing for. South Korea and Turkey certainly had a go in 2002, Croatia cared in 1998 – as many bruised and battered Dutch players could testify. Sweden’s third place in 1994 was hugely celebrated – even though they’d been finalists in 1958. Poland took justifiable pride in their third places in 1974 and 1982 (the former making England look good after Poland knocked them out in qualifying). And England themselves in 1990…

I met someone yesterday who told me he was a connoisseur of third place games; preferring them, he said, to the World Cup final (admittedly, he was about to finish a half-pint of whiskey he’d apparently all drank himself). More uncertain narratives, lower stakes, more goals (this is statistically true; check it!), an underdog game you can root for as a curiosity event in itself.

We should also note its distinction from the Playoff Bowl: The World Cup third place playoff match was not invented for television, unlike its NFL counterpart. It was first played in 1934, long before the World Cup was broadcast on television, presumably in a similar spirit as the Bronze Medal game played in Olympic Football Tournaments before 1930, then the most important global soccer competition. In the 1928 Olympic tournament, Italy destroyed Egypt 11-3 in the Bronze Medal game to claim third place. Indeed, the consolation did not stop there: an entire consolation bracket was also played out featuring teams knocked out even earlier in the tournament.

I am unsure — and would like to know why — a third place game was not played at the 1930 World Cup, the only time the World Cup has had a knockout phase that hasn’t included a playoff for third place (the United States were posthumously awarded third place by FIFA due to their overall better record than Yugoslavia at the tournament).

Yet though it wasn’t invented for television, it may indeed survive because of television: as Soccernomics points out, the Third Place Game is popular on television, providing a 4.9% boost for the tournament’s ratings as a whole, “only slightly less than the semifinal effect.” Maybe you don’t know why you watch it; but you do. It might be a Losers’ Bowl, but it’s a winner for FIFA, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Photo: eagle102.net on Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.

FIFA’s Golden Ball Nominees: No Defensive Players At The World Cup

Her’s FIFA’s Golden Ball nominees list for this World Cup’s best player award, selected by FIFA’s “technical study group”: Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands, David Villa of Spain, Diego Forlan of Uruguay, Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, Andres Iniesta of Spain, Lionel Messi of Argentina, Mesut Oezil of Germany, Arjen Robben of the Netherlands, Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany and Xavi Hernandez of Spain.

You will notice there is not a defender nor a goalkeeper amongst the ten nominees. The closest we have to a defensive player is the roaming Bastian Schweinsteiger. This does mark a departure from recent Golden Ball awards: a defensive player has finished in the top three of voting in each of the past three World Cups (Favio Cannavaro of Italy in 2006, Oliver Kahn of Germany in 2002 and Lilian Thuram of France in 1998).

No individual defensive player has been hyped-up in the way Cannavaro or Kahn were in the previous two tournaments, while Thuram unusually scored a couple of goals to earn his spotlight.

Perhaps it’s just because the backlines of Spain and the Netherlands, the finalists, haven’t had an obvious outstanding performer, or at least, not one picked up one by the media. Incidentally, FIFA’s shortlist for Young Player of the Tournament is also comprised entirely of attacking players (Thomas Mueller, Giovani Dos Santos and Andre Ayew, for the record).

FIFA’s awards don’t particularly matter, though they do go into record books and have an unmatched prominence. It’d be nice if the nominees reflected some balance between attack and defense (not that Schweinsteiger or Xavi play one way, of course).

FIFA Explains the Forgotten Film of the 1938 World Cup

A couple of days ago, we discussed a rare narrated film of the 1938 World Cup in France that we had found (click that link to view it), and to which we could find no reference to at FIFA’s films website (or much reference to at all online). We speculated why this might be — the French narration? The uncomfortable scenes of Hitler salutes peppering the 30 minute film? The simple possibility it had been forgotten?

We contacted FIFA’s Films department to try and find out why it was not part of their archive. Today they responded, via the distribution company Infront Sports & Media who produce their DVD archive, and they were kind enough to provide something of an explanation. They said that they had only recently acquired a copy of the film, and that the version they had was mute. They also said they assumed FIFA’s legal team was looking into whether FIFA owned the rights or not — I believe (though stand to be corrected) that in France, copyright in film extends to 70 years after the death of the director, in this case René Lucot, who died only in 2003.

However, as we noted, the credits to the film, and indeed its mere existence at all, strongly suggests it was a work commissioned by at the least, the French Football Federation, with FIFA’s support. It will be interesting to see if the film does in time become part of FIFA’s World Cup films archive, and if so, whether the version they release goes out unedited from Lucot’s original.

The Forgotten Film of the 1938 World Cup in France

Many of the official World Cup films are well-known and widely available, such as the classic 1966 movie Goal! and the Michael Caine narrated Hero from 1986. The official FIFA Films page lists 15 World Cup films from 1930 to 2006, all available on DVD. The first World Cup in 1930 has retroactively been given an official film recently made from archive footage, but there is nothing listed for 1934, 1938 or 1950, so we presume the first official World Cup film was commissioned in 1954.

But, in fact, there does appear to be an official narrative film made earlier than that, from the 1938 World Cup. Curiously, there is no mention anywhere on FIFA’s films site or elsewhere as far as I can tell in the English-language of a roughly 30 minute long film made at and released shortly after the 1938 World Cup held in France. Yet I believe that 1938 film, by young French director René Lucot, was an officially sanctioned product. The introduction to the film lists the committee of FIFA in its credits. The film has even been forgotten by chroniclers of Lucot’s long film career, and it may indeed have been his first: Lucot’s IMDB filmography does not list it, giving his 1942 film Rodin as his cinematic debut instead.

I’m not particularly sure why this film has apparently been forgotten (I suppose it doesn’t help that the narration is only in French), and only stumbled upon its existence myself when reading through a detailed academic article on the culture of that World Cup by Joan Tumblety, entitled The Soccer World Cup of 1938: Politics, Spectacles, and la Culture Physique in Interwar France [PDF] and well worth reading itself. According to Tumblety, Lucot’s film was part of a “multigenre publicity campaign designed to extend the event’s audience far beyond the stadium.”

I was able to find a full-version of Lucot’s 1938 film at a French site (you can view the full-length version below, too). Even though the narration is in French, anyone interested in the history of the World Cup should give it a look. One thing that strikes one immediately is the visibility of  the uncomfortable politics that surrounded the 1938 World Cup, with the Germans prominently offering the Hitler salute several times in the film, along with what appear to be broadcasters and other prominent officials on the sidelines and in the stands.

1938 World Cup, France, Sieg Heil, Hitler Salute, Film, Lucot

Maybe this footage isn’t what FIFA wants the 1938 event to be associated with at a World Cup that ended with the triumph of Mussolini-era Italy, and just perhaps, that’s actually the reason why this film is lost in the archives.

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The End of Independence For The Ballon d’Or: A Missed Opportunity For Global Awards

Ballon d'Or, Golden Ball, France Football, Cristiano RonaldoFIFA announced today that the two most prestigious awards in men’s world soccer, the FIFA World Player of the Year award (awarded by FIFA since 1991) and the Ballon d’Or (run since 1956 by France Football magazine), would merge together: FIFA’s paws once more taking hold of a previously independent and prestigious aspect of the global game.

“The winner is football because as of January of next year we will have one single trophy for the best player in the world and this will be the Golden Ball,” Sepp Blatter said.

For “football” in that sentence you can, of course, read “FIFA”.

To be fair to the merger, though, it does make some sense: the Ballon d’Or has recently lost its raison d’être due to the existence of the FIFA award and its own changed focus. The purpose of the Ballon d’Or has changed over the years: originally an award only for a European playing at a European club, in 1995 the rules were changed to allow non-Europeans playing at European clubs to win (George Weah benefiting from this that same year). In 2007, the award was expanded to a global scope, though no-one at a non-European club has come in the top three since. The panel of voters was also changed at this point, from the around 50 European-based journalists making their selections to around 90 worldwide. That shift in 2007 is starting to look like a long-term play by the magazine’s publishers to get into FIFA’s annual awards jamboree and the publicity it will bring for France Football, at least in the short term.

The FIFA World Player of the Year award, meanwhile, has been similarly Eurocentric, with no player at a non-European club finishing in the top three of the voting in any year. In this case, the voting is cast by the captains and coaches of all FIFA member nations.

So there’s no doubt there’s a certain redundancy to the two awards at this point: in 2007, Kaka won both awards, in 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo won both awards, and in 2009, Messi won both awards. In fact, the two awards have had the same top three players for three straight seasons, the last two in exactly the same order.

There will be a new voting system in place for the merged award, to be first given in January 2011 and named the FIFA Ballon d’Or.  France Football provides the details: votes will come from the national team coach, captain and a journalist from each of FIFA’s 208 member nations.

The close match between the two awards since 2007 suggests we will not see any surprising nominees. The benchmark will presumably remain the UEFA Champions League and the European Championships rather than the Copa Libertadores or the Copa América; a supposedly global award only further perpetuates a global focus on European-based competition.

Maybe France Football had it right in the first place (or at least the second place, when they allowed non-Europeans on European clubs to win the Ballon d’Or): would a smarter merger not have produced a broader awards ceremony, with a “Golden Ball” awarded to the best player on each continent, and then an overall FIFA World Player of the Year awarded alongside it (if we must have such an honour at all)?  This would, at least, give it an actual global meaning and some recognition to the best players in North America, South America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, rather than an annual European procession.

Furthermore, it was not made clear by either FIFA or France Football if the same voting system will also be used for the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award, its existence continuing to give off the air of an afterthought (which, technically, it was: the women’s award was only instituted by FIFA in 2001). As we noted in December, voting in that award seemed to be even more skewed to checking the box based on a YouTube highlights reel than judgment on performance at a global level: the selection of Marta in 2009 over the more deserving Inka Grings showed this.

All in all, the merger misses an opportunity to create anything that really does anything for the global game besides affirming the same pointless bauble for a Ronaldo or a Messi.


Australia’s 2022 World Cup Bid and Fedor Radmann: Buying FIFA Connections

Australia, 2022 World CupOn Friday, we published a piece on the price of Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid: 11.37-million Australian taxpayers’ dollars being paid to two shady international lobbyists, Peter Hargitay and Fedor Radmann, to grease FIFA’s wheels. That piece focused on Hargitay, a globe-trotting consultant once arrested by Interpol for fraud, indicted by the US government for cocaine trafficking and heading up a consultancy network that boasts of doing “military and government level surveillance” for its clients. Hargitay was a special advisor to Sepp Blatter from 2002 to 2007, later joining and being jettisoned from England’s 2018/2022 World Cup bid team before being recruited by Football Federation Australia (FFA) last year for their own bid.

The Age newspaper reported on how lavishly these services are being rewarded by the FFA:

Mr Hargitay is being paid $1.35 million by the FFA and has a success fee of $2.54 million. Mr Radmann’s work for the Australian bid, which the FFA has attempted to keep confidential, will earn him up to $3.49 million via a German consulting firm. He is also entitled to a $3.99 million success fee. As part of a separate contract, the FFA is paying Mr Radmann’s business partner, Andreas Abold, an additional $3 million for World Cup “bid book production and bid advice”. It is unclear if Mr Abold will also receive some of Mr Radmann’s fees.

As the Observer put it today:

Radmann’s career highlights: long-time Sepp associate, former managing director of ISL – Fifa’s marketing agency which collapsed in 2001 after paying £60m in bribes (Radmann was not implicated), plus allegations in 2000, all denied, about a scheme to incentivise key Fifa officials to back Germany’s 2006 bid. Radmann later stepped down from the Germany 2006 organising committee after awarding a lucrative contract to his business partner.

The Age explained further Radmann’s past:

Hargitay is not the only international soccer lobbyist on the FFA payroll. He is joined by Fedor Radmann, a German businessman who can speak four languages, loves opera and mountaineering, and between 1979 and 1989 was the managing director of sports marketing company ISL.

He is also a man rich in apparent conflicts of interest between his business interests and the sporting associations he represents.

The European company has been embroiled in a long-running Swiss court case over alleged bribes to FIFA and other sporting officials. The case was settled earlier this month after key participants agreed to make big payments, with a Swiss prosecutor affirming earlier comments from a judge that ISL had made improper inducements.

Once again, we turn to investigative Andrew Jennings to fill in the blanks on Radmann: who is, as Jennings puts it, “the self-styled Mr Fixit of the world game”.

The question is, what exactly is it that Radmann does that’s so valuable?

Nobody’s quite sure what Fedor does so well – it’s nobody’s business – but whatever it is, he learned everything from the Master. Thirty years ago Horst Dassler made him head of the Adidas International Relations Team – aka the Department of Dirty Tricks & Votes Fixing – and Fedor’s career has gone downhill, subterranean, into places you wouldn’t want your children marooned in. He must have developed night vision eyeballs because whatever Fedor does, he does it in the dark.

Radmann’s links to the global game and the World Cup go back decades, and reach to the highest levels of the sport.

In 2000, Radmann was selected by Franz Beckenbauer to play a key role on the Organising Committee for the 2006 World Cup to be held in Germany, touted as a “marketing and PR expert”. He had previously been the co-ordinator of Germany’s successful World Cup bid, one tainted by allegations of bribes paid to FIFA officials to secure the vote, as the Age recently recapped:

In 2000, shortly before the FIFA officials voted, Radmann was tied to a scheme to channel large payments to “trust accounts” associated with at least three FIFA officials. These payments were ostensibly for the broadcast rights to football matches that on the open market would have struggled to find a buyer due to their limited audience appeal.

In an associated deal, $1 million in consulting fees were sent to a Lebanese racehorse owner called Elias Zaccour, who was very close to leading FIFA officials.

The German media suggested these payments were sweeteners to impress key FIFA officials. Radmann and the FIFA executives allegedly involved in this foul play dismissed the claims, despite the documentary evidence aired by the German press. Radmann has not responded to questions from The Age.

Radmann’s role on Germany’s 2006 World Cup organising committee soon landed him in further public disrepute. The book German Football: History, Culture, Society detailed Radmann’s controversial tenure heading its marketing efforts, particularly with regard to the unveiling of the 2006 World Cup logo in 2002:

When the Organising Committee (OC) started its work on 1 January 2001, Fedor H. Radmann, the OC Vice-President at the time, was responsible for the section ‘Art and Culture’. Radmann, a close confidant of Franz Beckenbauer, however, came under immense negative pressure when the official logo was presented. The ‘creative disaster’ (as the renowned design magazine Die Form put it) was mocked by German designers and the national and international press poked fun at it. . . Those responsible, namely Fedor Radmann and the OC, were promptly taken to task by politicians, as they had neglected to carry out a formal competition for the logo.

World Cup 2006 logo

The controversial 2006 World Cup logo

It was revealed that Radmann and the OC had selected a Munich-based design company, abold, owned by Andreas Abold, to work with London-based Whitestone International on the logo design. Abold just happened to be closely connected to Radmann, with business connections going back thirteen years. The German press increasingly poked into Radmann’s connections with many of the companies central to the World Cup in Germany: his previous work with adidas and to Leo Kirch’s failed company ISL in particular.

By mid-2003, the controversial wheeler-dealer Radmann had to resign from the OC, acting from that point on as an ‘OC special advisor’ only.

The FFA has since called on both Radmann and Abold to work on their bid, to return to The Age report again:

Australian press reports that mentioned the recruitment of Abold failed to mention Radmann.

As secret FFA documents from 2009 reveal, Abold was awarded two Australian government-funded contracts after being appointed sometime around early 2009. These contracts were handed out in confidential deals, done without any, or minimal, competitive tendering.

The first contract is worth $3.2 million and is labelled “Abold 1: Bid Book Production and Advice”. It requires Abold to help design and produce Australia’s Bid Book, a crucial marketing document that promotes the nation’s case to host the cup.

The second contract is more mysterious. It is worth $3.7 million and is labelled “Abold 2: International Relations/ Advocacy.” It may be more accurate, however, to label it as the Abold and Radmann contract. For, as other FFA documents make clear, the Abold 2 contract actually goes, at least partly, towards financing Radmann’s duties.

It also includes a very hefty bonus to “FDR” (Radmann), should Australia win hosting rights to the World Cup. So what exactly is Radmann doing for Australia?

The answer to that question is that despite his disastrous tenure with Germany’s World Cup organisation, Radmann’s perceived value lies in the connections he built there and earlier in his career, particularly to FIFA Executive Committee member Franz Beckenbauer.  Could this have influenced Beckenbauer’s December 2009 statement that Australia’s World Cup bid was “perfect” and notably had “the support of some very, very experienced people who know exactly how it works and what it takes to be successful”? Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid page boasted:

Franz Beckenbauer has hailed Australia’s 2018-2022 FIFA World Cup bid as ‘perfect’, adding that the country can’t ask for better promotion than hosting the world’s biggest tournament.

Beckenbauer is a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, the 24-man panel who’ll decide the hosts for those respective tournaments in a year’s time and was heavily influential in the lead up to and during the 2006 World Cup in his home country.

He said Germany is still basking in the afterglow of 2006, which helped change the world’s perception of Germany, and said Australia would reap similarly massive benefits.

“The FIFA World Cup is the most seen sporting event in the world,’’ Beckenbauer said.

“Billions and billions of people are watching all the games and it’s the best promotion that your country could have.

“In terms of the bid itself, I think it’s a great bid, it’s perfect and also you have the support of some very, very experienced people who know exactly how it works and what it takes to be successful.’’

Those people are the likes of Hargitay, Radmann and Abold’s expensively recruited company, abold, who played a key role in South Africa’s 2010 World Cup bid as well as in Germany 2006. The employment of these figures becomes a virtuous or vicious circle depending on your perspective: with each bid’s success, and the role played by the same small group of elite marketing consultants in them, those marketing consultants’ connections grow and their employment becomes ever more desirable, as Abold himself explained in an interview with the Host City website:

Our clients award us contracts mainly based on the strong bidding experience we have gained over a period of almost 20 years. Besides FIFA bids, we have also prepared bids for the Olympic Games, European Athletics Championships, 59th UITP World Congress, ICCA Congress and others. In every business it is important to know your target group well. We are proud to have established long-standing relationships with our clients, not only during the bidding phase for an event but also in the implementation phases. This, by nature, results in close ties.

These crucial “close ties” bring us back to the same issue we began this series with when we looked at Australia’s suspect gift-giving practices to FIFA’s Executive Committee members and FIFA’s absurd and inadequate Code of Ethics. The rotten core of this subterranean process for selecting World Cup hosts lies in Zürich, Switzerland, at FIFA’s headquarters. It lies in the set-up of FIFA’s all-powerful Executive Committee, 24 men (and they are all men) so long and so deeply embedded in the political subterfuge and grubby finances of the organisation of the world’s game that it’s doubtful they even realise how corrupt they are perceived to be by so many. Secretive decision-making practices, a lack of public transparency and tenure on the Committee that can stretch to decades (with unlimited reelection of four-year terms) makes a mockey of FIFA’s claim to be democratic.

Here is how long each Ex-Com member has been on that body (with most having earlier relationships to FIFA stretching back years as well):

President
Sepp Blatter: 12 years

Senior Vice-President
Julio Grondono: 22 years

Vice-Presidents
Jack Warner: 27 years
Issa Hayatou: 20 years
Mong-Joon Chung: 16 years
Ángel María Villar Llona: 12 years
Michel Platini: 8 years
Reyanld Tamarii: 6 years
Geoff Thompson: 3 years

Members
Michel D’Hooge: 22 years
Ricardo Teixeira: 16 years
Mohamed Bin Hammam: 14 years
Senes Erzik: 14 years
Chuck Blazer: 14 years
Worawi Makudi: 13 years
Nicolas Leoz: 12 years
Junji Ogora: 8 years
Amos Adamu: 4 years
Marios Lefkaritis: 3 years
Jaxques Anouma: 3 years
Franz Beckenbauer: 3 years
Rafael Salguero: 3 years
Jerome Valcke: 3 years
Hano Aby Rida: 1 year
Vitaly Mutko: 1 year

As we can see, the tenure of some of the senior executive committee members, the most influential men in world soccer, is extremely long, with Jack Warner spending 27 years there cultivating and being cultivated surrounding decisions that impact how billions of dollars are spent year in, year out. And hence, the likes of Radmann and Hargitay, with their connections to senior members stretching back years, are recruited at high cost for Australia’s World Cup bid team. The Sidney Morning Herald explained how Jack Warner had been wooed:

As one of 24 on FIFA’s executive committee (Exco), Warner in December will help decide which nations will host the 2018 and 2022 Cups. As a contender for 2022, Australia is counting on Warner’s support in the later rounds of the FIFA ballot.

Assisting Australia to court Warner is Football Federation Australia’s highly paid lobbyist, Peter Hargitay, who helped arrange the Warner-Rudd meeting.

It is understood that Hargitay was also involved in arranging, at Warner’s request, the sponsorship by the FFA of a trip for the Trinidad and Tobago under-20 men’s football team to a training camp in Cyprus last year.

FIFA revealed it is investigating the trip.

A statement said: “FIFA can confirm that it is looking into this matter. For the time being, FIFA cannot disclose any other details or make any further comment.”

The trip would have cost the FFA – presumably using Australian taxpayer money – tens of thousands of dollars. The Warner family’s travel company, Simpaul, was involved in arranging part of that trip, however, the FFA said yesterday all its dealings with the Trinidad and Tobago soccer team were through a separate and unrelated travel company.

It is also believed Hargitay was involved in, or at least knew of, a trip to Australia offered by the FFA to Warner supporter and a South American FIFA Exco member, Rafael Salguero, and his wife in December, as well as other gifts given to Exco members by Australia.

The lid lifted on Australia’s World Cup bid has demonstrated to the world once again how shady this process is, and just how badly we need reform at the highest levels of FIFA to stop the game falling even more deeply into the pockets of the likes of Hargitay, Radmann and Warner.

Paying Peter Hargitay: The Price Of A World Cup Bid

11.37-million Australian dollars: that’s the cost of paying two shady international lobbyists, Peter Hargitay and Fedor Radmann, to grease Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid for FIFA’s wheels. A couple of days ago, we commented on the revelations coming out in the Australian press about the suspect manner in which their World Cup bid was being made. That piece was on how Australia’s governing body, Football Federation Australia (FFA), and its bid team were taking advantage of FIFA’s lax and inadequate rules on gifts to FIFA Executive Committee members (the 24 of whom will decide on the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in December).

Today, we will look at another of the revelations to have come out in Australia’s press that once again affirms the entire process of World Cup bidding is all about who you can buy to get the tournament.

Sadly, it means paying $11.37 million (AUS) to two of world soccer’s least pleasant leeches, Peter Hargitay and Fedor Radmann. As The Age reported:

Two controversial European lobbyists hired to help bring the soccer World Cup to Australia stand to receive up to $11.37 million in fees and bonuses – one-quarter of the taxpayer-funded bid – according to secret Football Federation Australia files.

The files include a spreadsheet that suggests the federal government was not told specific details about how taxpayers’ money was to be spent on the lobbyists and grants to overseas football bodies headed by powerful FIFA officials. [ . . ]

Mr Hargitay is being paid $1.35 million by the FFA and has a success fee of $2.54 million. Mr Radmann’s work for the Australian bid, which the FFA has attempted to keep confidential, will earn him up to $3.49 million via a German consulting firm. He is also entitled to a $3.99 million success fee. As part of a separate contract, the FFA is paying Mr Radmann’s business partner, Andreas Abold, an additional $3 million for World Cup “bid book production and bid advice”. It is unclear if Mr Abold will also receive some of Mr Radmann’s fees.

Ben Buckley, FFA Chief Executive Officer, defended these payments to consultants, claiming they were necessary hires for their expertise in a number of areas related to the bid:

Consultants

FFA has engaged a number of Australian and international consultants to assist in presenting its bid.

Each consultant was selected based on their expertise and experience in international football and major sporting events. The scope of areas covered by such consultants includes accommodation, bid book design and production, cost planning, economic analysis, engineering, environment, event planning and coordination, financial analysis, government relations, international advocacy, international relations, marketing, project management, security, stadium design and transport.

FFA has provided all information requested by the Government in respect of the engagement of consultants, including services provided and their fees.

The terms of FFA’s commercial arrangements with its staff and consultants are commercial in confidence and FFA does not make this information publicly available.

FFA requires its staff and consultants to abide by codes of conduct and ensure compliance with laws and regulations and relevant policies. The Government Funding Agreement also requires any personnel engaged to work on FFA’s Bid to comply with behaviours set out in a Government-approved code of conduct.

Sounds impressive: cost planning! financial analysis! economic analysis! Wow!

Utter tosh. Thank the lord for Andrew Jennings, because once again, we turn to FIFA’s nemesis investigative journalist for the real reasons why the services of Peter Hargitay and Fedor Radmann are worth millions of dollars to the FFA.

Let’s start with Hargitay, born in Hungary in 1951, fluent in four languages, and with a global track record of dubious doings that stretches back decades. As Andrew Jennings tells us:

In the 1980s Hargitay worked as a media-fixer in Switzerland.

When the Union Carbide company’s chemical factory in Bhopal, India, exploded in 1984, killing 16,000 people, maiming thousands more – and leaving a ghastly legacy of damaged babies – the company called on his special services.

Hargitay masterminded their battle to avoid paying fair compensation. He has boasted of his success on his websites. The people of Bhopal still wait for justice.

Hargitay moved on to work for Marc Rich, the fugitive from American justice, who based himself in Zug, Switzerland. Marc Rich was famous for being America’s biggest-ever tax dodger. He was named as one of America’s Ten Most Wanted.

But Marc Rich committed a greater crime. He made another fortune secretly breaking UN sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

He sold the white minority the oil they needed to lubricate their repressive domination of the majority of the population.

Peter Hargitay moved to Jamaica where he operated a shipping business – CEA Lines – around the Caribbean.

In 1995 Jamaican police discovered cocaine hidden on CEA boat the Pilar Del Caribe. Hargitay was sent for trial accused of trafficking – but later acquitted.

There are five more pages on this stuff, with Hargitay arrested by Interpol for fraud, indicted by the US government for cocaine trafficking, returning to Switzerland to do “military and government level surveillance” for his clients and setting up a consultancy network — European Consultancy Network (ECN) — where he delivered to clients “news items and alternative scoops that would divert, detract and destabilise imminent media interest.”

And that’s about when Sepp Blatter needed such services whilst mired in scandal, as he became a special adviser to FIFA’s boss from 2002 to 2007.

Peter Hargitay, FIFA, FFA, Corruption

He was rewarded richly, with that connection helping him (and his son) land a role as an Executive Producer of the Goal! movie trilogy.

These connections made him extremely valuable, and the Football Association hired Hargitay and his company ECN to consult on its 2018 World Cup bid. But when Lord Triesman joined the FA as Chairman, he dispensed with Hargitay, for reasons that remain murky, though the publicity that surrounded Hargitay and revealed in the Sunday Herald in April 2008 probably played a part:

Last week the Sunday Herald asked the FA to explain Hargitay’s links with the Zurich based “intelligence gathering” agency ABI, which offers clients “covert operation assignments”, a “software expert with hacker-credentials” as well as “military and government- level surveillance” operations. On its website ABI boasts that one key operative is “a Cuban army colonel with a martial arts black belt.” Come to a private meeting and ABI will disclose, “the full extent of services – their implications and advantages”.

The decision by the FA to can Hargitay was risky in FIFA’s elite circles, irking CONCACAF boss Jack Warner, as he told the Mail in June 2008:

Jack Warner, who carries three out of the 24 FIFA votes on the World Cup venue and influences others, has questioned the FA’s wisdom in falling out with his football strategist friend Peter Hargitay. The FA tendered for 2018 consultants after Hargitay’s European Consultancy Networks had prepared the bid campaign policy. Warner said ominously: ‘It’s unfortunate. Peter could have been an asset in many ways. It was not a prudent thing to dispense with ECN. The timing is not good.’

Hargitay moved on to work for Mohamed Bin Hammam, the boss of the Asian Football Confederation, and in 2009 oversaw his election to FIFA’s Executive Committee.

Last October, when it was revealed Hargitay had been hired by the FFA to work on Australia’s World Cup bid, he denied this work was richly rewarding, rejecting the idea England had paid him seven figures and claiming Australia were paying under $134,000 for his services.

”We received a fee of £75,000 ($134,000) plus expenses for the first phase of our work; upon conclusion and delivery of the strategic plan, we received a further £25,000 fee. As for Australia, our contract is less than that.

“After we concluded our work for the England bid, we were approached by several countries, none of which we were interested to work for,” Hargitay added. “We put a proposal to the FFA, which was accepted and ECN and I were asked to join them as consultants.”

We now know that, according to the Age newspaper (and notably lacking a denial by the FFA), Hargitay is being paid $1.35 million for his services, with a bonus of $2.54 million if the bid succeeds.

For his trouble tracking Hargitay, Andrew Jennings recently received a threatening letter from notorious defender of public scourges, the law firm Schillings of London, once employed by corrupt Uzbeki billionaire Alisher Usmanov to threaten and try to close down this and other websites for revealing his past crimes.

Peter Hargitay, ladies and gentlemen, selected by the FFA for a multi-million dollar contract for his “expertise and experience in international football and major sporting events.”

Next time, we will take a look at the other big name consultant hired, Fedor Radmann, whose past is equally suspect and tied to the exploitation of the global game by FIFA and other commercial entities.


FIFA’s Inadequate Code of Ethics and Australia’s World Cup Bid

Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid is in serious trouble, as World Football Insider explains:

Australia’s World Cup bid team has been accused of handing out inappropriate inducements to FIFA ex-co members and misleading its own government over how taxpayers’ money is spent.

An investigation published by Australia’s Age newspaper and its sister titles in the Fairfax media group alleges the country’s bid team bought jewelery worth more than A$50,000 ($42,670) for the wives of many of the 24 FIFA Ex-co members .

The bid team also stands accused of offering an all-expenses-paid trip to Guatemalan FIFA executive committee member Rafael Salguero and his wife to Australia to mark his birthday earlier this year.

FIFA’s rules of bid conduct prohibit more than token gifts being given by bid teams. Last year England’s bid team were plunged into controversy after giving out Mulberry handbags worth £235 ($354).

But it’s interesting to explore the defense by Ben Buckley, CEO of Football Federation Australia (FFA), in a letter to the Age published by the newspaper, as it shows that the FFA may well have followed FIFA’s rules to the letter of the law in terms of the gift-giving — bringing up the question of whether FIFA’s rules on gift-giving are actually adequate. Here’s his defense:

It is a widely accepted, common practice amongst governments, many businesses and sporting organisations to provide symbolic gifts to visiting international delegations. Gift giving as part of the FIFA World Cup bidding process is a permitted and common practice. FIFA has specific guidelines confirming this. FFA has at all times complied with these guidelines, including the FIFA Code of Ethics and other bidding regulations.

During the bidding process, gifts have included boomerangs, Drizabone jackets, Australian wines, scarves, beanies, RMWilliams belts and wallets. At the FIFA Congress in Sydney in May 2008, prior to the formal bidding process, gifts given by FFA included Paspaley cufflinks and pendants. In all cases, gifts given are specifically selected as symbolically representative of Australian culture and are consistent with FIFA’s regulations relating to gift giving.

So, then, thanks to Ben Buckley, we learn that FIFA has a Code of Ethics. Who knew?  In fact, the Code of Ethics was introduced in October 2004, after scandal finally forced FIFA to do…something rather toothless, as we’ll see.

FIFA’s Code of Ethics has a section on gift-giving that applies at all FIFA officials at all times:

This Code applies to all officials. Officials are all board members, committee members, referees and assistant referees, coaches, trainers and any other persons responsible for technical, medical and administrative matters in FIFA, a confederation, association, league or club.

Part 10 of the “Rules of Conduct” covers “Accepting and giving gifts and other benefits”:

1. Officials are not permitted to accept gifts and other benefits that exceed the average relative value of local cultural customs from any third parties. If in doubt, gifts shall be declined. Accepting gifts of cash in any amount or form is prohibited.

2. While performing their duties, officials may give gifts and other benefits in accordance with the average relative value of local cultural customs to third parties, provided no dishonest advantages are gained and there is no conflict of interest.

This Code of Ethics applies at all times to all officials of FIFA (such as a FIFA Executive Committee member) and its associations (such as the FFA) — essentially, these officials may only accept token gifts. Buckley, then, is arguing that the following as described by the Sydney Morning Herald was in line with this Code of Ethics:

Bought Paspaley pearl necklaces for the wives of many of the 24 FIFA executive committee members who in December will decide which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Pearl cufflinks were also handed out, taking the total value of the gifts to an estimated $50,000.

That’s some expensive average relative value of local cultural custom, there. Surely that can’t be considered a token gift? Ah, but here’s the clever catch: these gifts were given to the wives of FIFA Executive Committee members, not the officials themselves: the Code says nothing about anyone accompanying the officials receiving gifts. And it’s very, very important to remember that these gifts were given to the wives before Australia had submitted its official bid, even though everyone knew they were about to do so. So even though the gifts had significant value, they are allowed under FIFA’s general Code of Ethics.

This is a crucial distinction because as Buckley also mentioned, there are further “other bidding regulations” that apply to gift-giving from FIFA Member Nations during the World Cup bid process — ie, once an official bid has been submitted to FIFA. These further Rules of Conduct state that

The Member Association and the Bid Committee shall refrain, and shall ensure that each entity or individual associated or affiliated with it shall refrain, from providing to FIFA or to any representative of FIFA, to any member of the FIFA Executive Committee, the FIFA Inspection Group, FIFA consultants, or any of their respective relatives, companions, guests or nominees

(i) any monetary gifts;

(ii) any kind of personal advantage that could give even the impression of exerting influence, or conflict of interest, either directly or indirectly, in connection with the Bidding Process, such as at the beginning of a collaboration, whether with private persons, a company or any authorities, except for occasional gits that are generally regarded as having symbolic or incidental value and that exclude any influence on a decision in relation to the Bidding Process; and

(iii) any benefit, opportunity, promise, renumeration or service to any of such individuals, in connection with the Bidding Process.

[emphasis added]

So, we can see that FIFA tightens up the regulations during the bidding process. It now includes in the section on gift-giving “any of their respective relatives, companions, guests or nominees” of the officials.

Again, those expensive pearl necklaces were apparently given to the wives of FIFA Executive Committee members before Australia submitted its bid. FIFA’s Code of Ethics, unlike FIFA’s further Rules of Conduct during the bidding process, does not mention “any of their respective relatives, companions, guests or nominees.”

This distinction, clearly, is ludicrous: Buckley might be right that the FFA followed the letter of the rules, but it just makes it clear that the rules are absurd. The “respective relatives, companions, guests or nominees” of FIFA officials should always be subject to the tighter Rules of Conduct regarding gift-giving, as it’s now very obvious how open to abuse they are.


FIFA’s Corruption And Censorship At The World Cup: The Keyword Is Not Trust

From the England-Germany game report on FIFA’s World Cup website:

England pulled a goal back in the 37th minute when a short Lampard corner from the right was played to Gerrard who crossed into the box. Upson, atoning for his earlier error, rose highest above the Germany defence and with Neuer stranded, powered a header into the net. Meetings between these two sides often provide talking points and this one’s came 60 seconds later when Lampard’s shot from the edge of the box struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced down, with the referee ruling the ball had not crossed the goalline.

There is no mention that the ball clearly crossed the line, with the reader left to ponder on precisely where it bounced down and why the referee might have made such a ruling.

Then we have FIFA’s report on the Mexico-Argentina game, with a notable absence in the description of Tevez’s first goal:

Maradona’s side were hardly lacking in attacking menace themselves, however, and Lionel Messi soon embarked on one of his trademark elusive runs before attempting a chip over Oscar Perez that the Mexico keeper judged well. Messi’s hunt for a goal at South Africa 2010 continues, but it was not long before the Barcelona talisman played a key role as another of Argentina’s star forwards opened his tournament account.

Tevez might have thought his chance had gone when Perez raced out to block bravely at his feet, but Messi was quick-witted enough to return the ball towards goal, where the Manchester City striker was waiting to head home. Breaking the deadlock enabled Argentina to take a firm grip on proceedings, and within seven minutes that hold was strengthened as Mexico reached for the self-destruct button.

Frank Lampard, Ball, Goal-line, World Cup, South Africa, England, Germany

No mention that “where the Manchester City striker was waiting to head home” was in a clearly offside position, or the bizarre scenes that followed which might just have played into Mexico reaching for that “self-destruct button”.

What’s interesting isn’t so much the banal and blatant official spin here, but that due to a growing suspicion of FIFA, whitewashing accounts like these may only make matters worse for Sepp Blatter and company.

It’s fairly obvious that when referees make mistakes, the finger is going to be pointed at FIFA — and, of course, they are responsible for maintaining high standards of refereeing at the World Cup and in the world’s game. FIFA’s stubborn resistance to even adequately explore goal-line technology is only the most glaring example of failure in this regard.

Many, though, sniff corruption rather than incompetence. The second largest number of visitors that arrived at this site through entering keywords into a search engine today did so by typing “FIFA corruption” into Google (the first was “Pitch Invasion”). The last time that same search term spiked so high was on Friday, June 18th, the day the US played Slovenia: and, pace Henry Winter, that game also had a high-profile refereeing controversy that had many searching for answers via Google. I’m guessing this was indicative of a global trend.

FIFA’s footprint is more obvious to casual viewers of the World Cup than it ever has been, as part of their self-promotional branding of the tournament. Their name is splashed on the screen at the start of every instant replay on television: FIFA, right before we see the ball cross the line by half a mile, or Tevez standing two yards offside, or Dempsey standing onside.

And so we have FIFA trying to keep the lid on these mistakes by cutting out comments on its website mentioning such unfortunate incidents and clamping down especially hard on YouTube videos featuring those particular incidents, as well as the obvious spin in the match report examples above. As Robin Goldstein at Blind Taste detailed right after the U.S-Slovenia game:

As of this writing, of the 343 comments to have been approved by the moderators on FIFA.com’s “Have Your Say” discussion board about today’s controversial US-Slovenia 2-2 draw in World Cup competition, not one of them contains even a passing mention of the main topic of discussion of every article that has been written about the game: the fact that referee Koman Coulibaly disallowed the third US goal for reasons that weren’t (and still aren’t) clear to players, fans, or television announcers.

Other soccer discussion boards, like the Washington Post’s Soccer Insider, were flooded with debate and discussion about the questionable call, which began almost immediately after it happened at about 16:40 GMT (the time zone used by FIFA.com). So were Twitter feeds (although at some point Twitter crashed, as it frequently has during the World Cup). The discussion over the controversy really exploded around the internet after the game ended at 16:51, and before long, USA’s tie with Slovenia already had more Google News blog hits (850) than Serbia’s upset of Germany (701).

But on FIFA.com, the silence about USA-Slovenia has been deafening. The latest comment to appear on the discussion board has a timestamp of 20:04. In the 193-minute span between the game’s end and the latest comment’s time stamp, only 24 squeaky-clean comments have been approved. For instance: “great fightback by the USA”; “this is the right result on the balance of play”; “way to go USA”; “the match was really exciting!”; “slovenia is the best team”; “USA are becoming a real nice team!”; and “Slovenia had a great chance to qualify in the next round!! But in the second half we were too defensive.”

By comparison, in that same span of time—193 minutes—after the end of Germany-Serbia (which ended today at 14:20), there were already 175 comments posted. That’s more than seven times as many.

FIFA’s efforts at massaging the conversation about the games will only drive people from using their official sources, erode their trust in them as an organisation, and feed conspiracy theories. As Goldstein puts it: “This doesn’t just undermine fans’ trust in FIFA; it also squanders an easy opportunity for the body that administers the world’s favorite sporting event to become a place where fans can share, discuss, and debate the things that they care most deeply about—thus engendering goodwill and helping to spread the good word about soccer.”

Even though we don’t have any inkling of any actual corruption in South Africa, FIFA is surely only engendering unnecessary further suspicion by such heavy-handed attempts to control the storylines.

We all saw the ball cross the line, Sepp, and we’re going to talk about it whether you like it or not.


Notes from South Africa 2010: Xenophobia and Humanity

Everywhere you turn in South Africa, FIFA has papered walls and billboards with the slogan ‘Ke Nako.  Celebrate Africa’s Humanity™.’  At first glance it seems banal and harmless.  But the more I see it, the more it bothers me.  First, there is something discomforting in seeing the large trademark symbol inserted next to every use of the slogan.  Can you really trademark ‘Africa’s Humanity?’  Isn’t that exactly the kind of neo-imperialism an African World Cup is supposed to counter?

Africa's humanity, FIFA, South Africa, World Cup

More importantly, however, the vague idea of celebrating ‘Africa’s Humanity’ seems to create a depersonalized other that is simply not there.  What is the difference between ‘Africa’s Humanity’ and humanity?  And is this World Cup really celebrating Africa as a whole?  The many African immigrants I’ve talked to in South Africa—Malawians, Zibabweans, Nigerians, Mozabicans, etc.—seem to feel otherwise.

In the conversations I’ve had during my two weeks in South Africa it has been more common to hear about Africa’s differences than its similarities.  There are the shocking differences between glitzy suburbs such as Sandton, full of gleaming shopping malls and Lamborghini dealerships, and sections of tin shantys in townships such as Alexandra—a mere few blocks down the street.  But there are also the perceived differences between Africans of different nationalities.

These perceptions are often negative.  As the Malawian fellow who works at the bed and breakfast where I’m staying told me, “Have you heard about this thing the xenophobia.  Here there is this big problem.”  He went on to explain that Malawians generally have a good reputation in South Africa for being honest and hard working, “But the Zimbabweans—ah, those ones can’t be trusted.”

Then there was the (white) South African who warned me sternly to be careful walking by a nearby apartment block: “Nigerians live there.”  Or the (black) South African who told me that in his village “there are too many problems with the Mozambicans; they are always just stealing.”

Whatever the stereotypes or national origins, many of the African immigrants I’ve talked to are nervous for the World Cup to end.  My Malawian friend claimed that in his Johannesburg township the threats are explicit: “They tell us, wait till the World Cup ends.  We’re going to kick your ass.”  Whether or not that is meant literally, there is a perception that right now many poor, urban South Africans are on their best behavior—but that may mean they are bottling up ‘the xenophobia.’

Why so much fear of African immigrants in the face of so much social marketing promoting African unity?  The core dynamic seems remarkably familiar to the contemporary relationship between the United States and Central America.  There is massive income inequality; poorly educated migrants are willing to work long, hard hours for low pay; unemployed and poorly educated locals find a scapegoat.

The World Cup, of course, offers a great backdrop for scapegoating.  In fact, the one thing locals, immigrants, and tourists seem to regularly agree upon is that the most dangerous group here is the dark overlord known as FIFA.  South Africa’s Mail & Guardian last week told of a Cape Town man who had stumbled into a brisk trade selling “FICK FUFA” t-shirts.

Even the US fans got in on the action the other night against Algeria: when Clint Dempsey’s goal was called back for being offside, the US fan section erupted into a three beat chant “F**k you FIFA…F**k you FIFA.”  It was fascinating to me that rather than blame the referee or the linesman as individuals, the fans choose to blame an entire abstract entity (though I do get that much of it has to do with FIFA’s handling of the mystery no-goal in the Slovenia game during which an individual was scapegoated).

Ultimately, then, the question on the streets in South Africa seems to be less who will win the World Cup and more who to blame.  Who to blame for losses, who to blame for inequality, who to blame for crime.  I’d emphasize, however, that the blame is often focused entirely on abstractions: FIFA rather than Sepp Blatter, Zimbabweans rather than the kind women selling her handcrafts in the public market.

Algeria, United States, World Cup 2010, South Africa

Civility before US v Algeria

In fact, one of the great things about the atmosphere around this World Cup is how positively disposed everyone is to basic, friendly human interaction.  Before the US game the Algerians were beating their drums and waving Palestinian flags, but afterwards the Algerian men I talked to were pure diplomacy: “Ah, it was a good game.  Both teams had chances—the US just wanted it a bit more at the end.”

So on an individual level everyone I’ve talked to here—Algerian, South African, Zimbabwean, Kenyan, Mozambican, Slovenian, Australian, Mexican, Dutch, Nigerian, and even English (!)—has been decent, engaging, human.  But still, my Malawian friend assures me, “What you don’t see is  that here in the locations [townships] things are getting tense.  I’m telling you, after 11th July when you are up there [back in the US]—well, just watch the news.”


Playing World Cup Politics: 2018, 2022 and the United States’ Bids

When Australia withdrew from bidding for the 2018 World Cup, deciding to focus solely on their 2022 World Cup bid, many assumed the United States would follow suit soon enough. After all, it has become more than evident that FIFA intends on making sure the World Cup takes place on European soil in 2018.

But then, last week, US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati stated: “Australia’s decision doesn’t change our thinking at all.”  Jeff Carlisle at ESPN Soccernet also reported that Gulati was aware of the general belief the 2018 World Cup will be held in Europe: “We’ve acknowledged that sentiment for a long time. We acknowledged it the day we announced we were bidding for two World Cups, but that hasn’t changed our view.”

So what, then, is US Soccer playing at in sticking with a seemingly doomed bid for the 2018 World Cup? What is Gulati’s thinking? Former BBC journalist Mihir Bose has a theory at Inside the Games. It’s a long theory, it’s a rambling one, and whether or not it’s right about the US Bid Committee’s motivations for sticking with their 2018 bid for now or not, it also says a fair bit about the absurd and opaque process of how FIFA decides who gets the World Cup.

Here’s the gist of it:

With the USA bid committee led by former President Bill Clinton, the Yanks will know a thing or two about deals. They will look closely at the voting procedure FIFA decide in October and then make their announcement that they are concentrating on 2022.

America will go into any deals knowing it has three solid CONCACAF votes. At the CONCACAF Congress last week here in Johannesburg, the English presentation led by David Dein who opened the batting followed by Andy Anson, was by common consent the best. The CONCACAF delegates I met were positively drooling about it, far better than a poor Russia and a [sic] even poorer Spain-Portugal. But at the end of it Jack Warner, CONCACAF’s leader, said, “Our three votes are for the USA.”

But come October and the voting system known, America can then look at its options. It will then be in a position to make a deal with the strongest European challenger.

Let us say by October there is an European country – Russia, Spain-Portugal or England – with six votes. I discount Belgium-Netherlands because I do not believe they stand much of a chance. For the USA, its bargaining power is immense.

This is how I see the conversation going. The Americans say to the strongest European, “We give you our three, which takes you to nine and in an almost impregnable position [a winner requires 13 to win] and you give us your six which makes us very strong for 2022.”

The deal done, the USA withdraws saying how it welcomes 2018 coming back to the old world, all the time confident that 2022 will go to the new world.

It is worth stressing that an European-USA deal has been talked about for a long time. Michel Platini President of UEFA, discussed it with Sunil Gulati, President of the US Soccer Federation, more than a year and half ago. This was also something that Lord Triesman was working on, hoping to persuade Platini that England was the strongest of the Europeans.

So, the USA keeps its 2018 bid as a bargaining chip, with its three guaranteed CONCACAF votes of the 24 that make up FIFA’s Executive Committee who will make the call, and when the time comes, could trade them for 2022 votes from Europe. Australia didn’t really have this bargaining option: there is no Australian on the FIFA Executive Committee, and it does not have control of the votes of its FIFA Confederation, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The AFC is led by Mohammed Bin Hammam, from Qatar, who are also bidding for 2022. So it has nothing to bargain with.

This patient, political maneuvering by the United States as Bose explains it does fit with another simple statement made by Gulati in the ESPN piece: “If we had any alteration of plans, I don’t see why we would be doing anything until we know what the voting procedures will be,” he said.

To go back to Bose’s piece, we see those voting procedures remains unclear, so whether or not they can make this bargain remains an open question: hence why the United States is holding on to their 2018 bid until it’s all revealed by FIFA in October. Because in this case, we have the unusual situation that two tournaments’ hosts will be decided upon at the same time:

Normally, for such votes FIFA executive members are given a card with the names of the countries bidding. But with two bids being voted on at one meeting, will they [be] given one card or two?

Remember, while all the non-Europeans, barring USA, have withdrawn from 2018, all the Europeans, including England, are technically still in the race for 2022, so a voting card for 2022 would also have to carry their names.

And how exactly will the vote take place? They first fill in the card for 2018, then get another card and vote immediately on 2022? Or is the result for 2018 declared before they vote on 2022?

More, how are the FIFA Executive members told about 2018? Are they told only the continent that has won? Are they told the name of the country? Are they given the details of the vote?

I imagine all that is being discussed amongst the FIFA Executive Committee members in South Africa at the World Cup right now. And there is of course an American amongst them: CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer, whose blog shows us he’s being sure to hobnob with the important figures like FIFA Vice-President Geoff Thomposn (far-right) and, of more importance, Miss Universe 1992, Michelle McLean. Chuck is the fellow to the left of her.*

Chuck Blazer, Michelle McLean, Miss Universe, Geoff Thompson

* yes, that was a terrible segue to end this piece solely as an excuse to post another of Chuck’s brilliant photos.

North Korea, FIFA and an American Division of Labo(u)r?

FIFA’s intervention in the attempt by North Korea’s coach Kim Jong Hun to select forward Kim Myong Won in its squad while being named as one of the three designated goalkeepers is being portrayed in wildly different ways, once the governing board ruled the forward would only actually be able to play as a goalkeeper. So who’s to blame: Kim Jong Hun, Sepp Blatter or AMERICA?

For the veteran soccer reporter Grahame Jones of the Los Angeles Times, the verdict on North Korea’s attempt to play with their squad in this way was damning: “Cheating, is what it amounted to, really.”

Jones then offers a rather patronising verdict on North Korea’s chance:

Not that it matters in the long run. Coach Kim Jong-hun’s team plays Brazil, the Ivory Coast and Portugal in the first round, after which it will be on a plane headed home. All it has achieved by the bizarre move is to ruin what little chance it had, which was none.

Nevermind 1966 and all that, eh?

In England, Patrick Barclay of The Times paints the opposite tale, making FIFA the bad guy for their heavy-handed oversight of the issue:

What bureaucratic nonsense. Quite apart from its flight in the face of Fifa’s own Law 3, which states that “any of the other players may change places with the goalkeeper” provided that the switch is made during a stoppage and with the referee’s knowledge, it unfairly curbs the freedom of the coach, in this case Kim Jong Hun, to do something unorthodox and risky.

FIFA’s rule on this was clear in its regulations for the FIFA World Cup, released some time ago: “Each association will then be required to provide FIFA with a final list of no more than 23 players (three of whom shall be goalkeepers).”

But Barclay’s bigger point is whether such a division of labour should be required by FIFA at all, blaming a “vaguely American” desire for this:

It is already irritating enough that the squads apparently have to be split into groups for delivery to Fifa, midfield players being separated from strikers and so on in a way that seems vaguely American; the next thing we know, someone from Fifa will dictate that it is against the regulations for, say, Emile Heskey to help out in defence because he is listed as a striker (itself a fairly ludicrous proposition).

Barclay’s final conclusion is, of course, quite the stretch. But does he have a point that FIFA is unnecessarily restricting the freedom of coaches to use their squad in any way they wish?  Or is Jones on the ball with the old “rules are rules” card? Or is it all AMERICA’S FAULT?


Don’t Miss Travels With Chuck Blazer

We’ve mentioned the travel blog by Chuck Blazer (the General Secretary of CONCACAF and a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee) previously, but it’s worth reminding you to check the link and bookmark it as we approach the World Cup, and, we can only presume, a full photo/video diary of Chuck’s VIP wanderings during the tournament to come.

It’s easy to poke fun at Chuck and his blog, with his unruly beard and what some might say are his chronicles of junkets round the world on the football fan’s collective dime. But on the other hand, where else are we going to see Chuck at a “special dining experience” at Eleven Madison Park, at the final US Sendoff game, during the CONCACAF Champions League summit and at pre-game dinner with Javier Aguirre, Mexico’s manager?

Chuck Blazer

The Sweeper: Laws of the Game Stuck in the Past

Big Story

We asked on Friday ahead of this weekend’s meeting of the International Association Football Board (IFAB), who determine the Laws of the Game followed under FIFA’s direction worldwide, if the formation of its membership was an historical anachronism that could be detrimental to the modern game, with a British veto guaranteed due to a nod of the head to its nineteenth century foundation in Blighty. As we explained, the eight person board is comprised of four representatives from FIFA and one each from the four British associations, with a majority of six required to pass a law.

The results of the meeting and the explanations given for some of their decisions (which might be too generous of a word) has raised further questions about the board’s fitness to be the custodians of the rules everybody plays under.

Most notably, the IFAB has rejected even further looking into goal-line technology. FIFA.com spins this nicely with its headline “Favouring football’s human side”.

“The IFAB has decided not to pursue goal-line technology and to no longer continue experiments in that area,” explained the FIFA Secretary General, Jerome Valcke. “The question posed to the members of the IFAB was simple: should we introduce technology in football or not? The answer from the majority of members was no, even if was not unanimous.”

I don’t know what Mr. Valcke considers to be “technology”, but if we’re being nice about it, it seems to me that referees and their linesmen these days aren’t communicating via carrier pigeon or morse code, but by the wireless headsets attached to their heads. Regardless of the merits of the technology, ruling out even experimentation with goal-line technology is just pig-headed.

League of Nations

Pretty much every article outside of FIFA.com’s in-house sycophancy comes down hard on the IFAB. Arsene Wenger said it was “beyond comprehension”; the head of the Italian FA asked why experimentation itself had been ruled-out; and James Lawton offers a withering take-down of the IFAB’s views:

No doubt the resistance to change will continue to be fuelled by the old, played-out arguments. You know them well enough. These things level themselves out. Technology would interrupt the flow of the game. Referees and linesmen would be diminished.

The feebleness of such arguments can surely no longer bear the most casual scrutiny. Certainly, they had never been so besieged as in the wake of the Henry outrage. Then, an Irish team which had played with brilliant optimism and purpose was aghast to see their chance of victory and the great prize of a ticket to South Africa taken away, stolen before their eyes… and those of a watching world.

Only the match officials were in the dark about the scale of Henry’s cheating as he controlled the ball with his hand before making the decisive cross. How long would it have taken to wipe away that catastrophe? No longer than the uttering of a few words by the fourth official.

Who would have been diminished then? Only the culprit Henry, exposed for an act dismaying, it seemed quickly enough, both to himself as well as the great army of his admirers.

But worse than the decision has been its presentation, so hamfisted that the genuine concerns about introducing video technology into the game are lost in the uproar. Despite their claims to have taken “careful deliberation” over it, the IFAB left most only baffled by the defense offered, which appears to centre on the joy we all apparently indulge in from human failing. IFAB board member Jonathan Ford of the Football Association of Wales said “The big moments in this sport – whatever they are – get supporters talking and go down in history. That’s what makes this sport so vibrant.”

Irish FA member Patrick Nelson concurred: “We were all agreed that technology shouldn’t enter football because we want football to remain human, which is what makes it great,” going on bizarrely to reference one of the worst refereeing mistakes of all-time in the 1966 World Cup final. “The fans keep talking about these matches again and again, and relive them.”

The IFAB, oddly, even accepted that “referees need assistance in making decisions” according to FIFA.com, yet tabled the other proposal to examine the use of goal-line officials until May. Nineteenth century public relations to go with a nineteenth century structure, then.

Quick Hits

  • Could Andrew Ellis be Rangers’ white knight? The mooted sale price of the club as David Murray looks to get rid of his 90%+ share for just £33 million reminds us again of just how vast the difference is in the value of Scotland’s top clubs from their southern neighbours, almost entirely due to the vastly different domestic television revenue incomes.
  • Tragic news as Nigerian Endurance Idahor died on the pitch this weekend.
  • The Guardian (for once not David Conn) give us more detail on the Red Knights Manchester United takeover bid: “The Red Knights are hoping to galvanise support for a bid that would be welcomed by both fans and the football authorities. Analysts say there are several ways a transaction could be structured. One would be to bring in a rich individual as part of the bidding consortium who could wipe out debts of £715m, pay the Glazers about £500m and commit resources to further develop the club. A condition of such a deal would be to sell shares to the fans with sufficient voting rights to allow them to block any future sale and have a say in the running of the club. An alternative would be to sell to 60 or so super-rich investors and spread ownership more widely among supporters and their wealthy backers.”

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: Should the British have so much say in the Laws of the Game?

Picard

Big Story

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is something of a curiosity in today’s system of global governance of the game. The board meets annually to discuss and decide on any changes to the Laws of the Game, which all national associations affiliated to FIFA are required to enforce in games under their auspices.

The curiosity is the board’s constitution.  It’s made up of four representatives of FIFA and one representative each from the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It takes six votes for a rule to be changed.

Effectively, that gives the United Kingdom (a single nation, if not for FIFA purposes) a veto over all changes to the rules of the game.

The IFAB is holding its annual meeting this weekend in Zurich, and has five main changes on the agenda:

  • no automatic red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity if a penalty is given;
  • the legality of players “feinting” before taking penalty kicks;
  • allowing direct input from the fourth official on the sideline to the referee on key decisions;
  • the future of goaline technology;
  • similarly, the possibility of introducing extra assistant referees on the goaline

The latter is obviously a hot topic because of the Henry handball against the Republic of Ireland. Which brings up back to the curiosity we started with: in an age when FIFA has over 200 member nations, is it fair or sensible that four member associations have such a disproportionate say in the rules of the game? Had it been Northern Ireland, rather than the Republic, robbed by Henry, how would that change the dynamic of this weekend’s meeting?

Historically, of course, this makes sense. The IFAB existed long before FIFA did: with various rules in place across the British Isles as the game began to be played in an organised fashion in the mid-nineteenth century, the Football Association pioneered standardisation of rules alongside the Scottish, Welsh and Irish associations in 1882, with the first meeting agreeing on the rules of the game taking place in 1886.

When FIFA was formed under continental leadership in 1904, it accepted the IFAB’s authority to determine the Laws of the Game, with Britain still very much the epicentre of the footballing world. FIFA itself was first invited to take part in the board’s discussions only in 1913.

The IFAB has guarded the rules with a respectable conservatism; is this historical provenance enough to justify the curiosity of so much British Isles representation on the board?

One might argue, of course, that anything which prevents Sepp Blatter’s FIFA leadership from having more say in the game’s rules is a good thing. That said, why not continue the same balance of power, but have four member associations randomly rotate each year on the board in place of the British associations?

Or is this a case of if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it?

Quick Hits

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Sepp Blatter: The Autumn of Football’s Patriarch

The old man, he’s 74 in a few weeks, sits upright in his uncomfortable leather chair and gazes towards his interviewer a yard and a half from his eyes. He’s been waiting many months for her and, appreciating her good fortune, she is reverential, notebook on her knee and pen in hand but only the audio recorder balanced on the arm of her matching chair can capture the nuances of his long-rehearsed delivery.

All must be in its place for the set-piece, decorating his life’s narrative. Behind his head, a replica golden World Cup Trophy. On the coffee table is a branded banner, maybe 18 inches high, with his final attempt to be taken more seriously than he knows he deserves, the contrived slogan ‘For the Game, For the World.’

Blatter interview - for the game?

He is dressed as the mortician would like to receive him, pale blue shirt, slightly darker tie, dark suit, skull polished, remaining hairs smoothed back to his neck. Outside the polished aluminium window frame it is still late winter on the bleak hill above Zurich.

The way the reporter writes her story, she’s from Al-Ahram in Cairo, he leaves his farewell to the end. Hell! Skip the endless column inches – we’ll be back later – he’s announcing his likely decline and death and that’s the news we’ve waited too long for! Here we go, down the page.

The Curved Executioner’s Sword

Over-shadowing the endgame of Patriarch is the flapping jalabiyya of the man who once bankrolled him but now, between mouthfuls of honey, dates and coffee, practices swinging the curved executioner’s sword.

‘With Mohamed, we had a wonderful time together as friends up to the last congress in May,’ says Patriarch. ‘All of a sudden our friendship was broken. Ask him, why? I don’t know.’

Oh yes he does. Patriarch went behind the back of the man from the Gulf, and 14 months from now there must be retribution in football’s Chop Square. Such an inept manoeuvre shows the Big P is losing his touch. To mock a man backed by an Emir’s billions is unwise.

The alliances that will form the death squad are still being negotiated. There’s a second shadow, a kimchi billionaire of heavy industry and politics from the Far East and nearer home, dangerously near, across a few Alpine ranges to the south and closeted with his advisors in his modern palace overlooking Lac Geneva, the third shadow of a charismatic, curly-haired, beautiful former athlete.

Unlike Patriarch, this man’s tie, shirt collar and jacket always look dishevelled, as if he’s come straight from a kickabout in the car park. In his homeland, France, he cannot walk the streets without being mobbed. Patriarch never knew such popularity, such love.

In his prime Patriarch was blessed with a superficially warm smile for the public but it masked the mean-spirited, spiteful backstabber at his private desk with subordinates to carry out the sackings and the deferential secretaries.

He shagged a few of them over the years but was too old for the come-later lissom blonde who has gone off with an architect. Some female employees felt his small hands in the elevator, others discovered his flamboyant late night welcome to the presidential suite with the silk dressing gown flung open in slow motion.

When his long-time Polish girlfriend Ilona walked out in late 2008 he knew his game would henceforth be going down, not up. Increasingly disorientated, he has fumbled his way through recent public appearances.

He giggled away concerns of John Terry’s philandering as ‘Anglo Saxon’ exceptionalism. ‘If this had happened in, let’s say, Latin countries, then I think he would have been applauded.’ There was a kind of group holding of breath. Then embarrassment rippled across the world.

A man who has worked with him for much of two decades and watched him when he didn’t, says Patriarch is now a confused specimen. ‘In his own mind he casts himself as a victim, now doubting he can anymore walk on water.’

When Patriarchs summon God to support their cause, you can hear the mortician cough and reach for his measuring stick. ‘If I’m still wanted by the congress and God will give me health I will go, but if the congress says no, then I will say ‘thank you,’ meaning he’s undecided when exactly to reach for his coat and turn in the car keys.

Uh huh. Why did she wait so long to give us this second, fin de siècle announcement. It is because she defers to the Great Dictator but we are the lucky ones because she lets him dictate his obituary as he would wish it were constructed for his favourite newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Back to Patriarch’s custom-built mirror. He dazzles himself with talk of his 35 year ‘mission’ to make the world a better place but still his meanness writhes in a dark corner as he tells her that ‘unlike former presidents’ (that’s one in the shrivelled nuts for the previous Patriarch, now aged 93 and, in Rio, beyond the reach of the Swiss cops) he has been ‘committed to a wide range of humanitarian projects.’

Fighting child labour: Tick that box. UNICEF, tick again. Fair Play, Respect, Discipline, Social Advancement, Mutual Understanding, Eradicate Polio, Improve Public Health.

Switch Ticking machine to rapid fire, fax results to NZZ Obituaries Department.

Keep reading, here’s Patriarch’s ‘Love Affair With Africa.’ Indeed he so much loveth Africa that, lacking a son, he hath bequeathed it to Nephew. Patriarch talks frequently of the Family of Football – but when there’s money to be extracted, it’s a very small family. Nephew has been given an enormous chunk of the television rights to the Big Games in South Africa this year and if that isn’t enough, he’s been gifted a large bite size of the ticketing for the corporations.

Management Mumbo-Jumboists

But Nephew – a graduate of management mumbo-jumboists McKinseys – has majored in Greed and Failed in business acumen. (There’s a story within a story here. Back in the late 1990s Patriarch hired a mob of McKinsey Greenhorns, led by Nephew, to evaluate his business model. They gibbered managementspeak for a couple of years, pocketed millions of whatever currency you prefer and then split forces. Nephew went off to become CEO of the company that has since got the football business. He took another Greenhorn with him and the third stayed behind to become Patriarch’s financial controller. Its called keeping it in the families – McKinsey and Patriarch).

phillipe-blatter

Patriarch and Nephew and their capos, cocooned in their duvets of wealth and self-confidence, didn’t notice taxpayers bailing out banks, dole queues growing and corporate budgets shrinking and even disappearing. They jacked up their prices. The capos jacked up the ticket prices for ordinary fans. Crazed South African hoteliers, airlines and profit-takers were encouraged to jack up their fantasy prices, swelling the percentage commissions.

And they waited for the money to roll in, as it always did. And they waited. And waited. And now they are panicking, stuck with inventory and abused by fans.

Falling back on the scoundrel’s defence Patriarch deplores the ‘envy and jealousy that the World Cup has gone to South Africa’ – whatever that means. And his capos blame the media. We’re used to it. But there’s a real victim. Retired to his ancestral home in the Eastern Cape and his own and most honourable Autumn is the Man from Robben Island. He has been disrespected by the European gougers busy looting his country and that may never be forgiven.

Patriarch, having had his photo-ops with the World’s Most Loved – who now looks too frail to protest at the deception – wasn’t fretting.

Then the NZZ spoke. Their editorialists know of Patriarch’s tax fiddles, the grotesque 8 million francs hush money to the last general secretary, the P’s disloyalty to his former boss and just about everybody who ever worked for him. They weren’t happy about the $90 million it cost to extract the family from the massive marketing mess the Grand Vizier got them into – and they know about the blackmailing letters between him and Patriarch, and everybody knows what the uppity woman judge in Manhattan had to say. But it was the fining and suspension of the shot-up Togo team that pushed them to reset their keyboards to ‘roast.’

Right Between the Sticks

On February 3 they gave it him between the sticks. It wasn’t just Patriarch’s refusal to condemn his ally in Africa who had shafted Togo. They fingered Nephew as well and ‘the stagnant sales of World Cup tickets’ and fumed that Patriarch refuses to discuss anything that matters in the real world beyond his barbed wire and uniformed guards.

The NZZ is very serious. Giacobbo and Müller are not. Most Sunday nights on Switzerland’s most popular television channel they lampoon Patriarch. So too does satirical site klatschheftli.ch that noticed the famous Swiss is actually a rather small person who needs to be on tippy-toes for photo-ops with normal humans.

Blatter's car crash

The Swiss were less amused 15 months ago when Patriarch roared out of an Alpine tunnel in his 6.2 litre Mercedes sports car, smashed into a slower-moving car he was trying to overtake, lost control and cannoned into an oncoming VW Golf.

The Golf rolled three times. Fortunately, the driver suffered only minor injuries. The police hurriedly removed Patriarch’s number plates to ‘protect his privacy.’ Then this multi-millionaire got off with a paltry 600 francs fine.

Discontent rumbles at all levels of Patriarch’s diminishing empire. Irascible and erratic in these, his last days, he fired his press mouthpiece and then his most loyal consigliore. Spotting the open door his ‘Head of Security” a Christian Democrat MP and former member of the Papal Swiss guard has marched away.

It’s been a dozen years of scandal since Patriarch was ennobled on the eve of the French World Cup. He was helped to power promising every national franchise big bundles of dollars every year. He knew the money wasn’t in the bank and future earnings were hurriedly pawned at a knockdown price. Swiss KPMG wrote him the audit report he wanted. Simultaneously, Enron, advised by McKinsey, were going bust. Dots screamed to be joined up – but weren’t. He survived.

Patriarchs don’t get to be Patriarchs without immense reserves of inner strength, wiliness – and luck. From late 2000 he knew, privately, that the marketing company that bribed a generation of sports officials was heading for that high brick wall, the optional blindfold and the last cigarette. Inevitably, the cops would be in. He might be the shortest-lived Patriarch in history.

He lied, he diverted, he fantasised and the smartly dressed Notebooks wrote down his ramblings unquestioningly and the world was reassured. The executives who created the offshore accounts to warehouse the bribes were summoned to court in the canton of Zug and we discovered Patriarch had secretly lobbied the cops to halt investigations. He failed but with the exception of one courageous German-language Swiss TV channel, the Notebooks obliged and didn’t print.

Lying To The Cops

Three Swiss judges fined Patriarch for lying to the cops but the Notebooks found it incomprehensible and strangled the story at birth. The judges named an old rogue who runs the Paraguay franchise for trousering bribes, even produced the documentary evidence, it was posted on the web but Patriarch told the Notebooks he didn’t want to talk about it and they broke into applause.

Patriarch’s Nephew watched from his high office window 100 yards from the courthouse. His sports business had made its home in the same offices as the outfit that had paid the bribes and soon documents were liberated showing its game is change the name and do the same. The art of laundering kickbacks thrives.

Patriarch’s heart fluttered when they arrived just after 10 on the morning of November 3, 2005. He’d heard on the grapevine that pushy investigating magistrate Thomas Hildbrand in Zug had opened a new investigation . . . into him! Patriarch! Patriarchs think themselves untouchable, especially by coppers from faraway cantons. And the Zurich politicians would surely never dare consent to a cross-border raid.

It took two weeks before an astute reporter at Zurich’s Sonntags Zeitung got the tip-off. When he called the Palace, a guard portrayed it as a happy meeting of minds, a leisurely kaffee und kuchen, and that some of the documents, only borrowed, might have been returned. But the guard let slip enough for the reporter to figure out that under the Swiss penal code, the cops believed Patriarch had been dipping into the treasury. Some of the kickbacks to Patriarch’s closest lieutenants had been repaid, surreptitiously, and the coppers had got documents showing Patriarch had signed off on it.

Heavy Legal Bills

Patriarchs get a better press than presidents and prime ministers. A fraud squad raid on Downing Street, Elysée or White House would clog media arteries for months. The Notebooks, alternatively cowed or unable to comprehend what had happened, preferred to look away.

kpmg

The ignominy of the raid and the continuing attentions of the coppers is airbrushed out of today’s carefully constructed obituary. Our Egyptian reporter in Zurich isn’t pressing the point that Patriarch hangs on to his position because the sport pays the heavy legal bills for protecting his reputation. She may not know but that’s good because today we only want to hear his obituary, in his own words. Then we can know it’s nearly time to make the plates for the big printing presses.

Is the blade really being sharpened? Is there soon to be a vacancy at the People’s Palace? Patriarch fears so. His 35 years ducking and lots of diving include setting up his own global intelligence networks. He knows who is restless, who is whispering rebellion.

He also knows that nobody loves Patriarch. Not the fans, that’s for sure. They boo him at big games, forcing him to hide under the bleachers rather than hand over his trophy after the Final of the Germany tournament in 2006. The sponsors weren’t happy about that blemish on their spectacle. The fans buy their products and he was docked 10 points for the booing.

The Brands averted their eyes from the blatant corruption as long as the Notebooks did. But they became restless during the Manhattan process when they heard the evidence. Patriarch and his Grand Vizier brazenly lie to the Brand managers who pay for the fucking show. You can walk on water but not on Coca-Cola. The coming South African debacle – with the likelihood of empty seats for God’s sake! – will ease relegation to bootboy in the Visp Pensioners League.

Back in the mid-1990s when today’s Patriarch was yesterday’s Grand Vizier a sports marketing company with clients among the biggest brands met secretly in the Frankfurt airport Sheraton with the Industry Billionaire from the Far East. They were concerned about the millions in kickbacks that were about to flow from a deal they were excluded from. They were clean and offered more. They lost. Brand managers have long memories. You only get to screw them once. The Billionaire was out-manipulated that time. Not again.

Dirty Tricks ‘Consultant’ Fired

The Man from the Gulf has told his dirty tricks ‘consultant’ Peter Hargitay, previously fired by Blatter and the England FA, that he’s persona non grata in Qatar or Kuala Lumpa. Asia, with the whole-hearted involvement of the Eastern Billionaire, comes to the hustings with 46 votes.

They know it’s not yet Asia’s time and the only certain candidate to glue the game together is Europe’s charismatic leader – and he’s got another 53 votes. Only six short of the tipping point of 105.

The Man from the Gulf is long famous in Africa for his generosity and most if not all of their 54 votes will make it a landslide. How big the ticketing mess created by Patriarch’s friends and family turns out to be could have African delegates turning their backs on him at Oliver Tambo when his Gulfstream lands. Before the Opening Ceremony.

After that, it doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks. Dig out the obit. Sound the klaxon on the presses. Who is backing a loser?

Flashpoint could be the Congress on the eve of the July 11 kickoff. Will the Europeans allow Patriarch to continue influencing the contest to host the Big Event in 2012 and 2018. He’s so tricky it might be best to tell him to take his money and manufacture his medical exit. And they might scrap the ludicrous plan to chose the 2022 host nation a dozen years ahead of time. The dazzle of doubling the bribes before the Mortician called them in was too much for some of the very old consiglieres.

Let the Clean-up Begin

The North American and Caribbean franchise, tightly controlled by the bubble-bearded Fatman, with his homes in Trump Tower, Paradise Beach in Nassau and the farm in Lenior, North Carolina, and his gold-encrusted partner in crime from Trinidad have been given freedom by Patriarch to misbehave as they wished. With Europe, Asia and Africa united, life bans on them and suspension of 35 subservient nations pending forensic audits could only be for the good of the game – there and everywhere.

Likewise, the Latin Americans can be warned that they’d better rid themselves of the Bribe taker listed in the Zug court, the Anti-Semite from the land of Maradona and the Dodgy Brazilian who makes the enter-at-your-peril favelas look safe yet has been given his own World Cup to plunder in 2014. A swift blood-letting, soon forgotten as the game begins to get respect again.

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Andrew Jennings for giving us permission to post this piece on Pitch Invasion. For more of Andrew’s investigative work in world sport, visit Transparency in Sport.

FIFA’s World Cup Tickets Fiasco: Blatter and Family Have Some Explaining To Do

FIFA World Cup 2010 logo

The General Secretary of FIFA, Jerome Valcke, has admitted ticket sales for the 2010 World Cup have been a shambles, and changes will be made for the 2014 event.

And ticket prices will be cut in an effort to fill stadiums in South Africa this summer. According to the Telegraph, Valcke also admitted that running ticket sales through agency Match had not been successful:

He also acknowledged that Fifa may have made mistakes in the way it had run ticketing and travel arrangements. Fifa granted agency Match exclusive rights to sell travel and ticket packages for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, but its near-monopoly on hotel rooms has seen supporters asked to pay high prices. Valcke predicted that Match was unlikely to make a profit from South Africa.

“We have good lessons to learn from 2010 and they will help us in 2014. For the World Cup 2010 we will have to sell the tickets to fans direct, we will think about setting up Fifa ticketing centres around the world.”

The Telegraph doesn’t mention that the original decision to award Match the exclusive rights generated considerable controversy. It just so happens that Match is part-owned by Swiss company Infront Sports & Media, whose president and CEO is Philippe Blatter — yep, nephew of one Sepp Blatter.

Last month, Andrew Jennings reported on Match — who stood to earn as much as $342m from the contract — and their expensive surcharges that have raised prices for everyone.

Travel agents have to pay MATCH $30,000 just to be allowed to buy tickets to package with rooms and sometimes flights. Then they have to pay up to 35% surcharge on every ticket MATCH sells them, boosting a ticket with a face value of $160 to as much $244. So MATCH can take up to $84 from each fan.

The company has also established an iron grip on rooms. Hotel chains and Bed & Breakfast want business from fans and have signed up with MATCH – and must pay them 30% of their gross charges – so driving up prices again.

Any thoughts on this, Sepp or Philippe?

Media Freedom at 2010 World Cup Under Question in South Africa

freedom-press

FIFA are under fire for their press accreditation rules at the 2010 World Cup, with the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) at loggerheads over numerous restrictions the governing body is putting in place, most of which follow on similar tight controls from previous World Cups, which have been criticised before.

One South African report says “Local journalists have accused world football governing body FIFA of acting as a bunch of ‘bullies’ and ‘dictators’ with a neo-colonialist mentality, following what analysts see as ‘unreasonable’ media restrictions on the 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage.”

Of most obvious concern is that FIFA’s rules include a stipulation against bringing FIFA itself it into disrepute, defined as anything that ‘negatively affects the public standing of the Local Organising Committee or FIFA’.

Yet after the last World Cup, the World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) worked to ensure this stipulation did not restrict press freedom in practice, and in 2009 — under the threat of legal action from WAN-IFRA – FIFA agreed to insert the following clause to the accreditation regulations: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in these Accreditation Terms and Conditions is intended to be, or shall be interpreted as restricting or undermining the editorial independence or freedom to report and comment of Accredited Parties.”

Play the Game quotes Larry Kilman, director of communications & public affairs at WAN-IFRA, as saying the question mark over press freedom had been resolved: “The issue of press freedom, and concerns that FIFA intends to restrict critical reporting by preventing anything that brings the game into disrepute, have been dealt with by the insertion of a clause that says nothing in the terms is meant to inhibit press freedom.”

It appears that the South African media remains concerned that WAN-IFRA has only received a verbal promise from FIFA that journalists who violate accreditation rules won’t be removed without prior discussion and explanation.  SANEF is asking for written confirmation from FIFA. Some have cited the long struggle for press freedom in South Africa as motivation for an uncompromising stance towards FIFA.

Several other practical restrictions have perhaps been and remain of greater concern: FIFA’s terms also placed restrictions on the use of images by media organisations in order to maximise commercial revenue, which again after pressure from WAN-IFRA, have been loosened for World Cup 2010, as the World Editors Forum explains:

WAN-IFRA, which promotes press freedom and campaigns on behalf of the newspaper industry on international issues, is involved in debates over sports rights. It has presented the concerns of the news media about coverage of the World Cup to FIFA.

“The free and open coverage of sports events is under attack,” Kilman said. Sports companies want to control news publishers’ coverage of their events, he says, limiting editorial and commercial freedom. In return for accreditation for journalists, sports organisations require strict contracts to be signed. Conditions can include preventing a print publication from superimposing a headline over a photo of the event, in case it blocks the names of sponsors, and not allowing articles to be presented in a way that would damage the reputation of the clubs, that is, in a critical way, he says.

Indeed, the newspaper industry faces a variety of restrictions, including the delay of text reports to websites, restrictions on who can attend press conferences, the assumption of copyright over photos, and the blocking of innovations such as audio-visual reporting for websites. Some legitimate news entities have even been banned from covering sports events.

Negotiations about sports restrictions are not public. He points out that sports organisers see sports news as entertainment, and news coverage as for commercial gain, which leads them to support restrictions on such coverage. Sports organisers also define newspapers as print-only, while new technology allows them to bypass the press in distributing information about their events.

WAN-IFRA is lobbying for changes. An industry declaration has called on sports organisations to recognise the right and duty of the free press to report on matters of the public interest without interference. Indeed, the press has an important role here as an independent representative of the public, Kilman argues, and its coverage develops and promotes sport. Similarly, the News Media Coalition, a group of publishers and press associations, aims to end unreasonable restrictions and promote consensus.

Kilman has been involved in the FIFA – World Cup negotiations, and a mechanism has been established for regular discussions on terms and conditions. In the 2006 World Cup, a very public debate was held when FIFA limited the use of still photos on websites. This was eventually dropped. For this year’s World Cup, there are some improvements. There is no limit on photos used on websites. Mobile browsing is allowed, but “push” to mobile is not, and video is allowed from training grounds but not from venues. The ban on headlines across print photos has also been removed.

The South African media remains concerned about several of the remaining restrictions, including on video and use of pictures on mobile platforms, and FIFA has work to do to appease the local media before kick-off, with six areas of contention highlighted:

  • Newspapers will not be able to push pictures on to their mobile platforms (they can, however, push text);
  • There are restrictions on newspapers doing video packages for their websites;
  • That reporters will not be able to report on the names of hotels in which the teams are staying;
  • No newspapers will be able to sell papers within the restricted zone around stadiums, which has a radius of about 800m;
  • Although Fifa commits itself to guaranteeing freedom of expression there is also a clause that says that news organisations may not bring Fifa into disrepute; and
  • Many of the terms and conditions apply to reporters and photographers and their “organisations” (suggesting their colleagues, some of whom will not be covering the World Cup) rather than “employer” (ie, their editors).

Kilman’s conclusion is perhaps the most balanced take on the demands of the press and the need for FIFA to protect what it would see as its commercial property:

Many news organizations wake up to these terms when a major event comes to their country. What used to be a simple request for a press pass has now morphed into a contract with far-reaching implications. It should really be a publisher or managing director looking over and signing this contract. We have no objections to sports organisers trying to increase revenue from their events, and we don’t think that conflicts with maintaining open press coverage — in fact, press coverage helps enhance the sport. We think there is room for both

Soccer for Good? Sports and Development in Concept and in Africa

A "Football for Hope" Center Illustration from FIFA.com

We like soccer.  They like soccer.  There are huge, life-threatening socio-economic inequalities in the world—occasionally highlighted by the playing of soccer in places such as Angola and South Africa.  Put it all together and you’ve got the basic logic driving the exponential worldwide growth of hundreds of sports and development organizations trying to do some good during this year of African soccer.

Of course these organizations do not only care about soccer, nor only about Africa (the International Platform on Sport and Development lists around 200 organizations ranging from the “Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation And Recreation” to the “Zambian Chess Foundation”).  But the global popularity of soccer combined with the unfortunate image of Africa as the continent most in need of “development work” makes for a potent combination.  And while the sports and development endeavor is founded on an alluring logic and is full of good intentions, it also turns out to be much more complicated—and interesting—that it first appears.

My own familiarity with the good intentions and complicated reality of trying to use sports for good comes from personal experience.  Starting with a youth soccer program in the hollowed out inner-city of Detroit, to a Peace Corps stint facilitating school sports in Malawi, to youth soccer in Chicago public housing developments, to sports programs for refugees in Angola, to coaching soccer teams of immigrants in both Seattle and Portland, I’ve tried my hand and found it worthwhile despite many frustrations and disappointments.

But lately I’ve shifted my efforts away from practicing sports and development towards analyzing it—evidenced by a recently published academic article about the history and diffusion of development through sports in Africa.  As is the cruel and glacial pace of academia, however, it took nearly two years for that article to go from submission to publication, several previous years of work getting it all together, and now (presumably) I can look forward to years of it wallowing in total obscurity.  But then there is this blog, along with this year where soccer in Africa is on the world’s radar, and hopefully a few thinking fans wondering about whether the game can do any good.

Anecdotes and Parables

One of the ‘ethnographic anecdotes’ I describe in my article comes from arriving in Angola to find a classic example of good intentions gone wrong: the NGO I worked with had tried to start a football league in a refugee camp.  It seemed like such a simple concept, such a simple way to do good: the community loved football, and organizing a league would offer a space for healthy competition and community building.  Right?  So the previous program coordinators, like me imports from North America, had spent considerable time and effort organizing a training course for coaches and a soccer league for young adults.

The not-so-simple things about that concept arose almost immediately.  Most basically, the organization coordinating the sports programs was based on a philosophy of volunteerism.  But the local residents expected to be paid.  The locals could and did, after all, play soccer all they wanted—albeit informally—without the help of an international NGO.  So if the organization wanted the resident to play by their rules, then they should pay.

Much negotiation and frustration ensued.  The message from the program – ‘this is not for profit, it’s for the life skills’ – didn’t work for the resident.  The locals felt they needed jobs more than what seemed like an arbitrary list of ‘life skills,’ things like teamwork, self-esteem, discipline, and determination that either didn’t translate or were redundant to the daily reality of refugee life.

As something of a compromise, the program coordinators agreed to buy new high-quality uniforms for the teams in the league.  The organization had initially resisted the expense as frivolous, but the participants were insistent, so the coordinators relented on the condition that the uniforms be kept in a central location.  The program had a large metal shipping crate that served as a make-shift field office, the participants agreed to store the uniforms in the crate/office, and the league began.

But it didn’t take long before the participants again clamored for compensation that the coordinators didn’t have.  Neither side could understand the other’s ungratefulness.  In protest, a group of the participants broke into the shipping crate late one night and took the prized uniforms hostage.  The league folded—useful for little other than illustrating the complications of trying to actually do development through sports work.

The locals had essentially sabotaged a league intended for their own good, which in many ways seems like a futile gesture.  But in other ways, including those of academic jargon, the sabotage could be construed as an act of ‘agency’ and ‘resistance.’  Rather than just passively accepting a league format in service of ‘life-skills,’ the residents were asserting their priorities—most of which were founded on the idea that international organizations should provide jobs and opportunities rather than dictates about how to recreate.

In my analysis stories like this are parables about the whole international sports and development endeavor—a simple idea and good intentions get waylaid by the complicated realities of socio-economic inequality and cultural diffusion.  In fact, though the modern proliferation of sports and development programs is a relatively recent phenomenon, that basic parable seems to have replayed itself through fairly regular historic cycles.

The example I use in my article is of Olympic Movement efforts to export their philosophy of “Olympism’ to Africa as early as the 1920’s—part of the Olympic charter is to “place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man [sic].”  But early efforts to create an African Games mostly failed until the 1960’s when television money started to make international outreach a more substantial proposition—timing that coincided serendipitously with the rise of ‘international development,’ in place of colonialism, as the modus operandi of global statesmanship.

And while the international outreach in recent decades by groups such as the Olympic Movement has likely done some good, that good is hard to convincingly document.  There are many anecdotes about the power of sport, but also some criticism that large international organizations are better at hosting conferences and promoting their particular values than they are at tangible grass-roots development work.  Sports may indeed facilitate education, health, peace, etc. when done well—but so far those outcomes have proven much easier to promote than to measure.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon touts the ‘juwala’ ball (from streetfootballworld.org)

And now the whole international development game has also begun to shift from large scale nation building to targeted programming and the increasingly popular concept of ‘social entrepreneurship.’  The corresponding explosion of NGO’s and personality driven international charities is a perfect fit for soccer lovers, allowing small groups of committed socially conscious individuals to scheme ways of sharing the love (it is worth noting, however, that even older and bigger organizations have jumped on board—as with the United Nations program on “Sport for Development and Peace” whose head made his name as the General Manger of Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga).  Now the question is whether good intentions and a passion for the game are enough to succeed in the tricky world of international development?

Development and Good Intentions in Africa

Aside from sports, the perplexing reality is that many smart, passionate people (along with billions of dollars) have been devoted to the development of Africa for decades, yet in many ways the overall standards of living on the continent have declined.  And there are ways in which sports people may be particularly ill-suited to confront that reality—as Canadian scholar Bruce Kidd notes in an otherwise sympathetic analysis of international development-through-sports efforts:

“Sadly, the single-minded purpose and confidence that sport instills in champions, a commendable attribute when transferred to many other settings, militates against inter-cultural sensitivity and needs-based programming in development…at every single international conference I have attended, I have heard LMIC [low and middle income countries] representatives, in both coded and explicit language, publicly complain about First World programmes that were highly popular with donors but made little sense to the recipient communities.”

These kinds of constructive and critical analyses have been slowly catching up to the popularity of using sports such as soccer for international development—the academic journal Sports and Society, for example, recently had a special issue devoted to the topic, and the International Platform on Sports and Development recently had an engaging on-line debate about the broader endeavor (in the early days of that web-site I also wrote an analysis for their bulletin—but it seems to no longer be available).  So while there has been a ‘ready, fire, aim’ quality to many entrepreneurial development-through-sports programs, there are smart and motivated people trying hard to figure it out.

But there are also ongoing challenges worth highlighting in the midst of publicity around events such as the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup.  The key point here for soccer fans is that good intentions are a necessary but not sufficient condition for using sport for good, and here’s just a few examples:

Let’s give away our used equipment: Most of us who’ve been involved with the game for any length of time have storage closets full of old cleats, socks, shin pads, jerseys, balls, running shoes, and whatever else sporting goods companies have designed for obsolescence.  So when we see inspirational pictures of barefoot street soccer it’s natural to start collecting for a shipment.  And while used equipment often is much appreciated in communities that can’t afford sporting goods, the complication I’ve run into in several different African countries is that sovereign nations have these pesky things called customs duties.  Paying import taxes on shipments of goods often ends up being more expensive than the goods themselves, and a significant burden to the recipients.  Which is frustrating—but also based on a reasonable rationale: importing large quantities of sporting goods, or goods of any sort, is bad for local industry.  Many African countries are awash in second hand stuff from North America and Europe (it was always amusing to travel through rural Malawi and see village elders wearing t-shirts with messages such as “I had a blast at Josh’s Bar Mitzvah”), and while that stuff may help some in the short term there are ways in which it is actually counter-productive to long term development.

Let’s make sure mega-event monies trickle down to development projects: Most major FIFA competitions now include gestures towards the grass-roots game as part of international development, and that imperative is overall a good thing.  FIFA actually has an entire slate of initiatives in considers part of “social responsibility” including the somewhat vague “Win in Africa with Africa” (one of the three major undertakings they list is simply “Touch the world”) and the effort to build “20 Football for Hope Centres for public health, education and football across Africa.”  In concept these endeavors have much potential—I actually prefer when big development through sports programs focus on infrastructure—but in practice the concern is that they become political chits for the rich and powerful.  As Andrew Jennings noted last week, one of Sepp Blatter’s levers of power seems to be the way he “‘looks after’ his voters in the national associations so generously with millions of dollars for unaudited ‘development.’” (a point also noted and discussed by Tom here on Pitch Invasion)

Let’s use sports to teach ‘life skills’: The latest version of “sports builds character,” the basic idea here goes back to the famous, probably apocryphal, quote from the Duke of Wellington claiming that “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”  Those of us who’ve invested much of ourselves in the game like to imagine that it has all been worth it—that success in sports somehow equates to success in life outside of sports.  Unfortunately the evidence here is decidedly equivocal.  In fact, in measures of moral development athletes seem to score significantly lower than non-athletes.  Further, in the world of international development , the assumption that ‘life skills’ translate from what would be valued in settings such as an American corporation to what would be valued in settings such as an Angolan refugee camp seems naive at best and imperialistic at worst.  My favorite example here is ‘self-esteem’—which American organizations in particular love to trumpet as a crucial benefit of sports participation.  But the notion that one’s abstract self-image should be prioritized over tangible achievement is actually a relatively odd modern invention (as is the idea the unsubstantiated idea that poverty will lead people to low self-esteem, rather than anger towards the world).  When I asked people in Angolan refugee camps about self-esteem they mostly hadn’t heard of it—one coach thought maybe it was “when people spend a lot of time thinking about themselves.”  And when I mentioned to one Angolan parent that many Americans think of self-esteem as a foundation for success in school, relationships, etc. he found the thought bizarre—isn’t it success that crafts self-image, and not the other way around?  He loved his children, but found the idea of promoting self-esteem itself quite pointless: “Where is the fruit?  Where is the future?”

Photo by Michael Mistretta at flickr.com

I could go on (and may indeed do so in future posts if there seems to be any interest in these topics), but the point here is development-through-sports programs are rife with ways for good intentions to go wrong.  Of course, they are also rife with opportunities for things to go right—and whatever analyses I have are ultimately directed towards that end.  So I should be sure to emphasize that there are plenty of development-through-sports organizations doing great work, using the game well.  Two of several examples that come to mind immediately include a Ugandan program called the Kampala Kids League that I had a chance to visit in the summer of 2008, and Grassroots Soccer—which, starting in Zimbabwe, uses the popularity of the game in the service of HIV education.  One thing these types of programs have in common is deep relationships with local partners and a focus on realistic goals that are attentive to local contexts.

So the ultimate challenge, I’ve come to think, is to not be deceived by a love for the game into thinking that international development is simple: you can roll out a soccer ball almost anywhere in Africa and guarantee that smiling children will follow.  But it seems to me that too often those smiles are perceived to be enough—as if children don’t play or experience joy without the intervention of benevolent outsiders.  The problem is not that children in places such as Angola and South Africa don’t play or smile, the problem is that global inequalities too often prohibit opportunities to do much more.

Blatter, Platini, Champagne and the FIFA Presidency

Sepp Blatter

Why did one of Sepp Blatter’s key aides suddenly leave a top post at FIFA this week? Speculation from journalists is rife. The true story, sadly, is hard to find.

FIFA’s International Relations Director Jerome Champagne surprisingly departed from the world’s governing body this week, despite the fact that World Football Insider says Champagne had been “believed to be positioning himself for a run for Blatter’s job” next year. ESPN Soccernet similarly reported that “Champagne may have been positioning himself to run for president in next year’s election.”

Matt Scott at the Guardian concurs, seeing Blatter’s move as a sign of weakness:

Sepp Blatter is under increasing pressure as the president of Fifa, with his closest adviser having been dismissed last Friday following a coup. The departure of Fifa’s director of international relations, Jérôme Champagne, came as a result of the same stormy, seditious executive committee meeting last month at which Blatter was challenged over Fifa finances.

The move on Robben Island reflected a growing boldness among the heads of continental confederations, who have been growing their own powerbases and influence at the expense of Fifa’s once-omnipotent president.

Champagne’s direct courting of national associations – some say in an effort to promote his own ambitions towards the Fifa presidency, others say because he was under orders to cut out the confederations – left him vulnerable. And Blatter was told by the principal figures in the executive committee from the Asian, African and European blocs that unless Champagne was fired, the president himself would face a serious problem in future.

The background of unrest comes at a defining time for Blatter’s 12-year-old presidency and less than 18 months before he seeks re-election for another four-year term. His delivery of the first World Cup on African soil comes to the crunch this year and risks being a logistical disaster, with sponsors and fans declining to travel to a nation of questionable security at a time of economic difficulty.

If Blatter has been relieved by the reaction to Champagne’s departure, he is not out of the woods yet. With several senior pretenders to his throne ready to mount their challenge from within Fifa’s ex-co, his reputation will stand or fall with events in South Africa this summer.

Andrew Jennings, our favourite thorn in FIFA’s side, reports a slightly different background story, noting that FIFA’s briefings to journalists only hint at what the acclaimed investigative journalist believes are the real reasons behind Champagne’s departure at the behest of a confederation boss we can guess resides somewhere in the Americas:

Sepp Blatter’s FIFA is in chaos following the frenzied sacking of Jerome Champagne, one of the few clean senior executives remaining at the highest level of world football.

Blatter capitulated to furious demands from one of the most corrupt members of FIFA’s 23-man executive committee – from outside Europe – that Champagne had to be fired.

He had become increasingly incensed at Champagne’s attempts to block his rampant thieving from football.

Blatter and his general secretary Jérôme Valcke spent Friday hurriedly persuading reporters that Champagne had to go because he was planning to run against Blatter in the presidential elections.

This is nonsense; Champagne never tried to build his own power base – and probably couldn’t have persuaded a single national association to risk Blatter’s anger and nominate him. It is virtually impossible to unseat Blatter who ‘looks after’ his voters in the national associations so generously with millions of dollars for unaudited ‘development.’

But Jennings does say that “An increasing threat to Blatter’s survival comes from FIFA’s World Cup sponsors who are letting it be known they are disturbed by the endless corruption allegations clouding his administration and dirtying their brands.”

suspicion

So, might this be an opportunity for Michel Platini to ride in as a white knight? The AP reports that Platini will decide his future before the 2010 World Cup, saying “I’m very happy (as UEFA president), but, still, I can also be very happy elsewhere.” The Guardian speculates that Platini may challenge Sepp Blatter instead. Platini, though, would have a lot of work to do to win the necessary votes from outside UEFA to beat Blatter, or another confederation chief.

And yeah, I’m as confused as you are as to what’s really going on here, and I shan’t pretend to know otherwise. And sadly, that’s just how Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and the many cronies getting rich out of our love for the game want it to be.

And the parlour games go on.

The Sweeper: John Terry Bribed His Own FIFA Vote, Or Something

John Terry

Once the English press has sunk its teeth into you, it’ll find anything to try and ramp up the pressure, making a parody of itself in the process. Hence the new “storm” today over John Terry’s selections for FIFA’s World Player of the Year award.

“John Terry FIFA vote storm: England captain names Chelsea pal Michael Ballack as No 2 player in the world (but doesn’t rate runaway winner Lionel Messi)” headlines the Daily Mail, “revealing” (as if all the votes hadn’t been available to the public as PDF downloads since the vote winners were announced yesterday) Terry chose Drogba, Ballack and Iniesta as his vote-winners, meaning he apparently “faces further questions about his professional judgment” (from who, it’s not said).

Last year, Terry voted for Xavi, Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo, suggesting he just doesn’t rate Messi has highly as some of his Barcelona teammates, a judgment some might say is actually fairly astute. Voting for his own Chelsea teammates this year might have been a little selfish, but it’s pretty clear the “nepotism” Goal.com says questions the validity of FIFA’s system because of Terry’s choices is neither restricted to Terry not exactly much of a secret.

After all, looking at the list of votes, Eto’o voted for three of his old Barcelona pals, Javier Mascherano picked Steven Gerrard in his votes, Thierry Henry picked three current or former Barca teammates (Messi, Eto’o, Xavi), Iker Casillas picked two of his Madrid teammates (Ronaldo, Kaka) and Zlatan Ibrahimovich picked three Barcelona teammates (Messi, Xavi, Iniesta). I could go on, but I’m starting to feel sympathy for John Terry, and that isn’t a pleasant feeling.

Worldwide News

The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Travels With Chuck: Inside FIFA’s Executive Committee

Ever wondered what it’s like to be part of world football’s ultimate elite jetset, FIFA’s Executive Committee?  As I mentioned last week, all you have to do to find out is go and visit the amazing photo blog by FIFA Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer, the Executive Vice President of the US Soccer Federation whose favourite footballing memory is Mexico winning the Confederations Cup in 1999.

His blog, Travels with Chuck Blazer, is just chock-full of pics of Chuck and company at work. Here he is just this week at the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, second from the left, next to a clearly overwhelmed Sepp Blatter Julio Grondona of CONMEBOL.

sepp-blatter-chuck-blazer

I won’t steal any more photos, so just go and visit Chuck’s blog for more.

About That Club World Cup. . .

World Club Cup

Well, the FIFA Club World Cup started today in Abu Dhabi, but buried in the aftermath of the World Cup draw and on the final day of the UEFA Champions League group stage, you might have blinked and missed it.

The opening game itself turned out to be something of a surprise, or at least a downer for the tournament, as New Zealand amateurs Auckland  ”shocked” Al Ahli of host nation UAE (they have the same name as the more famous Al Ahli of Egypt), beating them 2-0.

And just like that Al Ahli are done, and the quarter finals will get underway (the byzantine current rules mean the Oceania confederation champion, in this cause Auckland, has to take on the home nation champions in a play-off to join the other five reigning confederation champions).

Shock or not, it leaves the tournament in the media wilderness of Abu Dhabi without a host nation representative alive. The other qualifiers are Pohang Steelers (Korea, AFC), TP Mazembe (Congo, CAF), FC Barcelona (Spain, UEFA), Atlante (Mexico, CONCACAF) and Estudiantes (Argentina, CONMEBOL). The European and South American champions have byes to the semi-final stage, a somewhat ludicrous concession to ensure their participation.

The tournament is being hosted in Abu Dhabi for the first time, after three successive tournaments in Japan since the it became an annual event in 2006. On the eve of the tournament, FIFA’s Vice-President Jerome Valcke was forced to defend the decision to host the tournament in the UAE capital:

FIFA tournaments are not bound to a specific country. UAE submitted the best hosting bid, which is why we’re here today in Abu Dhabi. And now we know the decision to move this World Cup to the UAE was the right one. I don’t think Europe is ready to host the Club World Cup yet, because there are already too many matches there. Apart from the fact that the UAE bid was the best, we’re in any case convinced that interest in the tournament here and in other regions of the world is rather greater than it would be if we held it in Europe.

There’s nothing wrong with FIFA tournaments taking place outside Europe — the world’s sport obviously still has a Euro-centric problem — but this is one case where there is too little European attention. The same goes for North and South America too. Surely rotating the tournament around the FIFA confederations would make the most sense to generate interest over time all around the world.

I may in the minority in that I’m not against the idea of a Club World Cup in principle; but FIFA still has plenty of serious issues to resolve regarding timing, location and explaining to everyone else why they should care when two teams get byes to the semi-final to begin with.

Breaking Down the U.S. World Cup Bid

The Game is in US

“No nation embodies the values and spirit of the FIFA World Cup™ quite like the United States,” the US’ official bid website boldly proclaims.

The World Cup bidding competition for the 2018 and 2022 finals is hotting up with one year to go until FIFA’s 24 man Executive Committee makes its decisions on the hosts for each tournament, and it’s interesting to take a look at the approach of the American bid at this stage. Five members of the US bid committee are currently in South Africa for a presentation to FIFA, along with the competing bids from Australia, England, Japan, Russia, Belgium-Netherlands, Spain-Portugal, Indonesia, Qatar and South Korea.

David Downs, executive director of the U.S. bid, has been interviewed a few times out in South Africa, so along with the published information on the U.S. bid website, let’s take a look at the reasoning being presented to FIFA for why the world should come to the United States again for the World Cup.

Financial Benefits and Attendance
Downs (SI.com):It would produce an astronomical record for the event.”

The U.S. is touting potential ticket sales of over 5 million for the finals. And indeed, no country can match the stadia the United States has to offer for the games. Only twelve stadiums are needed for the finals, but the U.S. is still considering bids from 27 different cities featuring 32 stadia with an average capacity of a phenomenal 74,000. No new stadium would need to be built, and almost zero renovation would be required.

Would the stadiums be full?  Yes, we can take Downs at his word on this based on the historical record.  The U.S. still retains the aggregate attendance record for the World Cup finals from 1994, a pretty impressive achievement in itself given the World Cup expanded from 24 to 32 teams in 1998, with an extra 16 games being played in France, Japan/South Korea and Germany. 3,587,538 attended at an average match attendance of 68,991 in 1994. It’s entirely believable that the U.S. would again break the attendance record in either 2018 or 2022.

In terms of television revenue, it’s also no surprise that the latest addition to the U.S. bid committee is John Skipper, Executive Vice President for Content with ESPN, perhaps the most powerful sports television executive in the world. The interest of American television, the most lucrative sports television market in the world, in soccer has clearly grown considerably in the past decade, and it’s no surprise Downs is emphasising this: “One of my favorite examples to cite is ESPN these days… turn on Sportscenter and look for the top 10 plays of the day, you almost inevitably see a soccer highlight in those top 10 plays. That was not the case probably even five years ago.”

US Soccer timeline

Passion for Soccer
Downs (Q&A with World Football Insider): “The biggest challenge that we have is convincing the voters who are 24 people from 24 different countries that the United States bid is not just about fancy stadiums and loads of ticket revenue, that there really is a unique passion for the sport in the United States. We are often judged incorrectly by the strength of the MLS…The trick is to unify all those disparate factions of folks who are touched by the game, who indeed really worship the game… all those folks who are living here care about the sport, want the World Cup to come here to the United States and represent a passion for the sport that may number 70, 80 or 90 million people.”

Unlike in ’94, when the World Cup was billed as a fresh start for the sport in the United States with the promise of a new professional league to launch after it (finally fulfilled in 1996, of course), the bid committee has been billing a second World Cup as building on the legacy of the past and trying to demonstrate the diversity of the sport here. As well as touting the success of ’94, this has included an emphasis on the 1984 Olympic Final as a launchpad for the game when over 100,000 packed into the Rose Bowl, and the US bid website features an outstanding timeline (“Its in our DNA”) documenting the game’s roots deep into the American past.

Yet to the rest of the world, the U.S. remains a soccer backwater: like it or not, folks. So a key part of the bid remains convincing FIFA that the passion for the sport that needs to be present at a World Cup is in the U.S.. This is, indeed, why the bid committee has adopted the slogan “THE GAME IS IN  US”, and has pushed an online petition gaining over 250,000 signatures. The US bid website is notably low on an emphasis on MLS (the league is not even mentioned on the “GAME IS IN US” page) and high on pushing the diverse culture of the game: “It is in our schoolyards and stadiums, our church parking lots and cornfields, our back alleys and beachfronts, pulsing through our cities and suburbs and countryside alike.”

World Cup Legacy
Downs (Q&A with World Football Insider): “Because we have the luxury of not having to spend hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars on construction of airports and roadways and stadiums and infrastructure in our cities, we can afford to focus on some of the more social aspects of a World Cup. By that I mean leaving a legacy of using the sport for positive social change or for promoting “green” aspects of staging the competition that may alter the way people think of sports for decades to come.”

This is an interesting angle to take, and a poke in the eye for one of the U.S.’s main competitor’s, Russia, who would need enormous infrastructure work done.  Though it may be unfair, it’s no surprise Russia is already fending off concerns that neighbouring Ukraine’s struggles to prepare for the 2012 Euros may be repeated by Russia.

It is, however, not evident to me exactly what Downs means about the social and green aspects of the bid, so it’ll be interesting to see the details of that slightly speculative point come out. Right now, the US’s bid page on social change touts the many worthy causes American soccer organisations like MLS currently fund and support, but there is little on what a future World Cup would bring, and no mention of environmental plans: one could say that the need to build very little infrastructure wise is the greenest aspect of the U.S. bid, though the carbon miles from travel across the US would obviously be far, far greater than, say, England.

But the most important part of the legacy claim for FIFA is the potential of the World Cup to spring American soccer to the next level, and Downs is smart in stating this would be a long-term benefit evident in the years before 2018 or 2022 as well as after:

If there is a World Cup coming to a city near you in a decade’s time, or whatever the actual time turns out to be, I think that will absolutely be on every youth soccer player’s mind. We’ve encouraged the cities that are in dialogue with us to have a decade-long marketing program that will promote the sport in their market through everything from staging international exhibitions with the top clubs in the world to youth tournaments. I think it’s only logical that if we have this World Cup on the horizon to inspire us all, it will be in the marketing plans of companies throughout the country that use sports in their marketing and that will have an enormous effect.

One Year To Go
So far, the American bid has been a model of smoothness (I’m looking at you, England), and in each area of emphasis, the U.S. has strong evidence to support its claims. The bid is compelling on the face of it, and the key challenge over the next twelve months will be a tough one: navigating the internal politics of FIFA’s Executive Committee — something Chicago’s Olympic bid spectacularly failed to achieve with regard to that similarly impenetrable edifice, the IOC.  24 men of FIFA, many of them not known for their rectitude, will decide if all the above means anything or not.

The Sweeper: FIFA Is Trying To Kill Me

World Cup draw

Big Story
I’m pretty sure Sepp Blatter and FIFA’s executive committee is trying to drive me insane, if not kill me. I’m not sure why they’d have a vendetta against a little-known British-born blogger exiled to the United States, but there can be little other reasonable explanation for them forcing me to write the same commentary over and over again on their practices: stop forcing me to presume you are fixing everything!

Once again, it’s the timing that’s suspect, as FIFA’s World Cup 2010 Organising Committee today announced the seeds for this week’s World Cup finals draw (the top eight seeds in pot 1 are South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain), with France notably missing out on a pot 1 seeding spot as FIFA decided to use their rankings from October rather than November to determine the order: the Netherlands had been ranked higher the previous month. Some immediately suspected FIFA were making sure France weren’t seeded, at the least, as the controversy over their qualification drags on.

It’s fair enough to use the October rankings rather than November’s, simply because that did put every European team on a level playing field in terms of competitive games played in qualification. FIFA’s Vice-President Jerome Valcke explained, “This is not a case of wanting Holland to be seeded instead of France, just that the feeling was the October seedings represented the best teams.” Yet bizarrely, Valcke went on to say that the decision had been made “last month” — if so, why did they not bother to tell anyone?

Once again, by not setting the rules for seeding in advance and releasing the information in public, the speculation that FIFA are making the decision most convenient to them is fed, just as with the playoffs seeding controversy. If FIFA could only set and release their seeding procedures ahead of knowing which countries would be seeded depending on the system they decide to use, I wouldn’t have to keep writing the same thing: a little more transparency goes a long way.

Worldwide News

  • This is one way to fight back: following the controversy over the amount the Premier League is spending on agents’ fees, the agents association has no shame in calling for their important role to be acknowledged by being awarded a position on the Football Association Council. Supporters Direct’s acid commentary on this is a must-read.
  • Remember Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbeki oligarch and Arsenal shareholder who once threatened to sue this very blog for posting information about his criminal past from former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray?  Well, Arsenal’s biggest shareholder Stan Kroenke obviously wanted to know more about that as their power struggle heated up over the past year, sending a private investigator hired by the company working for Arsenal’s board to Uzbekistan to dig up more information. Unfortunately, the Uzbeki authorities weren’t exactly cooperative, and as is his wont, Usmanov is up in arms about this terrible slight to his reputation. Once again, Alisher, if you have nothing to hide, stand up and prove it by taking up former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray’s offer to let the courts decide.
  • It’s very impressive that WPS expansion team the Atlanta Beat will be playing in a brand new soccer stadium come spring, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution explains: “Kennesaw State announced Tuesday the school will build an 8,300-seat stadium for its women’s soccer team, a facility officials called “the first of its kind in the world” because of its size and focus on women’s soccer.” Great news, and a $16.5m project is entirely reasonable. Just one question: how do you build a stadium in five months?
  • Finally, Pitch Invasion shockingly wins futfanatico award for best blog with “futfanatico” in the URL!

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: Brady Rips Into Blatter — About Time!

 Liam Brady

Big Story
When I was 15 or 16, I interviewed Brighton & Hove Albion manager Liam Brady for a school magazine piece that never got published (the magazine never made it to print), and found him to be an amicable and thoughtful man oddly willing to listen patiently and answer a school kid’s long-winded questions about his time playing for Juventus and what he thought of Fever Pitch.

Brady eventually moved on to Arsenal’s youth development program and then to the Republic of Ireland as assistant manager, and he showed a side I wasn’t sure he had in him today having met the genial Irishman, ripping into Sepp Blatter in a manner few prominent national association figures have ever had the balls to do:  “He’s a bit of a loose cannon,” Brady told Sky Sports News. “He’s an embarrassment to Fifa.”

Sure, we all know that. But some of Brady’s details — particularly his explanation about Ireland’s private query about adding a 33rd team to the World Cup, and their disgust at Blatter’s attempt to humiliate them by going public on it — ring true in terms of what we already know about Blatter’s disregard for the integrity of the game.

“I’m afraid Mr Blatter is a law unto himself,” Brady said. “I thought it was very disrespectful how he presented this fact. He’s currently ignored most of the controversial things that went on that evening. He never had anything to say about that at all, like Henry’s behaviour after scoring the goal and how that stands within his campaign to have fair play within the game. Henry celebrates as if he’s done nothing wrong. Is that fair play? Hardly. But Mr Blatter chose to talk about the request to be considered as the 33rd team. People will be watching Mr Blatter closely and his decisions closely from now on.”

Now, he just needs to get started on Blatter’s slimy right-hand man, Jerome Valcke.

Worldwide News

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Premier League Agents’ Fees Revealed

Football agents are not this cool.

Football agents are not this cool.

Due to the new requirements in the Football Association’s regulations on agents put in place this summer, the Premier League has released its first public report on the amount spent on club payments to agents, totalling £70,692,513 for 803 payments made to agents from 1st October 2008 to 30th September 2009.

No-one will be surprised by this astronomical figure, and I’ll give you one guess to figure out who spent the most in this period (hint: they play in Manchester and didn’t win the Premier League).

An interesting wrinkle is that the Premier League’s numbers don’t always match the club’s own figures. Hull City, for example, were listed by the Premier League at £1,599,188, but an official release from the club stated that “From 1st October 2008 to 30th September 2009, Hull City has actually paid £1,820,250.80 in agents fees. The total agents fees agreed and contracted in the year to 30th September 2009 was £4,392,250.”

Curiously, the numbers being reported are also changing: earlier today, many outlets (including the Guardian) were reporting West Ham United had spent £3,576,972, only for West Ham’s official site to say £5,527,548 had been dished out.

I’m not sure whether there’s anything other than lazy PR folk behind these discrepancies, but it doesn’t give me a 100% confidence in the accuracy of all the figures: the clubs report them themselves, after all.

But there is something in it for the clubs to release this information: a little more pressure on agents and players to sort out their own deals, as Sunderland Chairman Niall Quinn said in their release: “At an average of around £40,000 per deal, this figure is acceptable from our point of view, however we continue to hope that we can work towards a time when the payment of agents will become the responsibility of the individual player, not the football club.”

In general, this public accountability for the amount they spend on agents is a good step forward for openness on how much money in the game is leaking out to agents, following the lead set by the Football League lower in the pyramid — which since it introduced the same transparency five years ago, has seen the amount spent on agents decline.

Yet this welcome development comes just a couple of weeks after FIFA suggested they will give up attempting to require national associations to regulate football agents, a move somewhat gleefully described by one agent as a return to the “wild west”.

The Football Association’s attempts to regulate agents with disclosures such as this being made required has made it a leader in public disclosure on agents, but we may see less of this around the world, rather than more.

Here’s the Premier League list in full:

Arsenal     £4,760,241
Aston Villa     £1,708,374
Birmingham City     £974,982
Blackburn Rovers     £1,610,885
Bolton Wanderers     £3,166,611
Burnley     £468,398
Chelsea     £9,562,223
Everton     £2,008,407
Fulham     £1,469,258
Hull City     £1,599,188
Liverpool     £6,657,305
Manchester City     £12,874,283
Manchester United     £1,517,393
Portsmouth     £3,184,725
Stoke City     £716,042
Sunderland     £2,007,040
Tottenham Hotspur     £6,066,935
West Ham United     £5,527,548
Wigan Athletic     £3,576,972
Wolverhampton Wanderers     £1,235,703

Arsenal     £4,760,241
Aston Villa     £1,708,374
Birmingham City     £974,982
Blackburn Rovers     £1,610,885
Bolton Wanderers     £3,166,611
Burnley     £468,398
Chelsea     £9,562,223
Everton     £2,008,407
Fulham     £1,469,258
Hull City     £1,599,188
Liverpool     £6,657,305
Manchester City     £12,874,283
Manchester United     £1,517,393
Portsmouth     £3,184,725
Stoke City     £716,042
Sunderland     £2,007,040
Tottenham Hotspur     £6,066,935
West Ham United     £5,527,548
Wigan Athletic     £3,576,972
Wolverhampton Wanderers     £1,235,703

The Sweeper: Justice and Football

Henry handball

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He did it, we all know he did it, some think it was normal, some think it was the devil’s work, and Ireland want a replay even though FIFA have already ruled it out.

This brings us, of course, to the tricky question of justice in football. Some point out there traditionally has rarely been any; and Fredoracci points out that football just has about as much justice as the rest of real life.

But here’s the dealio, campers, something you should have figured out a long time ago: this type of shit happens a lot — a lot — in sport. Sport disguises itself as life honed and concentrated, as a palace of justice in Lego, all instant judgements and inevitable punishments. It dissembles its true nature: that it’s just like the rest of the universe. As a matter of course, players will skirt the fringes of legality, and will sometimes cross the line: our guys, their guys, everydamnone’s eyes. You just have to hope that the arbiters can do their best. What Henry did was wrong. But to pick on this one incident as being somehow especially contemptible is to be wilfully blind to all the sport you’ve ever seen.

Still, no-one’s going to be buying Henry a Guinness any time soon, so perhaps the eternal scarring of his reputation is some small justice outside the lines.

Worldwide News

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

FIFA Ensure World Cup Play-offs System Favours the Big Fish

Sepp Blatter, FIFA

Image by footyfactor.com

What happens when Sepp Blatter and his cronies see millions of dollars and plenty of prestige in danger of disappearing?  They change the system.

That’s the conclusion drawn by many after FIFA last night announced they were altering their planned World Cup 2010 qualification play-offs system to seed teams based on their FIFA world rankings, a decision which clearly favours the traditionally strong nations.

The One Team in Ireland blog responds by calling it U-Turn by FIFA to benefit the more successful teams, many of whom have surprisingly fallen into the likelihood of having to go through the play-offs system.

By using the FIFA rankings to seed the play-offs into two pots of four teams, it’s much less likely that (say) France would have to play Germany and much more likely they’d play (say) Ireland.

From FIFA’s report on their Executive Committee deliberations, it’s not clear that FIFA actually changed any procedures — people had just presumed they were not seeding the play-offs as they had never stated they were going to until last night.

FIFA will argue that the World Cup final group stage is seeded in part based on FIFA ranking, thus making this seeding consistent with that.

But either way, by only announcing this now, the motivation for the ruling is open to the obvious interpretation taken by many that FIFA is fixing it for the big fish.  To avoid this in future, FIFA ought to state the full procedures and rules for all parts of World Cup qualification before the qualification tournament begins. To announce such a key deliberation ruling at this stage shows very little concern for even the image of FIFA or the tournament, as it’s so easily taken as being done to benefit the bigger teams.

So we have another strike against Sepp Blatter and his complete disregard for even bothering to pretend to care about transparency and fairness.

Update: A reader has pointed out the 2006 World Cup play-offs were similarly seeded — whilst this supports FIFA’s precedent, it makes it even more bizarre that FIFA didn’t announce they were following that precedent again in the first place. Again, why the need for such a lack of transparency?

The Sweeper: Chelsea’s Ban, the British Press Reacts Rightly

Chelsea

Big Story

There is, of course, a lot of reaction to digest on the FIFA action against Chelsea announced yesterday for inducing Gaël Kakuta to break his contract with Lens and sign with the London club. Chelsea not surprisingly said they will appeal the decision, stating pompously and with no substantive claim against the actual decision that “The sanctions are without precedent to this level and totally disproportionate to the alleged offence and the financial penalty imposed.”

David Conn agrees with our initial thought that given the precedent in various cases, Chelsea may find their appeal to CAS hard going. And Patrick Barclay easily rubbishes the idea this is part of some conspiracy against the English. Henry Winter provides further praise for FIFA, rightly asking “Why should Lens not reap the rewards of all the hard work they poured into nurturing Kakuta?” James Lawton offers a similar reaction to your own editor’s, commenting that “What on earth is happening to football? Could it really be in danger of being properly governed?” Lets not get too excited just yet, but this strong and consistent stance from FIFA is to be applauded.

Meanwhile, David Hytner considers the consequences of this for Chelsea’s Frank Arneson, who was “at a low ebb” at the time of the signing as head of youth development, with the implication being he made a desperate and foolish decision to pursue the brilliant Kakuta at all costs. Surely, though, Peter Kenyon also deserves some blame. The Independent speaks with Lens’ Francis Collado, who asked Arneson for $8m compensation for Kakuta two years ago. According to Collado, Kenyon smiled and said “That’s not possible”. He’s not smiling now.

Finally, on the playing side, Jamie Jackson looks at the consequences for Chelsea, noting that unless there is a successful appeal, Ancelotti will have to cope with a squad assembled almost entirely by his predecessors until 2011. And of course, the key question is: could Kakuta actually be worth all this trouble in the end anyway? Matt Dickinson at The Times and Simon Kass at the Daily Mail profile the so-called Black Zidane, a young man who one must feel a little sorry for given the pressure now riding on him.

Worldwide

  • Manchester United fans shouldn’t laugh too hard at Chelsea just yet, as their club face accusations from Le Havre that they induced France U-16 captain Paul Pogba to join them just last month. The French club are saying that United offered very large sums of money to Pogba’s parents to end his contract with the French club.
  • From Four Four Two is a rare piece from Iffy Onura, a blogger at the site but better known as a former professional footballer and most recently, assistant manager of Lincoln City. Iffy, along with manager Peter Jackson, was recently fired after a string of poor results and tells us “what it feels like to be sacked”. It’s interesting to see where Iffy places the blame; he laments about the short-term reaction of a “vocal minority” (presumably of supporters), and decries “that scourge of the modern coach/manager, the unofficial websites and forums”, where questioning about Iffy’s role at the club had begun to percolate.
  • Real Madrid’s Galactico project(s) have always had a touch of the absurd about them, but their determination to create a caricature out of themselves is confirmed by the announcement of Florentino Perez that the club is “considering the creation of a Disneyland-style theme park” on the outskirts of Madrid.
  • Four Four Two looks at the biggest salaries in Serie A. Surprising — even though it is Inter and Mourinho — to see a coach top the scale, has that ever happened before in one of the big four European leagues?
  • Dan Steinberg has an excellent piece in which he actually talks to supporters (imagine that!) at the D.C.-Sounders Open Cup Final, with a wide-range of opinions surveyed, the most common comment from the Sounders fans expressing amazement that D.C. could not sell more tickets, despite some grudging respect they all had for Barra Brava. One Barra founder didn’t take kindly to the Seattle visitors, commenting that “You have to earn your stripes….I respect them for coming from far away, but I don’t like them talking [junk]. That’s why they’ve become to me, if not No. 1, the second place people we hate, besides New Jersey. We respect people as long as they don’t mess around. They need to show respect.”
  • FIFA.com has its weekly, excellent world leagues preview to get you ready for the less obvious action around the globe.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: Chelsea Face Tough Appeal Over FIFA Signing Ban

Gael Kakuta Chelsea

Gael Kakuta

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I’m not sure there’s much point to the rest of the Sweeper given the dominance of today’s Chelsea news: the club have been banned by FIFA from signing players for the next two transfer windows, meaning they won’t be able to register a new player until January 2011. FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber found that Chelsea were guilty of “inducement to breach of contract” by luring Gael Kakuta from Lens in the summer of 2007. But does this decision follow precedent, and does Chelsea have a good chance to overturn it on appeal?

It’s worth looking at the actual FIFA articles related to the ruling. FIFA announced that “sporting sanctions were imposed on both the player and Chelsea in accordance with art. 17 par. 3 and 4 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.” It’s 17.4 that pertains to Chelsea, and leads to the registration ban:

17.4
In addition to the obligation to pay compensation, sporting sanctions shall be imposed on any club found to be in breach of contract or found to be inducing a breach of contract during the protected period. It shall be presumed, unless established to the contrary, that any club signing a professional who has terminated his contract without just cause has induced that professional to commit a breach. The club shall be banned from registering any new players, either nationally or internationally, for two registration periods. (emphasis mine)

It seems clear, of course, that Kakuta failed to convince the DRC that he had “just cause” to break his contract and that Chelsea failed to convince FIFA’s DRC that they had not induced the player to such a breach, with the burden being on them to do so.

It’s important to note that FIFA have had this set of articles on their books since at least 2005 (the earliest set of regulations they have published on their website from that year contains the same wording). The Court of Arbirtration for Sport, to whom Chelsea have 21 days to appeal the decision to, has upheld FIFA’s decisions in similar cases before on breach of contract, an issue that FIFA and CAS have stressed strongly in recent years, quite rightfully in my view.

In 2008, the CAS upheld FIFA’s decision against Czech player Tomas Mica and Swiss side FC Wil 1900 in a breach of contract case after the player signed for FC Wil 1900 despite being under contract to PFC Naftex AC Bourgas. And the CAS also upheld FIFA’s decision against Al Kuwait SC, who were ordered to pay compensation for breach of contract and banned from signing players for two registration periods after it was found they had breached the contract of Vjatseslav Zahovaiko.

Of course, we don’t know the precise details of this case, and it’s possible Chelsea will find some convincing grounds for appeal we don’t know about. But given the CAS has upheld FIFA’s firm stance for contract integrity before, it would have to be a very well-grounded and exceptional case proving Kakuta had “just cause” to break his contract (such as maltreatment by Lens).

I’ve already seen much discussion claiming FIFA has a conspiracy against English clubs and many presuming this will easily be thrown out on appeal. But it’s clear that FIFA is applying its rulebook consistently and that CAS has upheld rulings based on these articles before. Chelsea had better have an ace up their sleeve to present to the CAS to wiggle out of this one.

Given all the focus on Chelsea today, just a brief roundup of other news for you:

Worldwide

  • A rare report on North Korean football appears with a profile of goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk, apparently known as the “Gatekeeper of the Iron Wall”.
  • Jamie Jackson looks at the challenge facing Portsmouth. Already off to a terrible start to the season, they now face the task of integrating a further seven new players signed in the past week.
  • Meanwhile, West Ham’s finances look even worse than we presumed they were, with debts and other liabilities approaching  £100m.
  • The Seattle Sounders beat DC United 2-1 yesterday to win the US Open Cup. We have of course followed the marketing effort for this final closely, and the announced crowd of 17,329 pleased DC’s PR team — not that that will make up for the defeat or the embarrassing red card for Josh Wicks.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Heat Is On: FIFA’s Corruption To Be Revealed In Court?

It’s been bubbling under the surface for a while now. The collapse of FIFA’s former marketing partners ISL/ISMM almost seven years ago is soon to be dragged through the courts in Switzerland — the scandalous and hugely costly fall of ISL/ISMM almost brought down Blatter at the time, and there’s a chance senior FIFA executives could be named as having taken bribes.

It might get very ugly for Sepp Blatter. Der Spiegel, a German magazine, has a long feature (in English!) explaining the background to this and what could happen next. Here’s a snippet:

Just under a year ago Blatter dedicated FIFA’s new headquarters in Zurich, which cost 240 million francs. Now he can spend his time there dreaming of the Nobel Prize. Five of the building’s eight floors are underground — evidence for his adversaries that megalomania and obfuscation are the real principles behind his tenure.

Since his election 10 years ago, Blatter has had to defend himself against the charge that FIFA can be bought. He consistently denies the existence of any corruption. “I am not bribable,” he once said in an interview. “Otherwise you can chop off both of my hands.”

But now Swiss investigators have found that sports officials, including representatives of FIFA, may have taken bribes numbering in the millions. The district attorney’s office in the Canton of Zug in Switzerland has drafted a 228-page complaint, which includes extensive testimony and evidence of a bribery system.

The prosecutors compiled this information for a case against six former managers of ISMM, a holding company dealing in sports media and marketing rights. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Zug on March 11. Apparently the company used secret payments to buy the support of key decision-makers in connection with the awarding of exclusive football rights.

Expect to hear a lot more about this soon. As always when you want the truth on FIFA’s dirt, expect Andrew Jennings to be on the case — he’s been waiting for this one for a while. And we’ll be all over it here, too, as we have with previous Blatter scandals.

Fifa, the Klan and Dominica

Investigative journalist Andrew Jennings continues to shed an awkward light on CONCACAF boss Jack Warner. His story this week in the Sunday Herald about the man Warner wants to run football in the Caribbean island of Dominica beggars belief. Here’s an extract:

Security will be on maximum alert at Zurich airport when a bizarre delegation descends for talks with Fifa bosses this month. The Federal police will assiduously search the baggage of former jailbird Patrick John, the man Jack Warner remains determined to impose on football in the Caribbean island of Dominica and check the criminal records of his entourage – just in case.

Last time John attempted a coup in Dominica he enlisted some odd allies. He’d been ousted from the prime minister’s residence in 1979, branded “corrupt and tyrannical” and accused by the BBC of secretly planning to bust oil sanctions on South Africa.

Look up John in America’s news archives and what do you find clustered around his name? Mentions of brothels, drug-runners, arms dealers, white supremacists – and the gallows.

FBI agents told a court in New Orleans in 1981 that the heavily-armed Ku Klux Klansmen clutching an authentic Nazi swastika flag that they’d arrested on a marina were about to sail for Dominica to oust the recently-elected government and restore John to power.

Money for the jaunt was provided by “Chuckles” Yanover, a Mob enforcer keen to set up a “free port” with unregulated gambling. Chuckles and his pals called their enterprise Operation Red Dog. Once they were trucked off to prison, the Louisiana Feds renamed it “Bayou of Pigs”.

Ex-premier John didn’t fare much better in Dominica. After an abortive coup left a policeman dead, he was jailed for 12 years. The judge said John was prepared to sell Dominica to foreigners “to satisfy his lust for power”. The army chief who backed him was hanged.

In 1990 John was released. Two years later he took over local football and his climb back to power was paralleled by Warner’s rise in Caribbean football politics. After John was ousted from Dominican football in 2006, Warner elevated his ally to football’s regional Hall of Fame.

His replacement, Dexter Francis, “was elected leader after convincing the island’s stakeholders of the allegedly shoddy performances and poor accountability under John” according to the Trinidad Express.

Jennings goes on to explain how Warner’s loyalists, including John, disrupted the Dominican football association’s president Dexter Francis from running the association. Warner then ousted Francis in a unilateral move blocked by FIFA initially thanks to FIFA’s Vice-President, England’s Geoff Thompson on the Associations Committee.

But now FIFA’s General Secretary Jerome Valcke seems likely to impose John’s involvement on the Dominican association at their meeting next month. And with Warner this week warming to England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup after his previously trenchant opposition a cook-up seems likely, sadly for Dominica.

Dinner with Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini

I didn’t know what to expect that night when I pulled into the parking lot of the Red Lobster. I’d suggested meeting at the Union League—had gotten reservations, in fact—but Mr. Blatter’s assistant called back, quickly, to tell me in no uncertain terms that there’d been a change of plans. I didn’t see them when I got out of the car, so I waited, a little unsure of myself, by the entrance. A sign stuck to the glass of a giant lit-up menu case alerted the public to the fact that it was “Crab Crackin’ Wednesday,” and that a pound and a half of snow-crab legs could be bought for $19.95.

After a few minutes, I felt the telltale buzz of my Motorola vibrating in my pocket. Through a thick French accent, a voice on the other end said, “You are at ze Red Lobster?” Then: “Stup it, Seppy, he says he is zayr, be quiet! Yes? We will arrive shortly. Seppy, stup!”

A loud metallic clanking drew my attention to the 1986 Cadillac Seville sedan slowly rounding into the parking lot. Through the windshield I could see FIFA President SEPP BLATTER with both hands on the wheel, intently piloting the car toward the nearest parking space. Beside him, the unkempt mane of UEFA President MICHEL PLATINI was partly obscured by an enormous fold-out map.

Blatter got out of the car and came toward me, beaming. He had a small cowboy hat in his hands and, as he approached, he planted it firmly on his head. Platini followed—somewhat sulkily, I thought.

We exchanged greetings. Vanessa showed us to our seats.

ME: Did you find the place okay. Did you know how to find the place.

MICHEL PLATINI: Our map, you see, it was from…what is ze name again? Denny’s.

SEPP BLATTER: Look! They have the “Admiral’s Feast”!

MICHEL PLATINI: It did not show anysing but other Denny’s restaurants.

SEPP BLATTER: Great heavens, that’s a lot of food for $18.95!

MICHEL PLATINI: Ze one-way streets…zey were unknown to us.

SEPP BLATTER: I simply adore this country. I feel like I can stretch out!

MICHEL PLATINI: We could easily haf driven from Denny’s to Denny’s, in an unending loop, forever, like two damned souls.

ME: Interesting. Did you try Google maps. Are you familiar with that concept.

MICHEL PLATINI: Bah! I do not understand zis sing, zis “internet.” What is ze meaning of a simulacrum whose purpose is to be co-extensive with ze sing it simulates? Ze reality within, it bears no substantive relation to ze reality without, and yet, zey are ze same? How can I use zis, “sidewalk view”? All zese automobiles frozen in place on ze highways. What are ze semiotics of memory?

BRANDY: Can I take y’all’s order, please?

SEPP BLATTER: I’ll start with the Southwest chipotle Habanera shrimp poppers. Then, the “Admiral’s Feast”.

BRANDY: To drink?

SEPP BLATTER: Great falcon in the morning, I haven’t even considered the drinks menu yet.

SEPP BLATTER: Bring me one Kahlua mudslide with your finest top-shelf liquors, Brandy, if you please.

BRANDY: And for you, sir?

MICHEL PLATINI (miserably): Filet of halibut.

BRANDY: I’ll put that in for you, sir.

ME: So the big news this week is that you have crushed the G-14. How did you do that. What gave you the idea that you would crush the G-14.

MICHEL PLATINI: Peter Kenyon, he says to me, “Michel—

SEPP BLATTER: —my belle!” (giggles)

MICHEL PLATINI: “Michel, we can seize zis opportunity to strike a blow for ze underprivileged football clubs, and for underdogs everywhere, like Chelsea.”

SEPP BLATTER: “These are words that go together well!”

MICHEL PLATINI: So we said, zese big clubs, zey have ze money but zey do not haf ze numbers. You say, one of Barcelona is worth ten of Trabzonspor. I say, but zayr are fifty Trabzonspors. You say, of course, but zayr is only one Trabzonspor, ze well-known “Black Sea Storm” of Hussein Avni Aker Stadium, in Turkey. I say, ah! But it is figurative. You see?

SEPP BLATTER: Look here, it’s like Elvis, understand? Just when the Colonel thinks he can run everything…BAM! (smashing his fist into his palm) That’s when the King strikes!

MICHEL PLATINI: So we formed ze European Clubs Forum. Now, ze G-14? Zey are not ze only organized group. Now zayr is an answer to ze question, “Who will speak for Chelsea?”

SEPP BLATTER: You do not step on my blue suede shoes. You do not step on them!

MICHEL PLATINI: And so ze G-14, zey decide zat it is better, yes, to work wis zis new group. Zey will try to dominate it from within.

SEPP BLATTER: And by the neck of the great Fitzgerald, I’ll stop them.

MICHEL PLATINI: I will stup zem wis you, Seppy. We are a team, remember?

SEPP BLATTER (shaking his torso at Platini in a gesture that is somehow aggressive and taunting): A one for the money! A two for the show! A three to get ready, now, go, cat, go!

BRANDY: Here are y’all’s dinners. Careful, sir, that plate’s hot.

ME: I guess the big question I have for you is this. Why do you keep having ideas. What are your ideas good for. What do you think you will accomplish with them.

MICHEL PLATINI: What do you mean? Ideas are ze ripe mind’s fruit. We are men, we are—

SEPP BLATTER: Sweet Mary mustache, this is a fantastic piece of shrimp.

ME: I mean, the game is pretty good, right? Soccer, right? It’s pretty good? And yet you two are always strutting around on the sidelines in like black vulture hoods tutting about how one thing or another ought to be different.

MICHEL PLATINI (shrugs): Sings can always be improved…

ME: Sure, but I mean, that doesn’t even seem like why you’re in it. Some of your ideas are sort of sensible, but some of them just seem like making chess out of politics, man. Today you want extra officials on corner kicks. Yesterday you were tinkering with the Champions League. Tomorrow it’ll be computer eyes on the goal-lines, and next Thursday you’re going to want seatbelts for every seat in the stadium. You’ve got silver goals and golden goals. It’s about net effect, here, man. You’re giving people the idea that fixed things are broken, man. Why do you do that. Why do you have to do that.

MICHEL PLATINI: You are suggesting we are intellectual vulgarians, Monsieur?

SEPP BLATTER: Are you implying I’m some sort of crass opportunist?

ME: No, it’s just—

MICHEL PLATINI: But listen! Without our ideas we are nothing more than—

SEPP BLATTER: Clerks!

MICHEL PLATINI: Accountants!

SEPP BLATTER: Shop boys!

MICHEL PLATINI & SEPP BLATTER: Ridiculous!

MICHEL PLATINI: What we are doing, why, ze significance is obvious.

SEPP BLATTER: We’re like John Wayne in the closing scenes of Hondo.

MICHEL PLATINI: Ze game is a series of imposed semantic conventions zat cease to mean anysing if zey are not constantly renewed by ze application of materio-dialectical engagement!

SEPP BLATTER: I swear on the soul of Byron Leftwich that I have never loved a woman as much as I love the taste of this sweet Kahlua mudslide.

Brian Phillips is offering Surf n’ Turf at very reasonable prices at The Run of Play.

Photo credits: drewesque; artposada; utcathy83; Joits

FIFA, Sepp Blatter, Jerome Valcke: Bribery, Bullshit and Blackmail

I wrote about the dirty dealings behind the glitz of Fifa’s latest World Cup draw here the other day as well, but writing for print always makes me actually explain things properly.

So anyone interested in the suspect dealings going on at FIFA might want to read my latest column at the Chicago Sports Weekly on Sepp Blatter, Jérôme Valcke and the various nefarious goings on by the men who supposedly run world football for the benefit of, well, us.

Sepp Blatter

Thank goodness journalist Andrew Jennings is on this case, as most the world’s football journalists doze on, happy to focus on Blatter’s blathering about women’s shorts or Brazilian invasions instead of the size of his bonuses or how whether his own right-hand man is blackmailing him.

The Draw for the 2010 World Cup, Politically Explosive Ties

The draw’s in the bag, and obviously as an England fan, being drawn against Croatia again has just made my day. But there are also a number of other interesting matchups, for non-footballing reasons. Here’s a few that spring to mind:

There’s Cuba-U.S.A. I bet the guys at USSF are excited about organising that trip (at least I think they’re playing each other, if I understood correctly the ridiculous CONCACAF region set-up).

There’s North Korea against South Korea. At the moment, it looks like it could actually be good timing for a furthering of the reconciliation between the two halves of the peninsula that’s been slowly progressing in recent times.

There’s Iraq versus Australia. Would have generated more controversy if John Howard, who took Australia into Iraq, hadn’t been booted out of office just last week, with new PM Kevin Rudd expected to withdraw Australia’s remaining troops. I wonder where the game will be played.

Edit (as noted by ursus): Turkey plays Armenia. Blimey.

Below are the rest of the matchups, anything else that should be highlighted? And more importantly for my sanity, will England be humiliated again by Croatia’s technically superior team?

Continue reading

FIFA, Blatter, Blackmail and the 2010 World Cup Draw

Sepp BlatterToday, the draw for the qualifying round of the 2010 World Cup will take place. It will be beamed to 173 countries, and FIFA’s General Secretary Jérôme Valcke will be centre stage alongside Sepp Blatter.

Yet less than twelve months ago, Valcke, then FIFA’s marketing director, faced ruin following the finding of an American court that he had lied to both Visa and Mastercard during sponsorship negotiations for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

Shortly after, he lost his job and seemed destined for oblivion. But he was reinstated as the ruling went to the appeals court, and FIFA finally settled out of court for a mere US$90 million with Mastercard.

Amazingly, just six months later, Valcke was promoted to an even more powerful position in FIFA as Blatter’s number two. As ever, acclaimed investigative journalist Andrew Jennings cuts through the bullshit surrounding this bizarre timeline of events, and simply asks in today’s Sunday Herald: “What hold does the mendacious Valcke have over the wily Blatter, to prise out of him the game’s No 2 job?”

Continue reading

Who Should Host the 2018 World Cup?

With 2014 now in the bag for Brazil (fingers crossed, anyway), thoughts turn to 2018. With FIFA removing the system of rotating the World Cup around the confederations, the next contest will be far more fierce than the procession for 2014. Only countries from Africa and South America (as the last two host continents) will be ineligible.

In the coming weeks, we will discuss each of the likely bidders to host 2018 in depth. Those are Australia, the Benelux countries, England, Greece, Mexico, Russia and the United States. Who can match the success of Germany 2006?
WM 2006 - Deutsche Fans in Berlin

In the meantime, though, head over to Some People Are On The Pitch, where there’s an excellent overview of the stadia in each possible host country. And why not kick off the discussion by commenting below on who you think will or should get the World Cup? I’ll use any interesting thoughts in the upcoming posts.

Photo by TEDizen on Flickr.

Brazil in 2014

So, Brazil in 2014 it is then. As we discussed last week, all is not rosy in this choice, despite the obvious allure of that country; the lack of competition to win the rights to host the World Cup has hardly helped them kick things into shape, either.

I was going to write about this at length, considering also the situations for 2010 and 2018, but our friend at Gramsci’s Kingdom has already done so today. And he absolutely nailed the topic, too, so head over there now if you have any interest in the whys and wherefores of FIFA, Sepp Blatter and the World Cup.