Tag Archives: Ydnekatchew Tessema

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.

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