Total Pageviews

Sunday, June 19, 2011


There has been much discussion and debate in the world of football over the game's future, and over corruption and so on, since the draws for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were made earlier this year. A large percentage of the discussions have emanated from England, originating in the tabloids and on the internet, then spreading to TV and radio. (This is my take on it all; it may become a little long-winded, but I'll get there in the end.)

Folowing the decision of FIFA's Executive Committee to award of the 2018 edition to Russia and the 2022 version to Qatar, there was a huge outcry in England, but also criticism from several other quarters, most notably sporting bodies, government and the media in Australia, and also in the USA. Scorn was also poured on the decision from many in Holland, Belgium and Spain.

Over the course of the last few months, many articles in the English-based press focused of how those involved with English football could exact revenge on FIFA for overlooking England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup, and also on the possibility of the FA leaving FIFA and setting up a rival organisation, which would perhaps involve countries such as the USA, Australia, Spain, Germany and France.

When the decision was made in January to award Russia and Qatar the 2018 and 2022 versions of the World Cup, there was a knee-jerk reaction to the decision from media, the general public and bloggers alike, calling for the FA to withdraw from FIFA. A great deal of the general public, both inside and outside England, were incredulous as to how Qatar were awarded the 2022 World Cup while England were nowhere to be seen. The answer to this is simple; England sought to host the 2018 version and were therefore ineligible to bid for hosting rights for the 2022 version.

Australia and the USA were among the other bidders for the 2022 World Cup; reaction from both quarters was both swift and condemnatory. Indeed, one Australian senator has called for the Australian government to sue FIFA for the AUS$46 million that Soccer Australia spent on the bid to bring the World Cup Down Under.

Russia won the bid for the 2018 World Cup; a lot of press and pundits have claimed that the FA had made the best bid and that FIFA's Technical Comittee had agreed with this assertion, while Russia's bid was the worst out of all of those presented, which, apart from that put forward by England, also included joint presentations from Belgium and Holland, and from Spain and Portugal. It could be argued that the English bid plus the joint bids from (two-thirds of) the Benelux countries (with this proposal including the intention that Luxembourg would also undertake a special role) and the two countries sharing the Iberian Peninsula were much better than what was being proposed by the Russians.

After all, each of these countries has it all; a veritable footballing history, sufficient numbers of high-quality stadia, the transport infrastructures and more than enough room to accommodate any number of travelling fans from all over the world at affordable prices. Russia, on the other hand, is, in comparison, lacking in football history and culture, has an infrastructure which is still under-developed, the stadia are also, as a whole, under-developed, and as for accommodating the travelling masses..

Where will the Russians put them all, and especially when it comes to Moscow, the most expensive city in the world, where a shortage of hotel-rooms (especially in the cheap to mid-price range) and crazy prices for just about anything that anyone could buy are the norm? And then there is the racism, which has become almost endemic since Vladimir Putin became President of Russia in 2000? Not to mention the human rights issues, including the mis-treatment of minorities, homosexuals, political opponents of Putin, journalists, and those who just happen to be living smack-bang in the middle of a planned new shopping-centre or expensive apartment complex, to name but a few examples. But, hey, who cares? It's all about the football..

One could ask exactly the same questions of Qatar, and one could add the factors that alcohol will not be widely available, there might not be much to keep the travelling support occupied outside what the Americans call "game-time", the average afternoon temperature in the Qatari summer of 2022 will be over 40 degrees Celsius, most of the games will be taking place in and around the capital city, Doha.

There is also, more insidiously, the prospect that gay (read homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transvestite and trans-sexual) football fans will not be welcome in the country during the 2002 World Cup, or any time beforehand, for that matter. The same goes for apostate football fans, who have changed their religion from Mohammedan to another religion, or, indeed, to having no faith. Homosexuality and apostasy are criminal offences in Qatar; in fact, being guilty of either or both is, in the eyes of the Qatari government, punishable by execution. (Both so-called crimes are also punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.)  FIFA president Sepp Blatter addressed the issue of gay football-fans potentially heading to Qatar thus: "I'd say they should refrain from any sexual activities." He claimed shortly afterwards that he was joking. The japester..

But again, who cares? It's all about the football..isn't it? Money, of course, is bound to have played a massive part in the final decisions of the FIFA Executive Committee, alongside FIFA's reasoning that they were bringing football to new frontiers. The FA, and in particular, Lord Triesman, alleged that members of the Executive Committee promised their vote to England's bid if money changed hands (or knighthoods were dished out). The evidence was put before FIFA; all those accused were acquitted. Now, Russia and Qatar have never hosted a World Cup, but both countries are among the few who could afford to stage a World Cup at this time, and both are rich in natural resources.

Still, both countries did seem to be the less likely choices to stage World Cups, but they have been chosen and that is that. The calls for England to secede from FIFA do seem to be of the knee-jerk variety, and were once again to be heard after Sepp Blatter's less than unanimous re-election to the FIFA presidency at the beginning of this month.

But, what would happen if England withdrew from FIFA? Have any of those calling for English secession from FIFA - and, by default, UEFA - thought about what might happen to English football should such an event take place?

Well, just to begin with, the FA might just find itself out in the cold; would there be a gurarantee that other FIFA members would join them in forming a breakaway organisation as advocated in the English-based press? Quite probably not; by leaving FIFA, the FA would forfeit its position on the FIFA International Board, which is responsible for drawing up the laws of football, and thereby much of its prestige.

Then, there is the question of money. Never mind the bribery scandals in FIFA, English football has had its fair share of bribery allegations down the years, some of which have been proven, some not. If the FA were to secede, opportunities for the country's best players, both male and female, to appear in the most important tournaments would cease, and there would be no more prize money from these tournaments going into the FA's bank account. It would lose its entitlement to receive grants from FIFA and UEFA.

All of England's national sides, at whatever level, would be banned from competing in qualifying competitions for World Cups or European Championships, at which the national team, once qualified for same, could under-perform and be thereafter scorned by the tabloid press. If for example, the FA pulled out of FIFA tomorrow, the England women's team would be barred from playing in the Women's World Cup, due to begin at the end of this month in Germany.

There would be no more chances for the country's best teams to play in European club competitions; they would be banned from doing so. Just imagine it; no more Champions League/European Cup. No more Europa League/UEFA Cup. No more Messi. No more Cristiano Ronaldo. No more money from these competitions for the top English clubs. And, just imagine if FIFA took the ultimate step and forbade any English-born player to compete in national competition at any level, anywhere in the world. The development of players such as Theo Walcotts and Jack Wilsheres of this world would stop in its tracks. (Maybe not Wilshere; he can thank Arsène Wenger for that already..)

England would then be out on its own; a modern-day South Africa or Colombia. Both countries had, of course, been banned by FIFA for a considerable length of time, South Africa because of the evils of apartheid, and Colombia because of the breakaway league which was formed there at the tail-end of the 1940s and which ran for a few years before it ran out of money.

The prospect of the same thing happening to the Premier League would be something that would scare the pants out of the Premier League, its clubs, supporters the world over, and the English media. Sky Sports, for instance, relies on its coverage of English football, and of the Premier League in particular, to put bums on sofas all over the British Isles and therefore keep the satellite TV network up and running. Sky TV and the Premier League clubs rely on the fans putting their hands in their pockets to keep them afloat, as do the country's newspapers to a large extent.

More often than not, the fans (or those who can afford to, at least) are paying an extortionate amount of money to watch their heroes week-in, week-out. This, and the money paid out to the Premier League by Sky TV (and, to a lesser extent, by the BBC), is helping to sustain the clubs, as is prize money awarded by UEFA to those clubs lucky enough to qualify for European football. That would all disappear if England left FIFA.

Would the fans want to return to football, pre-1957 style, in the days before the FA granted permission for English clubs to play in European club competitions? Would they stand idly by and watch some of the best players in the world, who are currently playing in English football, to leave for foreign shores because there was no route into European football, and, more importantly for some of them, because the money would eventually run dry?

That would begin in the Premier League, and then eventually filter down into the Football League, and from there down on into non-league football. Clubs would be going bankrupt left, right and centre. The FA itself would also go broke. Money - and talent - disappearing from the English game could also potentially affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people not directly employed by football clubs, in employment sectors as diverse as transport, hospitality, clothing and catering. What would be the potential damage to the English, and, indeed, the UK economy as a whole? Have any of those advocating England's retreat from FIFA thought about this?

If the FA were to attempt to form a breakaway organisation, it would be unsuccessful if they could not persuade the likes of the French, Spanish and German football authorities to join them. The FA could well set up a breakaway organisation with its own rules, including those relating to membership. This could see the likes of Gibraltar, Greenland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man applying to join.

Both Gibraltar and Greenland have applied to join both FIFA and UEFA in the recent past, with Greenland's application being rejected as there was no playing-surface in the country that was of a high enough standard. The local governing body, the GBU (Gronlands Boldspil Union) had attempted to raise the US$450,000 or so needed to fund the purchase of an all-weather pitch, but to no avail. Greenland finally got its all-weather football pitch last year, courtesy of a grant from - yes, you know what comes next, dear reader - FIFA, which totalled something approaching 400,000 Euros. But, the country is still waiting for FIFA membership..

Gibraltar's application was much more controversial; the British Crown Colony, situated on the Meditterannean coast and bordered by Spain, had applied to join FIFA and UEFA at the same time as Greenland. Spain were implaccably opposed to Gibraltar obtaining membership of either organisation, and they threatened to leave both organisations should Gibraltar be accepted as a member. (The Spanish FA looked at Gibraltar's application as setting a precedent which some of the country's own regions, such as Euskadi and Catalunya, might follow.) As a result, FIFA changed the membership criteria in 2003, stating that only fully-independent countries which were members of the United Nations would, in future, be accepted for membership. UEFA then folowed suit.

Gibraltar then took their case to the CAS (Centre for Arbritation in Sport) in Switzerland, who eventually ruled in Gibraltar's favour in 2006, and also said that UEFA should accept Gibraltar's application for associate membership, as it was originally made before FIFA's membership rule-change in 2003. UEFA did so with extreme reluctance, but added that full membership would be debated and voted on at the next UEFA Congress, which was to take place in Dusseldorf in 2007. In between times, the Spanish FA and members of the country's diplomatic corps (the Spanish ambassador to Belgrade paying a courtesy call to the headquarters of the Serbian FA being one example of this, according to sections of the Gibraltarian media, such as The Chronicle) went on the offensive, urging fellow European footballing bodies to vote against GIbraltar's application.

At the Congress, felow applicants Montenegro were accepted unanimously into the organisation. Gibraltar, on the other hand, received just 3 votes in support of their application - from England, Scotland and Wales - whilst 43 member associations voted against , and 7 others abstained. Northern Ireland's governing body, the Irish FA, also voted against GIbraltar's inclusion in the UEFA family, presumably due to the fact that Northern Ireland's national team were in Spain's qualifying group for Euro 2008 at the time and the IFA didn't want to rock the boat. Whatever the reasons, the GFA were left out in the cold, and there they remain.

So, seeing that the IFA voted for Sepp Blatter's continuing presence at the top of the FIFA tree, and that Spain wouldn't leave FIFA to join a breakaway organisation, especially one which would, in all likelihood, contain Gibraltar, the FA would have to rely on support from the likes of Australia and the USA. Obtaining the support of the Americans is also unlikely due to the current goings-on in CONCACAF, especially as, if in the event that the suspended CONCACAF president Jack Walker would be forced to  permanently step down if the bribery allegations against him were proven to be true, Walker's vice-president, the dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker Chuck Blazer, would take over the reins. American support for a breakaway movement would then disappear like snow in the Sahara. Once the Americans would decide to remain in FIFA, the Australians would shrug their shoulders and follow suit.

No, support outside England for such a move would be, at best, minimal. The smaller countries would not leave FIFA because their votes are of equal value to those of the larger, more powerful footballing countries, and because of the grants recieved from the organisation and the chance to fill powerful positions within it. The larger countries would not leave FIFA because of the financial implications listed above, plus the prize money earned at any given World Cup Finals tournament and their power within the organisation.

England's position could be made untenable if they broke away from FIFA, especially if they then tried to re-apply for membership. FIFA - and UEFA - have the right to expel any country they wish. They also have the right to grant associate membership to those countries wishing to join the game's ruling body. This would mean having no vote at a FIFA Congress (ditto for UEFA), only being granted observer status.  The FA would therefore not have a say in world football, and club sides would not be able to compete in European competitions.

It would be a nightmare scenario for English football, and those involved in the game - fans, clubs, the FA and the media - would do well to remember that the era of "Splendid Isolation" came to an end at the beginning of the 20th century. For the FA to break away from FIFA now would be an act of folly, if not out and out lunacy. For all its faults, we are stuck with FIFA, and it would be better for the FA and the other disenchanted organisations to effect change from inside, not outside, the organisation, and it would be better for football if everyone outside the FA stopped talking about the FA leaving FIFA and instead joined the FA and its like-minded colleagues in doing something, in the words of the FIFA slogan, for the good of the game.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is one I made earlier, but, somehow, it was mislaid in the system, somewhere between drafting and posting. Well, it was lost, but now it has been found; better (five months) late than never. Hopefully, at least some of the article is still relevant.

1 comment:

  1. The caliber of collection that you are providing is but marvelous. Trusox Soccer