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Sunday, July 10, 2011


Strange goings-on in one small corner of Central America abound, it seems. The Football Federation of Belize, originally suspended last month by FIFA, have had their suspension provisionally lifted, but only until 15/8/11. It is a long and winding story, but it means that the country's players will now be able to play the long-delayed second-leg of their 2014 World Cup Preliminary Round qualifier against Montserrat, though at a location, time and date still to be determined. 

It was all smiles for those involved with Belizean football in mid-June, when the  CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2014 World Cup kicked off in the small village of Couva in Trinidad and Tobago on 15/6/11, with a 5:2 away win for Belize against the nominal home side, Montserrat. (The game was recently featured on this blog.)

However, on 17/6/11, two days after the game against Montserrat (and two days before the second-leg was due to take place in Belmopan), the country's footballing fraternity was thrown into complete disarray following FIFA's suspension of the FFB due to "severe governmental interference" in the running of football in the Central American country. and the FIFA press-release confirming this contained the following:

"The FIFA Emergency Committee decided today, 17 June 2011, to suspend the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) with immediate effect on account of severe governmental interference. The suspension means that the return leg of the qualifying tie for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, due to be played in Belize on 19 June between the home team and Montserrat, has been postponed..

"On 8 June, the government of Belize, through the Ministry of Sports, informed the FFB that it was “not authorized to represent this Country in any local or international competition or in any other forum for football on behalf of the Government, People and Nation of Belize”, since it had “failed to meet the requirements for registration with the Council, as the National body for the administration of football in Belize”, according to the Ministry.

"Two days later, FIFA wrote to the FFB to inform them that this was a clear case of governmental interference and gave the FFB until 30 June to settle the dispute or be referred to the FIFA Emergency Committee for suspension due to a violation of the FIFA Statutes. However, the Belize government wrote to FIFA on 16 June saying the Belize police would “not be providing any services to the Federation with respect to the security of the visiting team and officials at the match” to be played on 19 June.

"Under these circumstances, and due to the interference of the government of Belize, FIFA cannot take the responsibility of letting the match take place. The match has therefore been postponed to a new date to be confirmed, but no later than 10 July 2011, provided that the situation is back to normal regarding the FFB and the suspension has been lifted by that date. In the event that the match cannot take place by that date, the national “A” team of Belize will be excluded from the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ preliminary competition.

"The suspension will be in place until the Belize government reverses its decision. Any action taken by the government against the office-bearers of the FFB will not be recognised by FIFA."
It was hardly the welcome home that the Belize squad had hoped for; they were in mid-air when the news of the national association's suspension broke. For some time before the game, there had been considerable discord between the FFB and the Belizean government, which did not recognise the authority of the local association.

For example, the government claimed that the FFB was not being democratically-run (now where have we - in relation to football - heard that before? Sepp?), that the association had ignored its own statutes by using a show of hands as a voting mechanism instead of a secret ballot, and that opponents of the FFB president, Bertie Chimilio, were being excluded from running for office within the organisation.
The FFB, the Belizean government alleged, had not met the criteria set down in law under the Sports Act of Belize which required that the FFB register themselves with the local National Sports Council, and found itself de-certified following a statement issued on 8/6/11 on behalf of Belize's Minister of Sports (and many more besides), John Saldivar, which alleged that the FFB had not supplied the NSC with the required documentation, and details of the association's finances.

According to local newspaper Amandala, Sections 19 and 20 of Belize's Sports Act formed the basis of the NSC's decision regarding the FFB's de-certification. The following paragraphs constitute the aforementioned Sections of Belize's Sports Act, Chapter 46 (Revised Edition, 2000):
"19.-(1) Subject to approval of its constitution by the Council, any organisation may apply for registration as a sporting organisation.
(2) The Council shall maintain a register wherein shall be entered the names and addresses of all registered sporting organisations and their office-holders for each year.
(3) Every registered sporting organisation shall in the month of January in each year submit a list of the names and addresses of its office-bearers to the Council.
(4) A sports organisation that has not been duly registered shall not be entitled to any of the privileges (including use of equipment and facilities), concessions or exemptions granted to a registered sporting organisation and shall not be eligible to participate in any competitions or functions held under the auspices
of the Council.
20.-(1) The Minister may make regulations for the purpose of carrying out or giving effect to the principles and provisions of this Act.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the powers conferred by subsection (1) the Minister may make regulations in respect of all or any of the following matters-
any matter required by this Act to be prescribed or in respect of which regulations are authorised by this Act to be made;
the registration by the National Sports Council of sporting organisations in Belize;
the procedure to be followed in any appeal against the decisions or actions of a sports committee or the Council and the scale of fees and costs in respect thereof;
supervision of the standards adopted by registered sporting organisations in the appointment of coaches, referees, umpires and judges;
the books to be maintained by sporting organisations in respect of moneys received and expended by them;
the participation in sports either in Belize or abroad of individual participants or teams of players purporting to represent Belize;
the selection of national sports teams to represent Belize; and
the quorum for meetings of the Council and the sports committees.
(3) All regulations made under this section shall be subject to negative resolution.
(4) Regulations under paragraphs (d), (f) and (g) of subsection (2) shall be made in consultation with the registered sporting organisations and shall not conflict with recognised international rules and practices relating to any particular sport or to sport in general."

Apparently, the FFB had regularly updated its constitution, but had not sent a copy of the (updated) document to the NSC since 2006; under local law, documentation must be supplied annually to the NCS. However, the FFB, through their legal representative, Elson Kaseke, claimed that they did not send details of their finances as they receive no government funding, and this was therefore not required under national law. He added that the NCS had also requested a copy of the minutes from the FFB's last general meeting.

According to the above excerpt from the Sports Act (2000), there is no mention of an exemption to disclosing details of an association's finances if said organisation receives no funding from the Belizean government. An updated copy of the FFB statutes, meanwhile, was finally delivered to the NSC only at the beginning of this month.

(The FFB were not the only sports organisation targeted by the Ministry; the NSC also informed the country's boxing, darts, domino, judo and tumblers' governing bodies that they were no longer recognised as being the national associations. The Belize Tumblers' Association, for the uninitiated, represents those resident in the country who are acrobatically-inclined.)

Saldivar's statement contradicted claims by the FFB's representative Alex Palacio who, when interviewed by local TV station CTV3, said that the FFB had originally registered themselves with the NSC on Holy Thursday, and went on to say that they had repeated the process on 1/6/11 after a request by the NSC's Acting Director, Patrick Henry, for more information. The next day, on 9/6/11, Henry issued a letter to the FFB which stated that they were no longer recognised as Belize's national footballing governing body.

FIFA tolerates no governmental interference in the organisation and day-to-day running of any of its 208 member associations, and has scarce done so for many a year. Bosnia and Herzegovina, for one, had been suspended earlier this year when the nation's government got involved in attempting to sort out problems relating to the local federation's policy of rotating its presidency between the Bosnian, Croat and Serb ethnic groups. FIFA were rather miffed, and suspended the Bosnian FA while banning all of the country's national and club sides from playing in UEFA/FIFA-sanctioned competitions. The ban was lifted at the beginning of June.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said this, according to a report carried by the local Channel 5 television station) on a visit to Belize in April when asked about the row between the government and the FFB:

"Let football [be] in peace. Let football work according to the statutes of football and these [are] statutes according to statutes of the international federation. We need the support of the government but the government should not and never interfere in the organization of our game and especially not in the statutes."

The then CONCACAF president, Jack Walker, was also due to visit Belize but had to call off at the last minute. Walker and Chimilio are (were?) apparently the best of friends, and one has relied on the other to remain in their position of power. Now that Walker has gone, the Belizean media have well and truly taken the gloves off and Chimilio is being hammered from all directions.

The question remains: did Chimilio, like the other delegates at the CFU congress in Trinidad in May, pocket US$40,000 which was handed over, allegedly donated for the good of football in Belize, by Walker and Mohamed Bin Hammam? And never mind that, why haven't FIFA applied to join the United Nations? After all, it allows no outside interference in its internal - and financial - affairs, and those of its members..

FIFA gave the FFB and the Belizean government until 30/6/11 to break the impasse, or the dispute would be arbitrated upon by the FIFA Emergency Committee. The deadline has passed and no progress has been made. It appears that the NCS will not view the FFB's submission until sometime this coming week.

Around the time of the Belizean government, whose Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, also met Blatter in April, de-certifying the FFB, a rival organisation, the NFAB (National Football Association of Belize) was being created in Belize City, with the organisation's first president, Michael Bleaze, and his executive elected by secret ballot, just as FIFA prefer it. "A new light in football will shine across Belize," Bleaze was reported as saying in Amandala.

In the midst of all of the brouhaha, a certain group of people have been left in the shadows - the Belize national team itself, an number of whom, if reports in the local media are to be believed, were refused transit visas to travel via Miami to Trinidad and Tobago for the Montserrat game as the FFB were no longer classified as the kings of Belize's footballing castle. It would have been a shame for the players involved in the first-leg victory against Montserrat if Belize were to be expelled from the competition, and for Deon Macauley in particular. Macauley became the first player representing Belize to score a hat-trick in international football when he netted his treble in Couva, and he faced the possiblilty of that feat being expunged from the record-books.

At least the game will now be played, though not in Belize, as FIFA put it in their press-statement released on Thursday past, "in order to avoid the risk of the Belizean authorities not providing security guarantees."

"The Emergency Committee has decided that, should the FFB not be able to definitively settle the issues at stake with the authorities by 15 August 2011, then the suspension of the FFB would be automatically reinstated," the statement concluded. In that case, the Belizean government and the FFB had better get their skates on and resolve the issue, which has long since reached the standard of a shambles and, for many Belizeans, a national embarrassment.

If not, the national side will be expelled from the World Cup before the CONCACAF second round group stage (should they beat Montserrat), which is to be held between 2/9/11 and 15/11/11. That is something which no right-thinking follower of football in Belize will wish to see, regardless of the name of the local football association or who is in charge of it.

1 comment:

  1. Politics, as ever........

    A very impressive blog, keep up the good work.