Oceania, Basil & All That

No prizes for guessing what this weeks topic is about. There is only one topic that matters in New Zealand footballing circles at the moment – FIFAs surprising but nonetheless predictable about face regarding Oceanias world cup spot.

What a shameful farce this issue has turned out to be. Not surprisingly, there are a number of suspects queuing up to apportion blame for this fiasco. Among them are of course Sepp Blatter, who has blamed New Zealands Confederations Cup performance coupled with the current chaos within Soccer Australia, as reasons to withdraw the spot. That’s the same Sepp Blatter who said that the decision to award Oceania a spot was “fair, just and well overdue”. And that was just 7 months ago. But 7 months is an awfully long time in football….as it is in politics.

However the blame for this fiasco rests solely with one person….OFC head Australian Basil Scarcella. Think back to 2001 and the vote for the 2006 world cup venue which ultimately led – unfairly – to the resignation of Charles Dempsey as OFC head. Scarcella wasted no time whatsoever in putting his name forward as successor. His credentials? Oh, he was once head of Soccer Australia – surely the most inept run federation in all of FIFA. Between then and December 2002 Scarcella was rarely heard of as he elected to run Oceania through anonymity rather than action.

However once Oceania was awarded the coveted spot, Scarcella was out in force taking all the praise and kudos. Praise which should have been directed at Dempsey since it was his brave politicking and abstention which ultimately led to the spot being awarded.

Whether we like it or not FIFA is run by politicians not footballers. From the day Oceania was awarded its direct spot there was always the probability that that spot would come under fire. The South American confederation complained immediately that four spots was not fair on them. And they are right. Africa 5 spots, Asia 4.5, South America 4? Ludicrously unfair. Even more so when one considers that at the last world cup Conmebol not only supplied the winners but also had 4.5 places!! They won the cup but their places decreased? Incredible. Immediately Conmebol put forward the proposal that the world cup be increased to 36 teams in order to rectify this anomaly.

Now, to a person with even a modicum of intelligence, a 36 team world cup is a rather stupid idea. Too many teams, too hard logistically to run. FIFA, to their credit, thought the same. But also to the average person, that proposal signified serious unrest in the camp of the second strongest confederation. And who were they most likely to next turn their guns at??? Well the weakest enemy I thought. And that’s Oceania. This they did quite simply, co-opting UEFA to support them. Africa, Asia & Concacaf, all worried about their own spots were quite happy to see Oceania lose theirs if the South Americans left them alone and so they all voted that way. That’s not fair but that’s politics.

And Basil? Well Basil had the temerity to suggest that he had no idea that the OFC spot was on the agenda. Eh? Dempsey knew. But Basil said that Dempsey couldn’t know. Dempsey knew because whatever else is said about Charles Dempsey one must admit he has been for Oceania a superb politician. He could see the threat coming. Rather like the rest of us I might add. A competent leader would have seen the battle coming and done something about it. A competent leader would have approached FIFA and tried to ensure that the Oceania spot was not under threat. A competent leader would have approached Conmebol and attempted to persuade them that an attack on Oceania’s spot was unjust. A competent leader would have traveled through Asia & Africa garnering support. A competent leader would have pointed out to federations like Europe how poor Asia’s world cup performances have been – coupled with the results of Oceania nations of late – remember Tynecastle & Upton Park? A competent leader would have shaken hands and done deals to ensure that Oceania had the necessary votes to retain its spot.

Basil Scarcella’s lack of political nous, his lack of foresight, his lack of intelligence has cost New Zealand the chance of appearing in Germany in 2006.

Basil Scarcella? Basil Brush is more competent than him.

Its time Mr Scarcella. Please go quietly and please go soon.


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