Oceania – FIFA’s great unwanted

March 30, 2011

So once again those corrupt FIFA delegates have failed Oceania.

At their latest champagne and caviar jaunt a month ago, they set about allocating the world cup spots for 2014. Predictably the assigned the same spots as they had for 2010 with the sole exception being the transfer of the host spot from Africa to South America.  Europe have 13 places, Africa have 5, Sth America 5½, Asia 4½, Nth & Central America 3½ and Oceania just ½ a spot. FIFA’s allocation of places seems to be completely random. It is not based on population. It is not based on past success. It is not based on present success…its a complete farce.

Frankly it is a disgrace and defies natural justice in so many different ways.

As a confederation with full status and rights, OFC should have at least one direct spot. The best team in every other confederation qualifies automatically so why not OFC? FIFA is being inconsistent. After all, OFC receives direct spots in ALL other FIFA Tournaments, so why not the main one? That old familiar line is trotted out….Oceania is by far the weakest confederation and doesn’t deserve a spot. So we are weaker at senior level than we are at junior or women’s levels?? I don’t think so. Oh but a direct place for Oceania effectively means a direct place for New Zealand. Funny that – that’s what they said about Australia and whilst it might well be true for now, it might not be that way for long. It used to be that a direct spot for Concacaf was a direct spot for Mexico….

So how do you deserve a spot, exactly? Success? Size? Competitiveness? History? And is Oceania really the weakest by far? Since Espana 82 the OFC winner has been given a ludicrous qualifying path playing off against top teams from Europe and Sth America. Finally in 2006 Australia made it after a play off against Uruguay. The reality is that many top European nations would find it tough playing Uruguay home and away to qualify, and whilst we would still expect the top half dozen UEFA teams to make it, they wouldn’t relish the task.  Australia went on to qualify for the last 16 – not bad for a team from such a weak confederation. In 2010, as we will all recall, New Zealand also made it and came home unbeaten – and only a hairs breadth away from a place in the last 16. We were given an astonishingly bad deal from referees – we conceded two goals and both should have been ruled out…we were denied blatant penalties and still we were unbeaten. Is there no reward for successive good performances from OFC countries?

And how does Oceania compare to the other confederations?

In 2010 only 1 out of 6 African nations made the second round in their HOME continent yet they retain 5 direct spots????Only 6 European nations out of 13 – less than half! –  made the second round yet they retain 13 spots???? All 5 South American countries made the 2nd round and 4 of those made the quarters yet the only additional place they get is the hosts?? It would seem then that there is no correlation between success or ability and direct qualifying spots.

It is a joke.

Would the world cup as a spectacle be any the less because Oceania had 1 direct qualifier and Europe 12 ½? No it would not.

Does the 4th qualifier from Asia really justify a spot more than the winner of Oceania? Compare North Korea v New Zealand in 2010. 7-0 they lost…to Portugal, compare Saudi Arabia in 2002…8-0 they lost to Germany. New Zealand didn’t lose a match.

Does the 3rd team from Concacaf justify a spot more than the winner of Oceania? Honduras….who did okay….. but would it make a difference  really if it was Oceania that was given the direct place?

The world cup is not for the BEST 32 teams in the world. (Perhaps it should be!) The world cup is for the best teams from around the world……everywhere that is except Oceania.

And there was another sting in the tail too…..not only does Oceania only get half a spot, but the winner will go into a draw to determine which other confederation they play against….so there’s a 33% chance that we will play a South American team… Oh well…at least it won’t be Brazil.

Advertisements

FIFA Selecting Hosts

August 26, 2010

Its only seven weeks since Spain won the 2010 World Cup but soon the spotlight will fall on the 2018 & 2022 tournaments. In a little over three months, the FIFA Executive Committee will announce who the successful bidders will be for both those tournaments, thus ending a bidding process which had its first deadline way back in February 2009.

As usual where FIFA, and in particular Sepp Blatter, are concerned there is an illogical process involved – in this case, why the decisions are being made at this time. The 2018 world cup will be held about seven and a half years after the announcement of the host. This is consistent with previous announcements – Brazil were announced as 2014 hosts in October 2007 and South Africa were confirmed as 2010 hosts in May 2004 – but the 2022 world cup will be held almost twelve years after the winning bid is selected!! 

Quite why FIFA need twelve years for 2022 isn’t clear. In fact, as the first deadline was in 2009 it is actually a 13 year advance notice – almost twice as long as normal and almost twice as long as is generally required elsewhere. Twelve years is a very long time in the life of any country. Governments change, economies rise & fall, even the heads of the local FA’s will have changed a couple of times in that period. Technology will progress in areas we haven’t even thought of yet.

Clearly in order to adequately prepare the country, to improve and/or build the required stadia and build or create the necessary infrastructure to cope with the expected volume of supporters, any host needs a reasonable preparation time. Seven years it seems would be about the norm, and the IOC have a similar time span for the Olympic Games. Even the IRB announced the 2011 RWC hosts in 2005, six years ahead of the event.

The decision to announce hosts for both tournaments was taken at the FIFA Congress in Sydney in 2008. When asked to justify the decision, Blatters reply was “If we can offer two competitions for eight years to our partners and broadcasters and give extra time for planning, the economic result for FIFA will be better.”  So its not about preparation, its about money? Are the financial rewards not lucrative enough for FIFA – and the host nation – with seven years notice? Admittedly, having been in South Africa for this years cup, an extra couple of years to get the infrastructure right would have been advantageous! The Gautrain, for example, linking Pretoria with Johannesburg was originally supposed to be ready for the World Cup but now won’t be completed fully until 2012!!! Similarly the rail line into Soccer City was one single track – hardly enough to move in excess of 80 000 fans.

Back in 2009 there were 11 hosting bids registered with FIFA but since then two have been withdrawn. A UEFA member is favourite to host 2018, as by then it will be 12 years since a world cup was held on the continent. The three favourites for that event are England, Russia and the joint Iberian bid from Spain & Portugal.  Given that after 2002 Blatter made public his desire not to have any more “jointly hosted” cups it would seem to come down to England or Russia. 2022 is not so clear cut. If we exclude the UEFA countries, we are left with Australia, Japan, United States & Qatar. Its unlikely that Japan will win the rights, as they were hosts back in 2002 so that narrows the field to just three.

           

Though Australia are telling everyone how confident they are, the fact remains that the most successful world cup to date was held in the USA in 1994. Further, kick off times in the States are more conducive to the valuable European tv audience than kick off times would be in Australia. On the local front the signings of Beckham & Henry by MLS teams have raised the profile of the sport in that country and its hard to see FIFA missing the opportunity to really give the sport a major boost. Not to mention the extra finance of course…. Finance too will be Qatar’s major selling point but it would be a major surprise if a nation so small and with no world cup history were to win the bid. If a country of 50 million population cannot fill stadiums in 2010 then what chance has a country with less than two million? United States then will be the favourites.

Its highly unlikely that they will need twelve years to get ready.


The Man in the Middle!!!

July 17, 2010

17 July 2010

So another world cup has come and gone and with it the usual array of talking points, golden moments and controversy. Without doubt though, the over riding memory of the tournament – apart from the performances of the All Whites – is the substandard level of refereeing and the associated controversies.

Howard Webb’s appalling performance in the final summed up a litany of poor performances by fellow whistlers from around the globe. Webb seemed intent on ensuring that the game ended with eleven players on each side, however hard some players tried to be sent off. Hettinge became Webbs first red card of the tournament in the 109th minute, but by then the final had been ruined. Strange that prior to the final Webb went on record as saying he wanted the final to be remembered for the football not the officiating! The result of course was instead of the final being an exhibition of Spain’s quality possession football and Netherlands ability to counter attack swiftly, we were presented with a stop start game full of late tackles and blatant attempts to injure opponents. It appeared that Netherlands knew they were no match for the Spanish and decided to stop them winning by any means possible. How different it might have been, had Webb sent off Van Bommel early on or De Jong for that atrocious foul on Xavi Alonso. As the match wore on it appeared that Van Bommel had free reign to kick any Spaniard at will with no repercussion. His late challenge on Iniesta resulted in the normally placid Spaniard retaliating – fortunately Iniesta had the last laugh, scoring the goal that won the cup.

 

But Webb was not alone. Throughout the tournament there were many decisions which left fans and players speechless and materially affected the outcome of games. Where would New Zealand have finished had Robert Vittek’s goal been rightfully disallowed, or Daniele De Rossi’s dive been punished with a yellow card instead of a penalty? What would have happened in the second half in Bloemfontein had Frank Lampard’s goal been given? I had the good fortune to be at the wonderful Soccer City to watch the Mexicans taking on Argentina and find themselves go behind to a Carlos Tevez goal which was so startlingly obviously offside that we were shocked that it wasn’t disallowed.

Football everywhere is littered with close decisions, many which look surprisingly different when viewed on replay or from a different angle. The examples above though, need no replays. Each and every one of them was clear to the naked eye, yet was missed by the officials. In this column earlier this year I criticised FIFA for dismissing, without discussion, the argument for using video technology. If there is one good thing to come out of the world cup refereeing levels, it is that it appears that technology may well be back on the FIFA agenda. Following the England & Mexico incidents Sepp Blatter said “It is obvious that after the experiences so far at this World Cup it would be a nonsense not to re-open the file on goal-line technology” I’d suggest it was a nonsense to have closed it in the first place.

Sepp Blatter though continues to offend. He went on….“The only thing I can do is yesterday I have spoken to the two federations (England and Mexico) directly concerned by referees mistakes.”

I wonder if he apologised to NZ Football for the mistakes against New Zealand? Somehow I doubt it. There are rules for some and rules for others. The rules are different if you are a big nation with a strong standing in the sport, as opposed to a minnow from Oceania. Who cares if an Oceania nation is on the bad end of a shocking refereeing decision? Now a self proclaimed giant like England????  We can’t have that can we?


An Australian World Cup?

January 7, 2009

So the FFA – Football Federation Australia – have, with federal government support, thrown their hat in the ring and expressed a firm intention to bid for the right to hold the World Cup in 2018.

What astonishing naivety!

With the next world cup being held in South Africa and 2014 scheduled for Brazil, its almost guaranteed that 2018 will be in Europe. Its incomprehensible that we could have 3 consecutive world cups not hosted in Europe. To this end FIFA have also declared bids from England, Russia & joint bids from Spain & Portugal and another joint bid from the Benelux countries.

It seems obvious to me that having not hosted the tournament since 1966 – 52 years past by the time 2018 comes around – England aren’t just favourites to win the bid but are almost guaranteed the win. Particularly as they were narrow losers in the bidding race with Germany for 2006.

So the FFA come up against England and fancy their chances!!! Its laughable.

But lets play their game and pretend they have a chance to win the bid. Can Australia actually host the world cup?

Australia is a great country with many great qualities. Tourism in Australia prospers and the country has many attractions. It’s diversity from the golden sands of the Whitsundays and the Gold Coast to the rainforests of Kakadu and the pure awe of Uluru makes the country a haven for tourists and a wonderful place to visit. Even better is the exchange rate which is very favourable to visitors from Europe!

But for football – and specifically the greatest sporting show on earth – Australia is sadly lacking. Yes we all recall the success of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 but those events were mainly hosted in one city, not the whole country.

To my mind there are two significant hurdles which will prevent Australia from hosting the world cup and they are linked.

Stadiums. Put simply, in order to host a 32 team world cup Australia will have to build or significantly adapt up to 10 stadiums. In Germany 2006, 12 stadiums were used which all met FIFA’s minimum capacity of 40,000. Presently there are only two rectangular stadiums which meet this mark (Lang Park Brisbane & Sydney Football Stadium) and two more stadiums which can be adapted (Telstra Dome, Melbourne & Sydney Olympic Stadium). A new stadium is planned for Subiaco in Western Australia which can  also be adapted to be rectangular and that will hold 60,000.

There are some great stadiums in Australia. The MCG is superb. It’s world class. But as a ground for watching football it’s a disaster. Capacity of 100 000 but no one gets within 70 metres of the football ground. Watching football at the MCG on tv is like watching park football. You can hear the players calling for the ball and crowd noise is minimal – you cant see the crowd because the cameras don’t pan out far enough to include them! Part of football is the crowd involvement – the roars of the fans throughout and indeed the movement up and down with each goal. Not at the MCG. The same can be said for the other major grounds in Australia – The SCG, the Adelaide Oval & the Gabba in Brisbane. And lets not forget that the centre of all those grounds has an area fully developed and laid for cricket. Try playing football on that! Even if we include these 4 grounds as potential venues, Australia would still have to build another 3-4 brand new stadiums and where might they be and what possible use could they be after the cup concludes? The population of Australia doesn’t actually have a need for four more rectangular stadiums.

But just supposing FIFA ignores the oval nature of the grounds and accepts them as fit for football, how will the grounds be come available? This brings me to my second point, the Australian sporting landscape is not conducive to hosting a world cup.

The world cup is held over a four week period in June and/or July. That’s right in the middle of the Australian winter and hence the various football codes seasons. Each and every one of the 9 stadiums I have mentioned above is used every week throughout those months for major sporting fixtures. Do we really think that the AFL are going to be prepared to assign their grounds over to “soccer” for 6 or 7 weeks (including preparations? Are they going to interrupt their season to let football take precedence? For up to seven weeks??? Not likely, and to believe otherwise would suggest a lack of understanding of Australian sporting culture.

The AFL rule Australian sport. The sporting public are completely besotted with AFL and the sport dominates the media in every way shape and form. The success of the A-league and the growth in junior football is seen as a threat to AFL and there is no conceivable way that they would even consider stepping aside for football even for a massive world event. Could the government tell them to? Hmmmm I doubt it. And even if it did happen, then the AFL season would stretch into late November  a time when those very same grounds are used for cricket. So you take the grounds for one reason and throw every other sport out for a year? No way.

Admittedly it will be easier to obtain the usage of grounds used for rugby league. After all, no one cares about rugby league (except Kiwis now!) and no one goes to watch it. It wouldn’t be missed!

So whilst thoughts of a world cup closer to home is great in theory…it just ain’t going to happen.

Major Australian Grounds

(Sydney 3, Melbourne 2, Brisbane 2, Perth 1)

Melbourne Cricket Ground (oval) 100,000

Sydney Olympic Stadium (oval, can be adapted) 83,500

Subiaco Oval (WA) (can be adapted) 60,000 (proposed)

Telstra Dome, Melbourne (oval, can be adapted but has never been yet) 56,000

Lang Park, Brisbane (ideal!) 52,500

Sydney Cricket Ground (oval) 48,000

Sydney Football Stadium (ideal!) 45,500

The ‘Gabba, Brisbane (oval) 42,000

Adelaide Oval (too small) 33,600

New Melbourne Football Stadium (rectangular, under construction, too small) 31,500

Parramatta stadium (rectangular, too small) 21,000

Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide (rectangular but too small) 17000


Britain and Olympic Football

August 30, 2008

 

 

So the games of the XXIXth Olympiad have finished at last and we can now get back to concentrating on football……but it seems that over the next four years Olympic football will be very much in the news.

The reason is that the selection of London for the next games gives rise to the possibility of a Great Britain team playing in the football tournament. It won’t be the first time that a team representing Great Britain participated at the Olympics of course – GB won the gold medal in 1908 & 1912 when represented by the English amateur team. They also won gold in 1900 when represented by Upton Park FC. (no NOT West Ham!!!) In fact Great Britain have been represented at the Olympic football tournament 8 times, the last time being in 1960. At the London games of 1948 they finished fourth – their goalkeeper a young Ronnie Simpson who went on to win the European Cup with Celtic nearly 20 years later.

But the British participation has become something of a controversial issue. Presently GB don’t have the opportunity to qualify because UEFA uses the Under 21 European Championship for its qualifiers – a tournament that the home nations enter individually, and it is that individual nation status that is causing the problems. Scotland particularly have registered their opposition. They firmly believe that taking part in a united British team is the thin end of the wedge in losing their independent country status.

They have good reason to be worried. Sepp Blatter – yes him again (sigh…) – said in 2005 “We have confirmed in writing that they have to provide a Great Britain team for the 2012 Olympics, but the four British associations will not lose the rights and privileges acquired back in 1947.”

Sounds good…but then in March this year the same Sepp Blatter suggested… “They should enter only a team composed of players from England, this will then not provoke a long and endless discussion of the four British associations.” Once again the head of FIFA showing his incompetence and his indecision. Is it any wonder the Scots are worried? Why “England” after all? Why didn’t he say Wales or Scotland? Mr Blatters perception is that “Britain” and “England” are the same thing. Perception though is not fact.

Theres no doubt that the individual status of each of the home countries is precarious. Then British Home Secretary Jack Straw has already put forward the idea that the home nations should play as one in all competitions. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last. Former sports minister Tony Banks said the same thing. Both of course are Englishmen. You don’t seem to hear of many Welsh or Scots folk embracing the idea. That’s because they still cling to their national identity.  One Scot who does like the idea is Walter Smith the Rangers manager. But then given that Rangers fans are known for waving the union flag and proudly singing British anthems such as God Save the Queen & Rule Britannia at matches, its hardly surprising that he is in favour – toe the party line and all that.

Mr Blatter would do well to remember that FIFA’s own statutes acknowledge Britain as four separate countries. Not as one.

 


Charlie Dempsey

August 16, 2008

Charlie Dempsey’s passing last June marked the end of the most significant era in New Zealand and Oceania football.

Loved by some and yet loathed by others, Dempsey was always willing to stand up for what he believed in and wasn’t scared to make the hard decisions. He is of course, mostly remembered for the fiasco surrounding the awarding of the 2006 world cup to Germany. Though he was widely criticized in the media for his stance at the time, there is no doubt that his non-voting was beneficial to the region he represented, Oceania. The result of course that Oceania was given a direct place at the world cup, a place lost following Dempseys retirement.

Interesting too that in the years following that controversy, Dempsey was awarded the FIFA Order of Merit by Sepp Blatter. Hardly the actions of a President or council who disapproved of the actions of one of its members.

Oceania though wasn’t Dempseys brainchild. It eventuated from a meeting between the heads of the ASF (Jim Bayutti) & the NZFA (Syd Guppy) in 1964 – a result of Australia and New Zealand being told that they weren’t welcome in Asia. Dempsey was approached to work on behalf of the NZFA from the start, to ensure that Oceania was up and running in time for the 1966 FIFA congress. Whilst the Australians – as is their whim – have been in and out of Oceania & Asia in line with their “grass is greener over there” approach to the sport, New Zealand under Dempsey always remained firmly committed to the confederation. It is not widely recognized but New Zealand remain Oceanias one and only world cup finals representative. In 1974 & 2006 Australia were in fact members of Asia when they played in the finals, though they did qualify through Oceania in 2006.

Whilst gaining that direct spot was probably Dempseys greatest victory, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was also instrumental in the formation of the national league in 1970. A national league long before the hapless Australians were able to come up with the concept – and long before the NPC was ever considered. Truly then, Dempsey showed himself to be a leader ahead of the pack. Who can forget the halcyon days of Mount Wellington, Christchurch Utd & WDU of the early 70s? The formation of that national league was also a driver towards our ultimate qualification for the world cup in 1982.

New Zealand & Oceania football grew far, far more in Dempseys years in charge that at any other time. It is hard to imagine that another Kiwi administrator could ever graduate to the level that he reached or be as well respected in the game, worldwide, as he was.

Our game has much to thank him for.


Sepp Blatter – The Peter Principle at work

July 20, 2008

I wonder if there is a finer example in the world today of the Peter Principle than FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter?

The Peter Principle of course is the theory that in the work place an employee will rise to his ultimate level of incompetence. Blatter has surely achieved that at FIFA! He started off as Technical Director before progressing to General Secretary and then onto President where he currently remains.

His period as President – ten years now – has seen a catalogue of turnarounds and about faces as he attempts to tinker with the Beautiful Game. Last week though he reached a low point, even for him. Commenting on Christiano Ronaldo’s protracted transfer saga Herr Blatter stated “I’m always in favour to protect the player and if the player wants to leave, let him leave”. Astonishing.

Firstly, what right does he have to comment publicly on Manchester United’s internal affairs? Even as head of FIFA those affairs have nothing to do with him – none of his business whatsoever!

Secondly, this is the head of the game, the biggest sports organisation on the planet, actively encouraging players to break contracts! What kind of anarchy do we have in the game when players are able to break contracts at the drop of a hat? Ronaldo of course signed a FIVE year contract at United in April 2007.

Of course the Ronaldo transfer debacle has clearly clouded Blatters memory. Back in February this year he criticised the Court for Arbitration in Sport for finding in favour of Andy Webster who broke his contract with Hearts to join Wigan in 2006. Blatters comment then was “This decision is damaging for football and a victory for players who toy with rescinding contracts before they have been fulfilled.” So we put the two cases together and what do we have? The FIFA President encouraging Ronaldo to do something that is damaging for football! The Peter Principle at work! Or maybe Blatter favours one set of rules for star players and other rules for the not so famous…..

And its not his first about face on an issue. Remember back in 2000 when Blatter told us “Oceania will have direct qualification for the 2006 world cup” We are still waiting……

Then he caused scandal in half of South America by stating that no world cup match should be played above 2500 metres above sea level because such altitudes are risky for a players health. It’s a shame there are no medical studies backing up that claim! His arbitrary 2500m was later altered to 3000m, yet Blatter has done nothing about conditions at grounds at sea level where players such as Phil O’Donnell, Marc-Vivien Foe & Miklos Feher have died in recent years!

Blatter also felt the ire of womens football officials when he rather chauvinistically came out with the suggestion that women should wear tighter shorts……..

To think that in 2007 he was re-elected unopposed………