Legacy

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 19th 2015)

Sepp Blatter’s Final Act

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Which is the most powerful office in the world? The office of the President of the United States. Wrong. The most powerful office in the world is the office of the President of FIFA. Right. Why? Because football is the most popular sport in the world and money – vast amounts of it – talks.

The FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter has thrown his hat into the ring for the 2015 FIFA Presidential election again despite his assurances that last time would be his swansong.

The only reason Blatter would disregard the consequences of setting aside his public declaration made on the eve of the last elections that he would not run for the office again, and dare to seek the office one more time is because he is confident he will win it. The early declared competitor Jérôme Champagne – eased or forced out FIFA five years ago has fallen by the wayside.

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UEFA have grumbled put its President Michel Platini refused to mount a challenge. David Ginola was never a credible challenger, so Blaterʼs confidence was not misplaced. It is simply the reality of the situation on ground. However, new contenders emerged. The first to declare was Jordanian Executive Committee member Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, followed by the President of the Dutch Federation Michael van Praag. Portuguese legend Luis Figo joined the race late, but has credibility. Blatter however remains confident. He knows that he has big support in Asian and African federations.

Unloved

Blatter knows that he will win not because the rest of the world loves him so dearly, or considers him indispensable, but because he seats atop the most powerful office on planet earth and will use the awesome power of that office (which he understands very well) and of his incumbency to check-mate all other contenders. Remember how he saw off the challenge of Mohammed bin Hammam. Where is the Qatari now?

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Americans donʼt talk about Chuck Blazer now, but that wasnʼt always the case. Blazer brought down bin Hammam and with him former CONCACAF leader Jack Warner – all of which suited Blatter. Bin Hammam was disgraced and thrown out of FIFA. He won that appeal after the damage was done and was brought down on new charges. Blazer faced his own troubles as Warner got even with his former protégé. Warner had to go as well. Not even the corruption charges laid against FIFA could shift Blatter. Even the report of Michael Garcia was so purged that the author disowned it! Not even that had any effect on Blatter.

Transparency and Integrity

He had served his apprenticeship and inherited the crown – he will not abdicate – even if his predecessor João Havelange had to sever his ties to FIFA after being implicated in a bribery scandal. He escaped prosecution partly due to his age. The former head of the Brazilian Federation Ricardo Teixeira was forced out after investigations in Brazil proved sufficient for criminal charges to be laid – a huge story that somehow vanished with barely a whimper.

Blatterʼs Argentinian ally Julio Grondona died soon after the World Cup. The corrupt former head of CONMEBOL Nicolás Leoz resigned ostensibly on health grounds. He too was named in corruption inquiries. One by one allies fell, but Blatter emerged unscathed. Even knowing of Havelangeʼs dubious activities made little difference. 

The product of such thinking is that even in the face of global rejection of fascism and totalitarianism as an acceptable system of governance, the world can do nothing about FIFA. President Blatter, at almost 80 years of age, four times already as President, knows that under normal ‘temperature and pressure’ he should not be seeking another term in office. 

Yet, but for the few ‘pretenders’ that have joined rather grudgingly the race, the world would be looking on hopelessly and helplessly, frustrated by the rules of engagement crafted in FIFA through the decades.

FIFA which holds football in trust for the entire world should be promoting best global practices in the promotion of global peace, friendship, equity, democracy, integrity, fair play and transparency. But here we are with a powerful office that bestows upon its occupier the perks and powers reminiscent of the darkest days of dictatorships in the world.

A Tarnished Legacy

It was not always so with Blatter. Given that Blatter has surely done a great deal more than any human alive for football in his four decades long romance with football, he should be the champion of the deepening of the tradition of true democratic practice that ensures that no office in the world today should have an unlimited term. FIFA runs a no-term limit for the office of its President. That should go.

Even the Presidency of the most powerful nation on earth, for good reason through past experiences, has a two-term limit. Anything longer than two terms in any office will breed dictatorship. The situation in FIFA has become a canker-worm trickling downwards through all levels of global football administration.

Local Football Councils, State and National Football Associations and Federations, and even the Confederations are taking a cue from the practice in FIFA, and self-perpetuation in office now has become the norm and dominates the administrative football landscape. Take CAF for example.

Trickle-down

Issa Hayatou has been President for almost 30 years. The rules have been changed several times through the decades to accommodate his self-succession plots. The last one was a rule that only members of the Executive Committee could contest for the CAF presidency. These are all members loyal to him because he helped them all to get there.

As his present tenure draws to an end, there are reports of moves already seeking another term in office for him, even though the present constitution of CAF forbids anyone above the age of 70 from holding the office. Hayatou is now 68. Using the awesome power of the President, the goal-posts are to be shifted and the age limit restriction will be removed to enable him to contest again, despite even his poor health.

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At National Federations level, from country to country, particularly in the Third World, attempts at self-perpetuation in office have become photocopies of the FIFA model. That’s why there is crisis when election times come. This practice must be stopped. For now, only Sepp Blatter can do it.

The statutes of FIFA and all its Confederations and Federations must be amended before he leaves office, so that a two-term limit for the Presidency of FIFA, as well as all its affiliate Federation and Confederation members, is introduced. This should be the Sepp Blatter’s final act and the legacy that he bequeaths to football and the world.

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Sepp Blatter and Issa Hayatou exchange pennants.

Football Unite

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 1st 2015)

Segun at Wembley

My Only New Year Resolution

Welcome to 2015 and a happy New Year to all the readers of this column. The legendary soul singer, the late great Sam Cooke said it best: ʻA Change is Gonna Comeʼ. Actually a change has gotta come. As the world enters into 2015, I have set for myself one goal, a resolution of some sort – to join forces with whoever loves the game of football to stop Sepp Blatter from returning as President of FIFA when the next elections hold this year.

I just do not understand it. The sit-down syndrome in any organised setting is anathema to good governance, and is denounced globally for its penchant to turn even good leaders into power-drunk dictators. The history of the world is littered with the story of several of such political leaders. Their end usually is a sad story of abuse of power, corruption, internal strife and conflicts, controversy and the death of true democratic principles.

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Sepp Blatter must be stopped now

As the race for the Presidency of FIFA begins the worst news to come out of Zurich is that Mr Blatter has not only indicated he would be running again but that no one within the Executive Committee is actually challenging him despite the mountains of scandals and controversies that hang around the neck of the organization and now threaten the integrity of the greatest game in the world.

I do not intend to go into the details of the ugly scandals and charges that have rocked FIFA since Blatter became its President in 1998, and that have claimed several high profile victims within the football family through the years (Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hamman, Lennart Johansson, Farro Ado1, and so on). He has even claimed to be incorruptible.

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The mere fact that Blatter promised that he would not be standing for the Prseidency again after the 2011 elections makes his recent announcement very annoying. He is making a mockery of the rest of the world. The man’s word cannot be trusted. It is just ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing’.

The Old Guard

Sepp Blatter started his career in FIFA in 1975. That means that he has been part of the organization for 40 years. He has spent the last 16 as its President. By next year he will be 80 years old.

In a period in history when the world is preparing to send young men to the red planet, and planes that will cross the Atlantic in one hour are being designed, what is the new innovation this old-fashioned and old man is bringing to the world’s greatest sport?

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What did Blatter forget to do in the past 40 years that he has been part of the organization that he now wants to introduce at the twilight of his life? What is he afraid of in a new leadership? Or better still, what is he hiding from the world that he thinks will remain hidden forever? His predecessor – almost 100 years old – João Havelange was no stranger to accusations of corruption. He ran FIFA as his fiefdom. He was forced to resign his role as FIFAʼs Honorary President in 2013 because he had accepted bribes between 1992-2000 totalling £1m. Blatter was his protege.

Disheartening

Only Jérôme Champagne, a former General Secretary of FIFA, has summoned the courage to do what is obviously desirable and needed now for the advancement of world football – enter the race. Perhaps he can end the Sepp Blatter reign and usher in something new – something refreshing to take football to the next level.

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It is truly disheartening, shocking and disappointing that despite the numerous monumental scandals that have rocked the world body through the years, and the baggage of charges that Blatter has had to carry and parry with impunity, which presently and menacingly threaten the integrity of the game of football, the man still has the guts to eat his own words and announce to the world that he would be contesting the Presidency again.

The great tragedy is not that he wants to run, but that he might win again, whilst the rest of the world is watching and keeping silent. But how can this be?

What hold does Mr Blatter have over the other members of the Executive Committee of FIFA that makes them cower in the face of his arrogance? Recall how bin Hamman withdrew from the race in 2011 and was subsequently banned from football for life twice. Recall how Issa Hayatou, threatened by the IOC for allegations of corruption, bowed to pressure and withdrew also.

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History Repeats

In the 2011 elections Mr. Blatter was returned unopposed as President because there was no ‘clean’ person within the organization to challenge him. The same scenario appears to be is playing out again in 2015.

For example, why did Michel Platini, tipped by many after 2011 to be his likely successor, withdraw his candidacy from the race as soon as Blatter indicated interest to return? It is really shameful and unacceptable that the man under whose watch some of the most atrocious corruption charges have been levied remains uninvestigated and untouchable atop the organization.

Even the most recent controversy about the bribery allegations surrounding the 2022 World Cup and the Garcia report that was mangled to protect some interests within the organisation, are being swept under the carpet.

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Power Corrupts

Blatter has become too powerful for comfort. Until and unless he leaves FIFA and its activities will continue to remain shrouded in the murk of scandals. It is amazing that with the developments following Garcia’s report, protest and resignation, the FIFA President did not step aside to allow for an independent inquiry to protect the integrity of football and of FIFA.

Instead, he is contemptuously going ahead with his plans to perpetuate himself in power. Guilty of all these charges or not, Sepp Blatter has had his time, served football well but must now go. If he does not do so voluntarily and with dignity, he should be stopped by all means and all costs from contesting the 2015 elections, period. The world has had enough of the shenanigans.

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Meanwhile, the bad news is that he has kick-started his campaign. His foot soldiers are already knocking on the doors of the most vulnerable of his supporters, the impoverished army of African football federation presidents. They are, as usual, being tempted with offers of membership of committees and subcommittees to vote for him.

Africa Unite

Blatter helped bring the World Cup to Africa. For that he has our respect, but the love affair has turned sour. Despite his extreme age and that he was clearly ailing the continent’s greatest hero, Nelson Mandela was pressured to attend football events for Africaʼs World Cup. Following Madibaʼs passing Blatter delivered the final insult.

Let me remind Africa that this is the man that disrespected Mandela. One day after Mandela died in December 2013, during a FIFA event for the 2014 World Cup, Blatter rudely interrupted a one-minute silence called for Mandela after only 11 seconds. It was preposterous. So infuriated were some people that they vowed to do everything to stop him from returning as FIFA President should he dare to run again in 2015.

That time has come. All of Africa must rise up now and say no to Blatter. Since Sepp Blatter, has the audacity to seek to perpetuate himself in office, we the people also have the temerity to say no to another 4 years of his dictatorship. That’s precisely why Blatter must be stopped, now.

1 Ado was the Vice-President of the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) and President of the Somali Football Association at the time. He claimed that he had been offered $100,000 to vote for Blatter and that others had queued up to take their money.

When Cheating Prospered

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2014)

Outrageous

Tonight Joachim Löwʼs Germany must face another of the victims of the 1982 West Germany teamʼs win at all costs mentality. They beat Algeria in an entertaining and sportingly contested match – just. This afternoon they face Didier Deschampsʼ France in the first of Brasilʼs World Cupʼs quarter-final at Rio de Janeiroʼs Estádio do Maracaña – Estádio Journalista Mário Filho. Löw knows that yet another shameful injustice will loom large tonight.

Germanyʼs victory over Algeria – played in a sporting way – laid the Shame of Gijón of 1982 to rest. West Germany reached the final through disgraceful lack of sportsmanship – match-fixing in Algeriaʼs case and wanton thuggery in Franceʼs case. West Germany had fixed the result against Austria in the first round in order to ensure that both reached the second round at Algeriaʼs expense.

FIFA shamefully rejected Algeriaʼs complaint. Both teams made no effort as they swindled paying fans and football to secure the disgraceful result. Both should have been sent home in disgrace and banned for at least the next tournament, which West Germany also lost in the final. If FIFA had had the morals or courage to do the right thing then one of the sportʼs most disgraceful so-called challenges would not have occurred.

Schumacherʼs Assault

On July 8th 1982 France and West Germany met in the semi-final of the World Cup at Sevillaʼs Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pijuán. It proved to be one of the most infamous matches in the history of the World Cup Finals thanks to the vile cheating of West German goal-keeper Harald Schumacher. Dutch referee Charles Corver and his linesmen Bruno Galler and Robert Valentine missed one of the most blatant and outrageous fouls ever seen on a football pitch – one that broke not only the rules of the game, but of France too.

Schumacherʼs shoulder charge left Patrick Battiston unconscious. He had only been on the pitch seven minutes and French manager Michel Hidalgo had to bring on his last substitute. Corver claims that he was watching the ball and did not see the foul. If he missed that he had no business refereeing and even if he failed to see it – a disgrace of a challenge – what about the linesmen?

Battiston was stretchered off with current UEFA President Michel Platini accompanying the stretcher off the pitch trying to comfort Battiston.

Karma

Not only was Battiston knocked unconscious he lost teeth and had vertebrae damaged. He still carries the scars, but Battiston generously forgave Schumacher. He still believes that Schumacher did not do it on purpose – he was just incredibly pumped up. Battiston was not impressed with Schumacherʼs comment that heʼd pay for Battistonʼs crowns.

Schumacher was not punished at all for the horror-challenge. Corver gave the French nothing – not even a free-kick., let alone the red card that disgraceful assault deserved. Schumacher may not have intended to injure Battiston, but he did. It was nowhere near a fair challenge, or a mistimed one.

Battistonʼs outrage is reserved for his country. He believes that Corverʼs refereeing favoured West Germany. Two years later France hosted Euro1984. West Germany were defending champions. They failed to reach the knock-out stages. France, including Battiston, went on to win their first major trophy.

 

Own Goals – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2012 and modified on May 27th 2014))

UEFA Back Goal-line Assistant Referees

The President of UEFA scored some own goals at this afternoon’s press conference. Michel Platini launched a vigorous attack on technology, believing that it does not help and asking why the debate is limited to just goal-line technology and not for other decisions – a very fair point. However, Platini has no truck with technology at all, although he has no problem with extra officials.

UEFA’s General Secretary Gianni Infantino revealed that UEFA had received former referee Pierluigi Collina’s findings on the experiments with extra assistants. Collina had studied 1000 matches and concluded that the extra officials on the goal-line had reduced errors to just one – the match between Ukraine and England, which was played at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

UEFA unanimously accepted Collina’s findings and will urge FIFA and the IFA (International Football Association) to adopt the policy, but both Platini and Collina remain opposed to the use of technology. UEFA argued that the extra assistants improved behaviour in the penalty area. Even if that is true, what about behaviour on the rest of the pitch? Has that improved too as a result of the extra officials and if not, how does UEFA propose to achieve this?

Crazy Idea

There was further controversy. “It’s just an idea”, Platini repeatedly said, but it was one that he insisted had some support. Platini thinks that Euro 2020 could be hosted in several countries – up to twelve. Travel – budget airlines or not – will be prohibitive for fans and some media too. It will also take up time to get between the host cities – more a media point, but the cost for fans, especially, will be high too if they wish to see a few teams play.

Multiplying the host countries will cause all sorts of logistical problems and much more besides. It will be a linguistic nightmare too. Co-hosting causes difficulties in covering both matches and pre-match or post-match training. Choices have to be made, or teams of reporters have to be larger, which may not be an option for various media in the current economic climate.

One of the major complaints about Ukraine has been the absurd accommodation prices. UEFA complained about this, but some prices still remain prohibitive. It was also an issue in Austria four years ago, leading to a collapse in prices when the accommodation was not booked at the high prices.

Such problems apply in Ukraine, which is a pity as by and large the Ukrainian people I met – and I met quite a few in my short stay in the country – are lovely and friendly people who should not be judged by a few greedy and unhelpful people. Multiplying the host countries will multiply such problems, as there will be no opportunity to develop a tourism strategy or spread the sporting development plan.

Plain Wrong

But back to technology. UEFA decided to recommend that FIFA and IFA adopt the additional referees on the goal-line, claiming that it has been very successful in a 1000 with only one high profile error – the goal that never was for Ukraine. Despite Platini’s views, there are clearly issues where technology would help – even something as basic replays.

Check the footage and you will see that there is no do doubt that a serious error was made – one that a replay or review could have put right. The technology exists to improve decisions to correct glaring errors. The officials are human. Even the best of them will make mistakes, sometimes glaring ones. Surely if the correct decision can be made by using technology, that should happen. Cricket allows reviews and uses technology in the Decision Review System (DRS). Why doesn’t football?

Affecting Results

Ukraine’s goal that was not given involved another wrong decision. There was also an error in the build up to that goal, which had benefited Ukraine. This was a case of two errors – one for either side. Does two wrong decisions now amount to one right decision? But regardless of that there were errors in other matches, which were important ones.

At least two serious errors would have been caught before they had serious consequences if the use of basic technology had been allowed. Nevertheless, Platini claimed that there were no refereeing errors that affected the outcome of a match. This is wrong.

One is the yellow card given by Jonas Eriksson to Giorgos Karagounis for diving in the match against Russia in Warsaw. The replays showed that there had been contact between defender Sergei Ignashevich and Karagounis, who went down in the box. Not only was it not a dive, but referee should have given a penalty. At the very least, there was significant doubt about whether Karagounis had dived. If there was contact and there was, how could it be a dive? It affected the outcome of a match – the next one.

Karagounis was the Man of the Match against Russia, but that card ruled him out of the quarter final. Karagounis was certainly an influential player for Greece. His goal won the match and sent Greece into the knock-out stages. How can it not have affected the outcome of the following match when one of Greece’s best players was wrongly ruled out of the quarter final?

It affected Greece’s game plan. They were given no choice but to play a completely different plan to the one they would have used if Karagounis had been available to play as he should have been. In his absence, Greece lost 4-2 to Germany at the Arena Gdansk (Poland). They never had the opportunity to see if he would have made the difference and the referee Eriksson was retained for the knock-out stages despite that error.

The other error was glaring and Greece were victimised by that one too. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo has a habit of sending people off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Poland’s Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before that he received a yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”!

Impact of Errors

The match ended a 1-1 draw. Lewandowski had put Poland ahead after 17 minutes. Substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised after 51 minutes. A crucial incident occurred on 68 minutes. Poland’s goalkeeper Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny was rightly sent off for a professional foul on Salpingidis. Replacement goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved Karagounis’ penalty.

Had the correct decisions been made Greece would not have had Papastathopoulos sent off. Then they would not have had to play 48 minutes plus added time in both halves with ten men and would or at least could if Velasco Carballo did not find reason to send off another Greek player, which he did not do, have had the opportunity to attack Poland with a man advantage for 22 minutes plus added time after Poland had had no option but to make a tactical decision to withdraw midfielder Maciej Rybus – a decision that affected Poland’s attacking options, especially when facing a full compliment of Greeks. How can it possibly be claimed that Velasco Carballo’s decisions, which could have been reviewed with the use of replays – the game had stopped after all to give the fouls and cards – to ensure that the correct decisions were made did not affect the outcome of this match?

 

Football with A Human Face – Feyenoord’s Social Project – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 3rd 2009)

Development Plan

“Our interest is for African football to develop, because we have to be altruistic,” said William Gaillard, UEFA’s Director of Communications and Special Advisor to the organisation’s President Michel Platini. Rotterdam’s top team Feyenoord, anticipated Gaillard’s call by almost a decade and developed a social project that shows football with a human face. But others weighed in with their plans for the development of football, not just in Ghana, but in Africa as a whole. Former Black Stars coach Claude le Roy believes that it is essential to keep the African Cup of Nations played every two years.

“It is very important, because in Ghana there were no good stadiums before”, says le Roy. “At the end of the competition there will be four beautiful stadiums, a lot of good training pitches and that will change a lot of things for the improvement of young football players in Ghana. That’s why it is important to keep the place of one African Cup of Nations every two years, because we need to build stadiums and training pitches in all the countries in Africa. It is so simple to develop Africa if you want to create professional leagues in Africa.”

This is important, but what about developing young players and ensuring that poverty is no barrier to success?

The Birth of an Idea

In 1997 the Feyenoord President Jorien van den Herik travelled to la Côte d’Ivoire to sign Bonaventure Kalou, a player who went on to captain his country and currently still graces the Eredivisie for Heerenveen. Van den Herik was so impressed with the education that Kalou’s club ASEC Mimosas provided for their youngsters that it convinced him that he wanted to do more for Africa.

Van den Herik believed that it would be possible to start an academy in an African country that would both develop talented players, but also give a chance to underprivileged boys. Some expressed surprise that it didn’t happen in la Côte d’Ivoire, but despite impressing van den Herik with the set-up at ASEC, the country was politically unstable since the death of long-term dictator/President Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993.

For three decades Ivorians had known no other ruler and did not know how to survive him. Democratisation would take time and the country would have to endure both a coup d’état and civil war of rare brutality. Had van den Herik invested in that country the lack of stability would have cost Feijenoord everything, so they looked for a country that was politically stable to base their academy in. They chose Ghana and two years later van den Herik realised his dream.

The Social Commitment

The Gomoa Fetteh Academy was opened in 1999 by Nana Agyeman Rawlings, wife of then outgoing President Jerry Rawlings – one of the most controversial figures in recent Ghanaian history. She called for the staff of the academy not to be afraid to instil discipline into the boys – it started with just 14. Feyenoord is a comparatively small club. It invests approximately €1m per year in the Gomoa Fetteh Academy in Ghana.

“Those boys will have a future”, says the club’s press officer Gido Vader. “They will not leave without an education.”

The boys are given a future and in Ghana at least Feyenoord is appreciated, but from the very beginning their motives were questioned. The aim is to produce top quality footballers and Feyenoord will have first rights to those players, but most of those boys will never kick a ball in Europe. What about them? Will they simply be thrown out and left to fend for themselves? Not according to Vader. They will all leave with diplomas and if it is recognised that they will not make it in Europe an alternative is sought for them.