Football – In Tact as Ever (Part Two)

By Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 19th 2015)

Shenanigans

The BBCʼs Dan Roan alludes to how offended the Premier League will be by all these shenanigans to host the World Cup in the winter in Qatar to avoid the searing heat of an Arabic summer. That is most odd. English football is all about the Premier League. Clubs are either in the Premier League or aspire to be in it.

Those seeking to give the lie to this will claim that the Championship play-off final is the ʻrichest game in footballʼ … by dint, oddly enough, of the winner being ushered into the Premier League. Should football fans, globally, take umbrage at how the machinations of the Premier League, itself – something of a tyrantsʼ charter – have been upset and knocked marginally out of kilter by the decision to host the 2022 World Cup during the Winter months?

Roanʼs assertion that the FA might be upset as it may interrupt some ceremonially flavoured FA Cup programme – 2022 is the centenary of the Final at Wembley Stadium – is laughable. This presentation of the FA Cup as some Holy of Holies sits uncomfortably with how the event has been policed and how its attendees have been treated – Hillsborough, for example.

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Uncomfortable

It sits uncomfortably with how managers and players treat it. It sits uncomfortably with the stark reality of attendances at FA Cup games with certain clubs, at even advanced stages of the Cup. If it is important, why is it being treated as an after-thought, especially by the big clubs and the prize of qualification for the Europa League being seen as a unwanted burden, even though for some clubs, it is the only possibility of Champions League football.

Take Hull City for example. A lacklustre approach to it saw them dumped out without even reaching the League stage. This in the year that the winner of the Europa League gets into the Championsʼ League. Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool dropped out in the last 32. Only Everton still fly the flag.

Disproportionate Effects?

If Roan is so concerned that the effect of hosting WC 2022 in the Winter Months will have a disproportionately negative effect on the ʻSmaller Clubsʼ, he would do well to look at how the same ʻSmaller Clubsʼ themselves treat the FA Cup, and how the FA Cup treats them. Name the last non-top flight Club to win the FA Cup?

Southampton, 1976. The last 10 winners are Arsenal, Wigan, Chelsea, Manchester City, Chelsea, Chelsea, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal. Who owns those clubs? Portsmouth at the time of their winning the FA Cup in 2008 were owned by Alexander Gaydamak. He had bought the club from Milan Mandarić who was subsequently charged with tax-evasion.

Gaydamak then sold the club to Sulaiman al-Fahim who had acted as spokesperson for Mansour al-Nahyan and smoothed al-Nahyanʼs takeover of Manchester City. Al-Fahim in turn sold the club six weeks later to Ali al-Faraj, a supposed Saudi oil tycoon. Portsmouth went to rack and ruin and who paid the price? The loyal supporters who were the backbone of the club and who ultimately saved the historic club.

By 2013, Portsmouth FC had finally returned to the ownership of the fans themselves, with the club having been bankrupted, relegated three times and almost forced out of existence in the intervening period. But we must keep an eye out for FIFA, it seems.

Fit and Proper

Anybody can own an English football club. They are for sale every day of the week on whatever index you choose to consult. They are open to bids from everyone, irrespective of their morals, their achievements, their politics, their ethics, or the pedigree of their finances. They are not even the Harrods of their time, for which a purchase price AND favour had to be first agreed. Who buys these clubs?

The best known example is everyoneʼs favourite ʻBillionaire from Nowhereʼ, Roman Abramovich – a long-time associate of Vladimir Putin. Abramovich rose from nothing to dominate the Russian aluminium and gas sector, after being the understudy of Boris Beresovsky who was subsequently found dead at home in March 2013 soon after a protracted legal battle with Abramovich ended badly for Beresovsky.

Other noted humanists such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Tom Hicks, George Gillette, Mike Ashley, Vincent Tan, Venkatesh Rao, the al-Mubaraks, Alisher Usmanov and the aforementioned al-Fahims, Gaydamaks, al-Farajs, Mandarićs, etc. either own outright, have owned outright, possess, or have had strong financial interests in various English clubs.

Chicken factories. Bangladeshi sweatshops. Human rights abusers. Leveraged buyout merchants. Corporate raiders. Oligarchs. Oil tycoons. Silicon valley entrepreneurs. Eastern-Bloc businessmen. But look out for FIFA.

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Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United has used his position to try take advantage of the collapse of Glasgow Rangers such that Rangers was in danger of becoming a satellite club of Newcastle United. But look out for FIFA.

Universal Problem

This is not alone an English problem. Perspective is loaned to the matter when one considers that Real Madrid have agreed a £350m deal with a construction company owned by a member of the family that owns Manchester City. These clubs are supposedly in competition. They are instead each otherʼs keepers. This is supposedly the football that we should be worried will be ʻtorn apartʼ by a tournament being hosted in the Winter months – a tournament 7 years now.

No self-respecting journalist capable of even the slightest abstract thought could possibly find themselves offended uniquely by FIFAʼs alleged corruption juxtaposed as it is against the backdrop painted above. A brief examination of those invited to do business in England, and fêted for doing same, says a lot about this. 

England held its nose and took its reluctant place at the trough in the run up to the decision to award the World Cups for 2018 and 2022 respectively. Had England walked away early-doors and refused to have anything to do with the selection process, then we might have avoided the entire saga. Instead, the tit-for-tat will continue, presumably up and until such a stage as England is awarded a World Cup to host.

And letʼs remember that three-times beaten finalists the Netherlands have never hosted the World Cup, let alone suffered a long delay waiting for it to return. Isnʼt it their turn first?

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Football – In Tact as Ever (Part One)

by Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 4th 2015)

Hmmm!

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Qatar 2022: World Cup fall-out could tear football apart …” – Dan Roan BBC Sports-editor

If they donʼt believe it, why are they saying it, if they do believe it, they shouldnʼt be soccer analysts, so one way or another, they are wrong. Sometimes when you see these clowns…..well, then, you would have to wonder not about my sanity, but the BBCʼs sanity …”

The latter quote was made by the Former Manchester United and Milwall player, Eamon Dunphy, reflecting on BBC Match-of-The-Day Pundits during the 2006/2007 Premier League Season. So where does this leave us?

Weʼve been here before. Either the BBC donʼt believe what they are broadcasting or publishing, or they have gone mad. If they do believe it, they arenʼt fit for purpose, that purpose being to follow their mission, ʻTo enrich peopleʼs lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertainʼ.

So, what is the BBC saying? In perfect keeping with the tone of their attack which commenced with gusto on December 2nd 2010, the BBC continue to react to every utterance by and announcement of FIFA with a contrary response which both finds fault with whatever pronouncement FIFA has offered whilst seeking to always remind the viewer/reader that FIFA is corrupt, is upsetting football, is racist, is out of touch, hates women, and is just generally no good.

The New Mission

The BBC is no opinion-piece merchant. Funded by the taxpayer, and with an explicit mission to ʻenrich, entertain and educateʼ, they appear capable only of one of above trifecta, namely entertainment. 

Entertaining their own opinion, entertaining the opinion of conventional wisdom, entertaining the opinion of whatever agenda must be pushed, foisted and promoted until the target audience is left in no two minds about how things are and how things must be. Regarding FIFA, they operate a one-size-fits-all policy, employing key words in their riposte, irrespective of what it is that FIFA may have said.

Roan doesnʼt run the BBC, and is merely an agent of same. He is however the sports-editor of the BBC News. Fresh from goading, rather than entertaining, informing or educating Liverpool fans during the protracted takeover of the club by Fenway Sports Group (then a Sports Correspondent) Roan now today finds himself charged with spearheading BBCʼs latest thrust against that perennial threat to Global Peace and Harmony – FIFA.

Knock, Knock, Knocking

The door of FIFA has been kicked, yet the rest of the rotten structure seems not at all close to crashing down. FIFA, the masters of largesse, have pushed out the boat in many quarters, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and now Russia and Qatar. This largesse has made them very popular, especially in Asia and Africa.

It is no surprise that these are confederations that have many votes, which comes in handy at election time. Carry Asia and Africa and simple arithmetic tells the result – a lesson some have not grasped. Sepp Blatter certainly understood it.

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FIFAʼs major product – the World Cup – is something nations compete with each other to host. Football is increasingly popular and is the dominant global sport. England wanted to host the 2018 World Cup and failed to get enough votes. The results were a national embarrassment. It was not a bad bid, but it was out of step with FIFAʼs intentions and also those of individual federations.

Ever since, we have been treated to a monologue on the ills of FIFA. We are now expected to believe that Football itself is on the very verge of destruction because FIFA has decided to host the 2022 World Cup during the ʻWinterʼ of that year.

What is Football?

Football? Torn Apart? What is football? What does somebody mean when they say ʻFootballʼ. Do they mean the ball itself? Football, the game or sport? Football, the TV slot? Football, the Industry? 

When Roan and the BBC opine that ʻFootball could be torn apartʼ, they think, or more accurately want us to think, that they are talking about football in the Global, organized grass-roots sense of the word.

Football associations, football clubs, jumpers-for-goalposts, Football tournaments, the very fabric of football itself, the very essence of the game, is at risk. Uncle Sepp is going to get us all. In fact, the BBC are are referring, perhaps blithely, to their own narrow, oblique view of what football is and what football is about. Football the business, football….our businessOur gameThe game we gave the WorldThis thing of ours. 

Outraged?

It is no great leap to suggest that their contrived outrage stems from a sense of loss, a sense of exclusion, that they are no longer running the show and are merely instead a bit part of an organization that pays them no heed.

Third-party private organizations are entitled to organize their events as they see fit. It is up to other parties how they respond to this. Jérôme Valcke, FIFAʼs General Secretary, has told people to “Get on with it”. BBC pundits Danny Mills and Phil Neville agree with Valcke, but Roan has responded by kicking and screaming. He could do worse than consider the sentiments of the aforementioned home-grown pundits and others who have asked candidly, “Whatʼs the problem”?

The problem is that certain people have a bee in their bonnet about FIFA and rather than express it, they prefer to engage in tangential oblique nonsense. Mr Roan wants the reader to consider how the Winter World Cup imposes on the ʻCherished Festive Fixture Programmeʼ. It is lovely alliteration. It is also terrible reason. This ʻFestive Fixture Programmeʼ is not in fact a programme as much as it is semi-organized chaos, itself the subject of no small perennial, year-round criticism by domestic parties, It is bemoaned and criticized by players and managers alike, all year, every year. It is not liked. It is due for reform.

Hedged Bets

The author has hedged his bets. Perhaps aware that the ʻfestive disruptionʼ claim was as tenuous as it was false, Roan claims that More international friendlies are almost certain to be sacrificed.”  But International Friendlies are themselves the bane of the very Premier League whose best interests Mr Roan says are being interfered with.

However, we know how important some of these international friendlies can be. Consider one in particular. England tried to do business with Jack Warner by travelling to Trinidad & Tobago for a nothing friendly in 2008 in order to court Warner into providing support in CONCACAF to vote for England to host the World Cup of 2018. It was a fiasco as extracts of Michael Garciaʼs report on corruption in FIFA show. FIFA gleefully released those extracts, which suggested that Warner et al received a quid pro quo from that ill-advised friendly.

After this match Warner was exposed as corrupt and quit FIFA, exposing some of his dealings with the very dubious former head of the USAʼs federation, Chuck Blazer. Warner has a history – he was caught selling his complimentary tickets for the 2006 World Cup. He paid it back and it was business as usual until Blazer, once Warnerʼs protégé, decided that his apprenticeship had lasted long enough and tried to oust Warner.

It is conveniently forgotten that the fall of Qatari football executive and once cheer-leader of Blatterʼs 1998 bid for the Presidency of FIFA, Mohamed bin Hammam, was originally expelled from FIFA due to his attempt to ʻbuyʼ Warnerʼs influence for his own Presidential bid – exposed by Blazer. The American is no whistle-blowing anti-corruption pioneer. Blazer was neck-high in Warnerʼs shenanigans. But Warner was targeted by England to help their World Cup bid. Does this not question their anti-corruption credentials?

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England now wants to talk about corruption, but what was the football reason for the 2008 fixture in the Caribbean? What did then England manager Fabio Capello gain or learn from it? Did Capello request that particular opponent and if so why? For FIFA, attack became the best form of defence – given an open goal by the FA.

Perhaps England would do well to hold her tongue. but they try to berate FIFAʼs corruption. The BBC was at least consistent. Andrew Jennings has highlighted FIFAʼs corruption issues long before it became fashionable to do so. The FA complained that the BBCʼs Panorama programmeʼs exposé of corruption in FIFA on the eve of the vote impacted negatively on Englandʼs doomed bid.

A cursory examination of recent events lends no small credence to the opinion that England should keep its counsel. England had hoped to host the 2018 World Cup which instead went to Russia – worse still the Russia of Putins, Abramovichs, Usmanovs and Berezovsksy, etc.

England was shocked – outraged even. They had after all run a ʻgreat campaignʼ, part of which had been courting the influence of Jack Warner. Their bid had been officially presented by Prince William, nephew of Prince Andrew, the former trade envoy who told the Serious Fraud Office to keep out of the British Aerospace deal with Saudi Arabia. Glass houses?

Africa Gets Ready (Part Two) Events and Infrastructure – Archive

Editorʼs Note:

We published this series of articles five years ago. We think they are still relevant, so we are republishing them now.

Derek Miller

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 27th 2009)

The Events Strategy

South Africans including Dr Danny Jordaan, the CEO of Africa’s World Cup, realised that sport offered the means to achieve those ends and would engage the new nation as well as unite them. All races love sport in South Africa. Itʼs a similar story in Brasil – well almost. Patience ran out with the cost and corrupt practices that had been tolerated there for years. People had other priorities, especially in such austere times. But few things can advertise a country like a sporting event – the Olympic Games and footballʼs World Cup being top of the food chain.

We decided to follow a major event strategy,” said Jordaan. “We hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the African Cup of Nations in 1996, 1998 the World Athletics Championship, 2002 the cricket world cup to sustain a development consciousness of a united nation in our country. We now had the cricket 20/20 World Cup in 2007. We have the motor-racing and a whole host of events”.

But South Africa was far from content. “We made a bid for 2004 Olympics, but lost out to Athens”, he said. “We made a bid for 2006 World Cup, but lost out to Germany and now we are hosting 2010 and what that has done is two things that is important: one is that South Africa was not forgotten after 1994; secondly and perhaps more importantly, through hosting all of those major events there was infrastructure improvement in our country.”

Infrastructure

Jordaan is not just talking about sporting infrastructure, although there will be new stadiums and existing ones will be refurbished too. “It was not only the stadiums,” Jordaan said. “It was many other things – a number of hotels have been built in our country and investment, direct investment, as well as of course tourism. We have seen an eleven percent annual growth in tourism”.

Encouraging tourism was plainly part of the development strategy, but the events strategy has flaws. Once the event is settled – the bid successful – costs spiral out of control. Construction costs double or worse as there is no choice. You canʼt have a World Cup sub-standard stadiums. Some had to be built from scratch and others brought up to modern requirements.

This would cost. It was budgeted for, but that was before the event had to happen. Afterwards, the stadiums had to be built or refurbished and costs for materials and work rose as suppliers rewrote the laws of supply and demand. They realised they could demand more to supply what was needed and did so.

To make matters worse, the workers actually doing the constructing continued to be exploited and their safety was not the priority it should have been. There were serious accidents – fatalities even – but workersʼ rights still remained a low priority. This is not an issue confined to South Africa. Brasil is experiencing it now and Qatar too has attracted headlines about it.

Ukraine and Poland experienced spiralling costs too. And all hosts face another problem – private enterprise. Market-based economics is incompatible with a sporting-event development strategy. A mark up on prices is expected – inevitable even – but doubling, trebling or more of prices for accommodation is outrageous and short-sighted, especially in tourist-based economies.

South Africa is a beautiful country. So too is Brasil. These are countries worth visiting and to some extent dependent on visitors recommending them. Having visited both countries there is much to love about both, but I went to both during sporting events and also when there were none. The difference in price and also attitude was stark.

On both visits we covered sport too and observed attitudes. There was a marked difference. Prices were reasonable and people more welcoming too, as they knew you had chosen to be there because you liked their country and not because an event meant you had to be there. And this is the events trap. It is a chance to sell the country long term, but that will not happen if visitors feel ripped off afterwards. Nevertheless, Jordaan is having none of it. He believes in the strategy of using sporting-events to induce tourism.

In 2007 we went beyond seven million foreign tourists into our country, so I think that through hosting major events we have been quite successful in keeping the focus on our country, developing South Africa as a country, getting the infrastructure improvement”, Jordaan says, “because in most countries in the period of liberation or democracy there is a decline in the infrastructure, especially those countries that went through the decolonisation process”.

He explains further. “In our case from 1990 to 2008 the infrastructure in our country has improved and is much better”, Jordaan says. “Our economy is much better and we had investment from Vodafone and investment in Standard Bank one of our banks in South Africa and that was over US $12 billion”.

 

 

Bathwater and Babies – Archive

Editorʼs Note:

These articles were published soon after FIFA announced that the rotation policy that FIFA had introduced to take the World Cup around the world, at the instigation of Sepp Blatter, would be scrapped due to an uncompetitive bid that gave the current World Cup to Brasil. The consequences of that affect Africaʼs chances of hosting the World Cup again. Consequently, we think it appropriate to publish them again.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (Updated June 28th 2014)

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Bathwater

FIFA was faced with a stark choice after COMNEBOL had flouted the rules to allow an uncompetitive bid that resulted in Brasil being the sole bid to host the 2014 World Cup after the rotation policy had ensured that the World Cup went to Africa. There were sound reasons for COMNEBOL members refusing to bid and there were no corrupt practices associated with the bidding process.

The enemies of rotation circled their prey. COMNEBOL had breached the rules by not having a competitive bid. What a disgrace? Stiff punishment was of course required. No doubt COMNEBOL would lose its next turn, perhaps two. Er, no. It would not be allowed to bid for the next World Cup. Well that should bring the reprobates into line!

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The fact that COMNEBOL members could not bid for 2018 anyway due to rotation seems to have escaped FIFAʼs notice. The fact that it would not be their turn again for quite a while due to the rotation system anyway also seems to have escaped FIFAʼs notice. And the fact that COMNEBOL members, bar Brasil, had demonstrated that they did not want the tournament this time seems to have passed by unnoticed.

COMNEBOL and UEFA did not like the rotation system anyway. They wanted to get rid of it and they succeeded by COMNEBOL flouting the rules and then got what they wanted as a reward. Surely stiff deterrent punishment was required. What could grab its attention? Obviously, the return to a system that rewarded corrupt practices and one that allows COMNEBOL members to bid to host the World Cup again earlier than under the rotation system would deter such abuses of the system.

Not only has FIFA kept the bathwater, it has retrieved the sewage of the old system and thrown the babies out too.

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Babies

Rotation gave other confederations a chance. Africa deserved a World Cup. Corrupt practices denied it the 2006 World Cup. Rotation came and brought the competition to Africa. Rotation went and back came the dubious practices and accusations of corruption, some of which proved true. But there was no reason for the return to the trough process of deciding who would host the World Cup.

The bidding process that brought the World Cup to Russia and Qatar are mired in corruption allegations. The whole process may have to be repeated. Can FIFA really not see that the system it retrieved is infinitely worse than rotation and that it has brought the whole process into utter disrepute?

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Revamped Rotation

The South American confederation is always going to be a problem because there are only ten countries in that confederation anyway. Realistically only Argentina and Brasil are going to have the resources to host it on their own for the time-being, so it is always going to be like that and obviously so.

There was never going to be a competitive bid from that continent in the current climate – it was pretty bad then as well. “It’s the same argument people raised against Africa,” the CEO of the last World Cup, Dr Danny Jordaan, told us. “We are then arguing why. They are saying that rotation is not a viable policy in the long term.”

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But why not? It just needed a tweak and it would not only be viable, but help make the game global in the truest sense and give bidders from the various confederations the World Cup sooner. It could also control the rampant corrupt practices associated with the bidding processes that followed the end of rotation.

If CONCACAF and the South American Confederation were combined as one region for the purposes of rotation and Oceania added to Asia for another with Africa and Europe on their own the tournament could be rotated between the four regions and have competitive bids as well. That would mean that the various regions get it sooner and as long term policy it would achieve FIFAʼs aims too.

Wouldnʼt that be a better way and a fairer way of spreading the world cup around the globe and controlling the opportunities for corrupt practices? So why hasnʼt this happened? Babies and bathwater, perhaps?

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Babies and Bathwater – Archive

Editorʼs Note:

These articles were published soon after FIFA announced that the rotation policy that FIFA had introduced to take the World Cup around the world, at the instigation of Sepp Blatter, would be scrapped due to an uncompetitive bid that gave the current World Cup to Brasil. The consequences of that affect Africaʼs chances of hosting the World Cup again. Consequently, we think it appropriate to publish them again.

Derek Miller

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by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (Updated June 28th 2014)

Realities

An uncompetitive bid by COMNEBOL (the South American Football Confederation) resulted Brasil winning the right to host the 2014 World Cup without a contest. The fact that such an approach made sense, especially in the current climate and that certain nations – Bolivia for example – had no realistic chance of hosting the tournament, because they were neither good enough, nor possessed sufficient resources, escaped the attention of FIFA.

Realistically, only Argentina, or perhaps Uruguay as well could have hosted the tournament and have a decent chance of success, but Uruguay lacked he resources. No nation should be allowed to buy the right to sell their country through it. South Africa was never going to win the World Cup, but had they stuck to their plan – a good one – they would not have become the first host nation to go out in the first round.

Paraguay would not disgrace the tournament on the field, but who else in South America could host it. Both Paraguay and Uruguay could not afford it in the economic climate then, let alone now, so that left Argentina as the only realistic alternative to Brasil. The economic climate in Argentina was not good and they had hosted the World Cup in 1978, a staggering 28 years after the most successful nation in the football world last hosted. It was obviously Brasilʼs turn and everybody in COMNEBOL knew it.

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Bathwater

COMNEBOL members recognised these realities. There was little point – none really – in opposing Brasil and wasting resources in the process. How could they tell the poverty-stricken of their countries or even the better off that wanted to create opportunities that they had wasted millions of pounds on a bidding process that everyone knew they could not win? It would have been fiscal irresponsibility of the worst kind and none of them were prepared to do it.

Instead they could invest in programmes for the disadvantaged to create the players of the future of both sexes. They could upgrade stadiums. They could improve sporting infrastructures and much more besides. Refusing to allow this type of bid makes no sense at all. The COMNEBOL members had acted responsibly. UEFA demands fiscal responsibility from football clubs. Well how about some from FIFA at this level too!

Rotation

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FIFA had introduced the rotation system to ensure that confederations such as the African and Asian confederations and also CONCACAF had a fair chance of hosting the World Cup. And letʼs not forget that the post-rotation bidding process that gave the World Cup to Russia and Qatar has hardly been a rip roaring success.

We argued for rotation, but the other possibility under the system of rotation is that the continental federations – whether it is CAF (Africaʼs confederation), or COMNEBOL, whoever, can come together in a congress and decide that we donʼt want competitive bidding,” the CEO of Africaʼs World Cup, Dr Danny Jordaan told us exclusively. “We are just going to appoint one country, so then what can you do? Then it comes to what you are saying as long as it a process that is the position that one country is invested in by FIFA and ends up hosting the World Cup.”

So rotation was removed and the corrupt practices quickly returned. The bathwater was retained and the babies washed away.

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