Tatters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 10th 2015)

Reputation

Carlos Velasco Carballoʼs reputation may never recover. Having refereed against type at Fortalezaʼs Estádio Castelão in the controversial hackfest of Brasil v Colombia, Velasco Carballo was savaged by Diego Maradona and given FIFAʼs equivalent of a vote of confidence. FIFA refused to give Juan Camilo Zuñiga Mosquera a retrospective red card or rescind Thiago Silvaʼs yellow card.

Zuñiga should have been sent off, but so should several others. It was baffling that a referee with a reputation as a disciplinarian had refereed this match as if he had forgotten his cards in the dressing room. It is also a great pity as Velasco Carballo, contrary to Maradonaʼs opinion is actually a very good referee – one who had steadily earned the top matches with stellar performances. That reputation is all but undone by one match.

He officiated his first top flight match a decade ago – Barçelona v Sevilla. Velasco Carballo decided to concentrate exclusively on refereeing in 2010. He had quietly built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement.

Careful

He was a studious referee too – one who knew the foibles of those he was refereeing. Nobody pulled the wool over his eyes, so what happened to him on July 4th 2014? Did the occasion get to him? The refereeing of that match took some explaining then – it still does. There is no evidence that he was fazed by big occasions.

Velasco Carballo refereed his first international match in 2008 after earning the appropriate FIFA badge. The 2010-11 season was his first refereeing past the qualifiers for the Championʼs League. He ended that season with a high profile match – the Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

Falcao, who would strongly criticise Velasco Carballo over the match in Fortaleza, scored the only goal of that match. It was a match punctuated by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was typical Velasco Carballo. The native of Madrid is not allowed to referee any match involving Madrid teams, but his performance in that season marked him as one to watch.

Against His DNA

His performance in Fortaleza was incredible. There were 54 fouls in that match – well penalised ones. He brandished four yellow cards and no red cards. It required more than 40 offences bbefore he showed his first card and that was not for a violent challenge. There were also offences that were not penalised despite being under his nose (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

The failure to enforce the rules also contributed to a serious injury suffered by Neymar. Zuñiga ploughed into Neymarʼs back. Whether he intended serious injury or not is immaterial. It was a ludicrous challenge – one that would never have been tolerated, or most likely even tried, if Velasco Carballo had been allowed to referee as he normally would have.

Zuñiga quickly apologised. The players have no problem with each other, but anxious to reach the ball or not these are the challenges that must not be allowed or encouraged even tacitly, as lack of consequences does. When Brasil played Colombia in a friendly in the USA, they embraced each other, but that match was scarred by the quarter-final in Fortaleza – a dirty business. Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello was sent off.

Form

The Europa League Final was far from the only match that Velasco Carballo refereed in his strict manner. He has a habit of showing cards, including sending players off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed. He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012, refereeing the opening match between co-hosts Poland and Greece.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Polandʼs Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before being sent off he received his first 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”! He also sent off Polandʼs goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the same match.

So what happened in Fortaleza? Why had he abandoned the habits of a lifetime and done so on an even bigger stage? We are yet to get a satisfactory answer. Tolerating over forty offences before brandishing a single yellow card resulted in a display that was alien to the Spaniardʼs DNA.

And what of Velasco Carballo himself? FIFA say that there was no directive to referees to spare the rod and spoil the spectacle. But why would a stern referee officiate so against type? They also failed to take any sanction against the Spaniard for his bizarre performance that surely would have followed if it was all his fault. Would he return to form free from the ʻdirectiveʼ or was Fortaleza a taste of things to come?

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A Villainʼs Charter?

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 8th 2014)

A Clean Slate

This week the Championʼs League and Europa League will reach the business stage of deciding which teams will continue in the knock-out phase, drop down to the Europa League, or finish their participation in either competition. Soon the consequences of a rule change on carried over yellow cards will bite.

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Prior to the start of this seasonʼs tournaments UEFAʼs General Secretary Gianni Infantino explained the reasoning behind European Footballʼs governing body taking the decision to follow FIFAʼs lead to give players a clean slate for the final stages of the Championʼs League and Europa League for the current season. Like the World Cup yellow cards will be wiped clean at the quarter-final stage.

UEFA says it wanted to avoid the risk of top players being suspended for the latter stages of the competition. But does it? The World Cup-winning French midfielder and current Strategic Advisor of Greek champions Olympiacos, Christian Karembeu told Empower-Sport that he supported the changes.

Of course”, Karembeu said. “This is normal. I think that … every player deserve to play final, for example, and I think itʼs logical to give the chance to everyone when you dream about the finals – you dream about it”! But will it?

Christian Karembeu 2

Villainsʼ Charter

But the flair players – the ones spectators pay to see – are the victims of the persistent fouling, the ʻenforcer tacklesʼ designed to discourage them from playing and much more besides. This leads to them getting frustrated on occasion and reacting.

Remember David Ginola trudging off the pitch unhappily after being sent off for elbowing Lee Dixon when Arsenal played Newcastle United in the Coca Cup as it then was in January 1996. “They wonʼt let me play football”, he said. And they hadnʼt. Dixon had been fouling Ginola throughout the match, ensuring that Ginola could not function and the officials had allowed it. Finally a very frustrated Ginola retaliated by elbowing Dixon. He was sent off. The referee had no choice, but as Kevin Keegan then manager of Newcastle observed, flair players were not being protected.

And then there are cards picked up for deliberate blocks or non-violent cheating. The deliberate hand-balls, the shirt-tugging to prevent an attack developing and of course the simulation all deserve cards and the full consequences, donʼt they? Wonʼt this change in the rules encourage players to offend more as the consequences for doing so diminish?

The recent World Cup was ruined by a combination of excessively lenient refereeing and this rule. The quarter-final between Brasil – the most persistent offenders – and Colombia was destroyed as a spectacle by the failure to enforce the rules of the game. This happened under the auspices of Luiz Felipe Scolari – a manager who once declared the ʻBeautiful Game Deadʼ and the man that also said he wanted his team to foul more. What did they expect to happen other than the anti-football inflicted on the world that night?

Foul and Fouler

Far from guaranteeing the participation of the top players, these changes rewarded persistent offenders whose job it was to prevent the most talented from playing football – the exact opposite of what these changes are supposed to be delivering. What did they expect?

Letʼs hope that the amnesty on suspensions will not be accompanied by a repetition of the ludicrously lenient refereeing that rewarded the cynical and dirty play that Scolari inflicted on a world hoping for Samba football. Was it coincidence that Brasil played dirty?

It was their game plan after all – one that was cynically adopted to stop flair players by foul means or fouler – and utterly predictable that this would happen to ensure that a mediocre team undeservedly reached at least the final stages of the World Cup. Ironically, this happened at the expense of a team that had inherited the mantle of Samba football.

FIFA could not have failed to realise that Brasil would play this way. A talented Chile side and an even better Colombia paid the price. It also put a target on Neymarʼs back that put him out of the World Cup. Letʼs hope it doesnʼt happen again in the Championʼs League or Europa League.

Branded

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 28th 2014)

Pitch Invasions

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Tottenham Hotspur booked their place in the knock-out phase of the Europa League with a 1-0 win over Serbian outfit FK Partizan of Belgrade. Benjamin Stambouli scored his first for the club, but the story was might have been different as three pitch invasions, which appear to have been a co-ordinated marketing ploy caused Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovskyi to take the teams off after 41 minutes. Spurs could still face sanctions from UEFA over it.

The first ‘fan’ gave stewards the run around after he posed for selfies with a less than amused Argentinian international Erik Lamela, Mr Rabona. The first invader was given a rapturous reception as he evaded capture for a couple of minutes. A bit later a second so-called fan breached the security to run on the pitch. Roberto Soldado can’t catch a goal by accident, but he managed to grab the fan’s t-shirt. That fan was led off too.

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Enough

The third invader was booed loudly by fans. He was quickly captured thanks to a magnificent rugby tackle by an irate Belgian international Moussa Dembélé, which suggests he may have an alternative sporting career should he choose. All three were arrested and led away. Spurs have announced that the fans have been banned and that all three had their tickets bought by the same person.

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The three pitch-invaders were wearing the same branded T-shirt. Bassbuds a company making headphones was at the centre of the controversy. Pending an investigation Spurs have suspended any involvement the club has with the company. Spurs say that they could not have predicted the third invasion, even after the second and therefore saw no reason to increase security around the pitch.

Both Tottenham Hotspur’s Head Coach as Mauricio Pochetino prefers to be called and his counterpart Marko Nikolić said that they were not worried for the safety of their players, but that it affected the flow of the match. UEFA was asked for comment, Partizan were ordered to play their next match with a partial stadium ban after an offensive banner was displayed by their fans in the match in Belgrade.

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Their coach lost no time praising the conduct of Partizan’s fans tonight. Despite claiming that they could not have predicted the third fan bursting onto the pitch Tottenham Hotspur can expect UEFA to take a dim view of tonight’s events.

Roller-Coaster

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (September 17th 2014)

The Prodigal

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Suspended indefinitely by the Ghanaian Football Federation after an altercation with the Black Starsʼ coach James Kwesi Appiah that saw him sent home from the World Cup, Schalke04ʼs German-born international Kevin-Prince Boateng must wonder whether it was worth reversing his decision to retire from international football and whether he made the right decision pledging his allegiance to the Stars rather than Germany.

Boateng was a former German youth international left Brasil early. Meanwhile his half-brother Jérôme was part of Germanyʼs World Cup winning team. The brothers have faced each other in World Cup matches twice. Four years ago Kevin was a hate figure in Germany when a mistimed tackle on Michael Ballack put the then German captain out of the World Cup. Boateng apologised to Ballack, but criticised both the German FA and national team manager Joachim Lõw. Ballackʼs international career ended controversially.

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Uncompromising

Boatengʼs disciplinary record has been troublesome, but the box to box midfielder deserves credit too. He moved to AC Milan in 2010 and made headlines for all the right reasons. Within 14 minutes of coming on as a substitute against Lecce, he had bagged a hat-trick, only the second by a substitute in Serie A

He also led the five main leagues in sendings off in 2012-2013 averaging one every six games. before deciding to leave Italy for Germany and Schalke 04. Boateng decided to change his international allegiance from Germany to Ghana. It was approved in May 2010, causing him to miss the Black Starsʼ run to the final of the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

In November 2011 he retired from international football, citing the effect of long distance travel. He was just 24 and once again missed the African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and also South Africa in 2012 and 2013. He played in two World Cu campaigns, but his indefinite suspension suggests that he will never grace Africaʼs top competition – the next edition takes place in Morocco next year.

Uncompromising on the pitch Boateng proved himself an implacable opponent of racism too. During Italyʼs mid season break in January 2013, Pro-Patria, then in Italyʼs fourth tier played against AC Milan. Their fans racially abused Boateng who booted the ball into the stands and walked off the pitch in protest, followed by his team-mates. While some criticised him for walking off the pitch other praised his stand. Clarence Seedorf, then playing for Botafogo in Brasil thought Boatengʼs reaction played into the hands of racists.

They should just be identified and kicked out of the stadium,” Seedorf said. “Leave the 90% that were enjoying the match and finish the game. If Boateng was able to identify the whole corner, you just kick the whole corner out, That is how I think it should be handled Walking away? Yes, you send a signal. But this has happened more than once and I donʼt think it really changes all that much. We are just empowering that little group with their behaviour to make this mess”.

Among those who took to Twitter to support Boateng were Rio Ferdinand, Vincent Kompany and Patrick Vieira. “If the stories about KPB walking off the pitch with teammateʼs (sic) after being racially abused are true, fair play to him..well done #UefaStandUp”, Ferdinand said at the time.

Manchester City captain Kompany fully supported both Boateng and his then club. “Act of racism against Boateng during Milanʼs friendly” Kompany tweeted. “How about becoming extremely intolerant towards racist idiots”? UEFA has adopted penalties for racist conduct as did FIFA, but the problem persists despite close calls to a walk off previously – notably Samuel Etoʼo and Marc Zoro.

They need to be told I can only salute Milanʼs decision to leave the pitch”, Kompany tweeted. “Also noted that the majority of the fans were completely supportive of the players”.

Vieira, working with Manchester Cityʼs youth structure at the time, which he retains despite his subsequent promotion to reserve team manager, was vociferous in his support of Boateng. “It was brave of Kevin Prince Boateng to do what he did today, and it was the right thing”, Vieira said on Twitter. “We need to stand up and stand together. Well done”.

Boateng was appointed to FIFAʼs Anti-Discrimination Task Force under the CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb. He presented his proposals earlier this year. Boateng also became an ambassador for the United Nations against racism in March 2013. He told FIFA President Sepp Blatter that he recognised that he was wrong to walk off the pitch, but that strong action needed to be taken.

Welcome

Last season Boateng completed the most dribbles in the top five European leagues. He is now an integral part of Schalkeʼs plans. Ghanaʼs decision to dispense with his services is the German clubʼs gain. Tonight he returns to England for his clubʼs opening fixture in the Championʼs League against Chelsea, weeks after playing a friendly against his former club Tottenham Hotspur.

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He was given a warm reception by Spurs fans. “Obviously itʼs a mark of respect and I think Kevin obviously did a very good job here”, Tottenham Hotspurʼs German international Lewis Holtby said. “Otherwise the reception wouldnʼt have been that good. I think itʼs good for him and itʼs good to see Tottenham fans being so positive”.

In the absence of Schalkeʼs captain the World Cup-winning German defender Benedikt Hõwedes, the responsibility on Boateng is even higher. “Heʼs a great player, a great personality, so heʼs very important for us and we are very happy that heʼs in our team”, Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta told us.

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Protection (Part One) – Archive

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the magazine in May 2010. We republish it now as we think it is topical that even with rules in place the big clubs – in this case FC Barçelona – are being treated differently to smaller clubs like Cardiff City and FC Midtjylland.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 14th 2010)

Opportunities

Cardiff Citys academy has to operate under the rules governing all academies or centres of excellence. Under-14 year-old players must live within an hour commute of the ground, whereas Under-16s have an extra half hours grace. There are loopholes’ in the system, although these favour the richer clubs.

Families can be relocated with jobs provided, but only wealthy clubs can afford to do this – ironically because they want to avoid paying fees to a smaller club that developed a player. Even clubs like Barçelona – one of the biggest in the world – has lost talent in this manner. Cesc Fàbregas is the most famous player that Catalunya’s top club lost to the English Premier League.

No Angels

But Barcelona are no angels. They have scouts all over the world – other top clubs do as well – and if they spot a player they believe will make the grade, they too will flex their muscle. This was how the world’s greatest player Lionel Messi left Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina in 2000 for Barcelona’s academy – la Masia – a stone’s-throw from the Camp Nou.

Messi and his family left for the city that the architecture of the great Antoni Gaudi dominates – lured in part by Barcelona’s promise to provide treatment for the young superstar in making’s growth hormone deficiency. And Messi is far from the only player that Barca has done it too.

So how can smaller clubs compete, both with the lure of playing for bigger clubs and their financial clout? The answer is they can’t can’t – they have to compete within their price range and spend shrewdly at every level, especially after the experience of Danish club FC Midtjylland.

Foreign Links

Cardiff City is a small club. Last year they comfortably broke their transfer record by over a million to sign Michael Chopra from Sunderland. The fee was £3m. They compete on the pitch through a strong youth policy and wise spending and investment in talent. They start early. Even their academy has to find ways to recruit top talent and cling onto it without breaking the bank.

We have a lad from Canada – a goalkeeper”, says the Director of their academy Neal Ardley1. “We just set up a little link with a club over there and they look to send some players over for us to have a look at once in a while, but that’s just purely neutral, giving players an opportunity to see what level they’re at”.

Different Rules

This is not the only foreign link that the Bluebirds academy has. “The only other foreign area we’ve gone into is over in Ireland”, Ardley told us. “We’ve got a lad from Northern Ireland and a lad from Southern Ireland and we’re trying to create links with clubs over there. What we’re trying to do is create a link with the clubs. We can maybe give some of their players a chance to come over and see if they’re good enough”.

But it is not a one-way thing. The Irish clubs benefit as well. “We in turn come over there and coach and coach-educate,” said Ardley before a note of frustration creeps in.

I know that UEFA are trying to put rules in place that even if the two clubs agree that they want to do this little system, there’s got to be compensation, which would take Cardiff out of the equation really in many ways”, Ardley said. “For me that’s the wrong rule because it comes back to the big clubs win again. The clubs with the money can afford the compensation and will get the best players”.

1Ardley was appointed Director of Cardiff City’s the day after his retirement in 2007. He stayed until 2012 when he became the manager of AFC Wimbledon. He is still their manager.

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)

Couple Posing on the Stairs

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!

Christ the Redeemer

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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