Archive for August, 2010

England bring out the big guns

After the recent visit to Russia, the FIFA World Cup Bid Inspectors arrived in England earlier this week.

This was an important visit in establishing the quality of the English bid.

It will not determine the final decision, but it could identify problems which would be taken into consideration on 2nd December 2010 when the final decision is made by the FIFA Executive Committee.

As expected, Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the head of the FIFA Delegation and a highly experienced administrator from Chile, recognised the quality of the bid.

The stadia in England are, without doubt, world class.

Some new stadia will be built but the core ones such as Wembley, Old Trafford, St James’ Park and the Emirates are already there – unlike the Russian bid which will require major investment in new stadia.

The history is also there. The Football Association – not the English Football Association it should be noted – was the first to be founded in world football in 1863. Obviously, the traditional card and the legacy card would be played fully during the inspection.

Make no mistake there is tremendous support for the bid from the government, the clubs, the players and the supporters.

Prime Minister, David Cameron, did not meet the delegation, not because of any opposition to the bid, but I think the FIFA delegation would understand and appreciate that the birth of his new daughter had to take precedence. 

Look at the high profile figures who turned out to support the bid – Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton, Fabio Capello, Wayne Rooney and England Captain, Rio Ferdinand – and many more.

There is a high level of support in England for the 2018 bid and the main infrastructure is already in place.

The vote is only England’s to lose.

But it all depends on the 24 members of the FIFA Executive Committee on 2nd December.

Only 13 votes are needed to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup for England!

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There must be no compromise with corruption

The FIFA World Cup in South Africa has finished but new problems are now emerging in the host nation.

Allegations of match fixing in the national league are now the subject of a major enquiry by the South African Football Association.

Operation Dribble was instituted after match fixing allegations surfaced in South African football and the South African Football Association set out to trap corrupt match officials.

Peter Mabuza, a former FIFA referee claimed he had received death threats after reporting alleged corrupt practices by fellow referees. His testimony, he claims, has put his life at risk.

He testified that after he informed Mubarak Mahomed, the former chairperson of the SAFA Referees’ Committee, about improper approaches from Mabopane Young Masters and Bloemfontein Young Tigers, things turned nasty.

Both Masters and Tigers had been playing in the First Division at the time.

“I was threatened with death by most of the referees soon after reporting all these cases. They said I was selling them out and most of the referees were corrupt at the time. The other referees even started calling me Scorpions,” Mabuza alleged.

The rights and wrongs of the situation can be debated at length but the basic accusation is that there is corruption among the referees in the top South African League.

Corruption is no stranger to football.

Two years ago there was a major scandal in Germany connected to a Croatian betting ring and a year later another betting scandal emerged

This scandal involved about 200 European matches and included huge sums of money being placed with bookmakers on matches in at least nine European Leagues and including matches in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.

In 2006, Italy was engulfed in the Calciopoli scandal which saw Juventus relegated to Serie B and stripped of the 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles.

Other top Italian teams such as Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina were also punished for their part in the match fixing. 

China has recently had a major corruption scandal involving referees, clubs and administrative officials while allegations of corruption are regularly made in Asia, Africa and South America.

In my mind there is a simple solution to the problem.

Anyone found guilty of corrupt practice, be it a coach, administrator or referee, must be banned for life.

Once corrupt – always corrupt.

Football will manage to survive without these people.

They are parasites who try to destroy the beautiful game!

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Solving the problem of holding

I am sure French FIFA Referee, Stéphane Lannoy would not consider the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa to be his most successful tournament.

Lannoy left the World Cup after the group stages having angered both Brazil and the Ivory Coast in their first-round match. He was fooled by Luis Fabiano, allowing the Brazilian to use an arm twice while scoring a goal.

Later, the referee sent off Ricardo Kaká after the Brazilian was barged into by Kader Keita, who then theatrically fell to the ground.

Lannoy was conned by players who cheated.  However things move on and recently he made a decision about holding in the penalty area which should be followed by all referees.

During the UEFA Champions League match between Werder Bremen and Sampdoria he was in tune with the game and was aware of what was happening on the field.

Midway through the second half, having already yellow carded Sampdoria’s Stefano Lucchini for a foul, he sent him off and gave a penalty after the defender grabbed the shirt of Sebastian Prödl and pulled him to the ground.

This proved the decisive moment in a contest that Bremen won, 3-1.

This was a correct interpretation of the Laws and is the best way to remove the widespread abuses which are regularly seen inside the penalty area.

How many times do we see defenders wrap their arms around forwards, hold their shirts or shorts and deny goal-scoring opportunities with wrestling techniques?

A wide scale campaign to encourage referees to award a penalty kick when the holding occurs after the ball is in play would rapidly solve the problem.

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The magic of Mandela

I am not a great film fan, in fact I hardly ever watch films at home or even on long haul flights when you have plenty of time to pass in the air.

On a recent flight, however, I was engrossed watching ‘Invictus’, the story of the South African victory in the Rugby World Cup in 1995.

This was both a sporting odyssey and a political journey.

In the new era of the rainbow South African nation the victory of the Springboks against the strong favourites New Zealand was a major step in the consolidation of the different races in the country.

The basic story is that in the World Cup Final, held at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on 24 June 1995, South Africa, defeated New Zealand 15 – 12, against all the odds, with Joel Stransky  scoring a drop goal in extra time to win the match.

Before that however, both Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar , the South African captain had met and agreed on the importance of South African success at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Morgan Freedman played the role of Nelson Mandella and Matt Damos played the part of Francois Pienaar, the South African captain.

Mandella quoted the poem Invictus, written by the English poet William Ernest Henley in 1875

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This inspirational challenge set the tone for the South African team, trying to come to terms with a multi-racial post apartheid era where divisions among the races were still a major problem.

Rugby was the white man’s sport while football was the black man’s sport.

Success in the Rugby World Cup, however, united a divided nation with long term effects.

The Mandela Magic worked.

Following South Africa’s victory, Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa, wearing a Springbok rugby shirt and cap, presented the Webb Ellis Cup to the South African captain Francois Pienaar.

Mandela and Pienaar’s involvement in the World Cup was detailed in the film produced in 2009 and explains the importance of sport in creating a national identity and creating a unified nation state.

It may have been ‘sexed up’ in parts but the simple message is that sport, and especially sporting success, has a strong influence on a nation.

I am sure ‘film aficionados’ will find all sorts of reasons to criticise the film, as they do with most sports films – Escape to Victory comes to mind – but it is a powerful demonstration of the power of sport.

We must never underestimate the power which sport has to address the problems of the modern world.

Forget about the success of Spain in South Africa 2010 or the failures of England, Italy, Brazil or Argentina.

These are in a minor league compared to Mandela’s concept of uniting a divided nation through sporting success in South Africa 15 years ago.

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It’s good to talk

After the match between Sunderland and Birmingham City in the Barclays Premier League last weekend, the Sunderland manager Steve Bruce, was highly critical of the performance of newly promoted referee Anthony Taylor.

It was a classic case of deflecting attention from the main issue, which was his team losing a two goal lead and two points, as I mentioned in my last article.

At least, a few days later, some reality is kicking in.

Last season Sunderland were the most undisciplined team in the league in terms of red cards with nine players being ordered off.

Bruce now admits that such indiscipline is costing his side points.

He said “For large parts of last week’s game we played very well, but let’s be fair, going down to ten men cost us the game.

“It’s hard enough to win games in this league with 11 men, let alone ten.

“I’ve stressed to the players that on average we’ve been down to ten men once every four games, and that is unacceptable.

“It’s something we must address and I’m convinced we can. We’ve got to stop this petulance, if that’s the right word.

“We have to screw our loaf on a bit better. We’re a bit naive at times and I think that comes from our youthfulness.”

It is good to see some honesty at last from Bruce although he might also have apologised for his weekend comments about Anthony Taylor.

The most positive thing, however, is that he and his players had a meeting earlier this week with FIFA World Cup Final referee Howard Webb to discuss discipline and how referees enforce the Laws.

This is something all top teams in all top leagues should do on a fairly regular basis – perhaps twice a year – and it would be much better if it was standard practice and not in response to a crisis.

Highly paid players should have a basic understanding of the Laws they have to follow and the way they are applied.

You do not expect a motorist to be as knowledgeable about motoring laws as the police or a judge – but you do expect him to respect the speed limit!

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We need consistency – from managers!

The great cry from managers, at all levels of the game, when they speak of referees, is that they must be more consistent.

A referee is a one off character. He makes decisions based on what he sees but sometimes when he has the feel for the game he uses his experience to manage problems rather than reach for the automatic yellow card.

That is called ‘man management,’ a skill required by the best coaches and referees, as well as by anyone in charge of a group of workers be they in a factory, an office, a classroom or on a sports field.

Steve Bruce, formerly the captain of a successful Manchester United team and now the manager of Sunderland is an interesting case study.

He began his managerial career with Sheffield United and spent short periods of time managing Huddersfield Town, Wigan Athletic and Crystal Palace before joining Birmingham City in 2001.

He twice led Birmingham to promotion to the Premier League during his six years tenure, but resigned in 2007 to begin a second spell as manager of Wigan Athletic. At the end of the 2008 – 2009 season he resigned to take over as manager of Sunderland.

It is very significant that Bruce learned his trade in the lower divisions before moving up to a higher level, but he has regularly moved from club to club without ever achieving outstanding success at any of them.

He is now beginning his third season at Sunderland and in the first match of the season against Birmingham his team lost a two goal lead to draw 2 -2.

His defence was to attack the referee, newcomer to the Premier League, Anthony Taylor. No mention of the fact his team had lost a two goal lead – the blame lies with the ‘rooky official.’

How preposterous!

A team cannot be made up of eleven 30 plus years of age professionals or eleven young players under 20 – it needs a balance between youth and experience.

So it is with a team of referees – and make no mistake it is a team.

You must have the experience of referees who have been involved at the top level, both nationally and internationally, but you must also look to the future and introduce new talent.

Will Steve Bruce select his young players 20 year old striker Martin Waghorn and 20 year old midfielder Jack Colback regularly for his first team? Of course not!

 They are in the 25 man squad to gain experience for the future. They are prospects but not the finished article.

Will Mike Riley, the man in charge of the Premier League Referees, appoint Anthony Taylor to the major matches between the top teams in England this season – Manchester United v Chelsea or Liverpool v Arsenal?

Of course not! Anthony will gain experience this season to make him a better referee next season and the seasons beyond.

The only way you can look to the future is to blood new talent in a sensible way.

Bruce was wrong to criticise Anthony Taylor after Saturday’s match. He was protecting his own players at the expense of the referee.

He was not just totally inconsistent, he was totally out of order!

Who says we must have consistency in football?

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Wildfires won’t affect Russia’s bid

You can never under-estimate the power of football to overcome, or at least by-pass, special problems.

Some parts of Russia have recently been devastated by fires which have destroyed villages, resulted in a number of deaths and threatened nuclear and military installations.

But we are talking about the bid for the 20108 FIFA World Cup and this is a major priority for Russia.

The Russian Bid Committee for the 2018/2022 FIFA World has already been in contact with FIFA about the visit of the FIFA inspection group which is due to take place from 16 to 19 August 2010.

Bid CEO Alexey Sorokin said: “We are closely monitoring the developments together with the government of the Russian Federation and are in contact with FIFA. The itinerary of the inspection is such that we expect to be able to go ahead with the visit of the FIFA team as planned, with special arrangements being put in place for the part of the visit in Moscow.”

The itinerary will visit four proposed Host Cities, with three of four, namely St. Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi not being affected by the wildfire situation.

It is a very intensive trip by the FIFA Inspection Team.

The FIFA Inspection Team is due to arrive in Saint Petersburg on Monday, 16 August for the first stop on the four day-tour and will visit a number of facilities there. On Tuesday, 17 August, meetings are scheduled with the federal government and visits to a number of buildings which are possible sites for the FIFA Congress and the Final Draw.

Organising the FIFA World Cup also involves organising the Final Draw as well as the FIFA Congress which takes place shortly before the start of the tournament.

The importance of winning the bid for Russia cannot be underestimated.

No effort will be spared to impress the FIFA inspection group, not even overcoming problems caused by some of the worst fires in Russia’s history.

For the Game. For the World!

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Bill Shankly got it wrong

The legendary Bill Shankly, Manager of Liverpool once said:

 ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’

He was a larger than life Scotsman who transformed the fortunes of Liverpool FC, but he was wrong!

The Barclays Premier League began yesterday and much attention was focused on Blackpool FC who gained promotion to the Premier League by way of a play-off victory over Cardiff City.

Their first match was against Wigan Athletic away from home and surprisingly they won 4-0 against all the expectations of the experts.

For most people the result of the match and the fact that Blackpool had started their Premier League campaign with a win was the main point. But there was a more poignant story about the match.

Referee Mark Halsey made his return to top-level officiating in this match having entered remission from the throat cancer he was diagnosed with a year ago.

Halsey is 49 and from Hertfordshire. Ian Holloway, the Blackpool manager, is full of admiration for his friend as he prepares to oversee a Premier League game for the first time since last season’s opening day.

“Mark is a really good friend of mine. He used to be a QPR fan and is so honest that he told his bosses that he never wanted to referee QPR again. I wished he had done, though, because I needed some help when I was there,” the former Queens Park Rangers manager joked.

Holloway, like many of his players, is making his debut in the Premier League and he pointed to Halsey’s fight against lymphoma as an illustration of why his players should remain grounded.

He said: “I keep bringing them back to reality, and lots of my players have got young kids so it is easy to do that.

“Mark’s challenges are real. They are totally and utterly real and as long as I can keep the players focused on what he has gone through, that is more important than anything. I’m delighted for him because that’s what real struggle is.

Realising you might not be here soon and needing treatment to make you better – that is real.”

“I keep stressing that to my players that they are privileged to be on that grass and if I can keep their feet on the ground then anything is possible. What have we got to moan about?”

“I have a lot of faith in his refereeing since he referees with common sense. I think people should give the biggest round of applause to him before the game because it is real for him and his family.”

Halsey, who finished his treatment in December but suffered an infection due to his weak immune system that left him seriously ill, has spent the summer building up his fitness at his holiday home in Spain.

Mike Riley, the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials, said: “It is very emotional that he is back.”

Mark Halsey is an inspiration to everyone in football!

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The Future is Asia

For the past two years I have worked at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the responsibility of preparing educational training materials for referees and to work with the young referees in AFC Project Future.

These two years have been very enjoyable and very rewarding.

Asian refereeing is in a good position at the moment. There are excellent training programmes available and high quality courses are organised.

The three AFC referees appointed to the World Cup in South Africa also performed well.

It was maybe a surprise to some outside of Asia that the Asian Referee of the Year for the past two years, Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan, should be appointed to the opening match but it was not a surprise to those involved in Asian football. During the tournament he refereed five matches.

Another Asian referee, Yuichi Nishimura from Japan, refereed four matches and was fourth official at the World Cup Final.

Referee development is also taking place in Asia with young referees.

AFC Project Future Referees identifies refereeing talent under the age of 25 at the seven AFC Festivals of Football and after a further selection courses in Kuala Lumpur a small group are selected for Project Future Referees.

They then follow a two year training programme when they will have four intensive courses in different parts of Asia and receive instruction from the best AFC Elite Referee Instructors. The aim is to create the next generation of AFC Elite Referees.

The Referee Development Programmes in Asia have some differences from other parts of the world and to make them most effective, the main Asian languages must be used when preparing the training DVDs.

Only English of the four official FIFA languages – English, French, German and Spanish – is used to any great extent in Asia, so teaching material must be prepared in the local languages such as Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Korean and Russian. Farsi will be used in the 2011 programmes.

Asia was football’s sleeping giant but it has wakened up. The Asian Champions League is developing rapidly and the national teams of Japan and South Korea performed better than many expected in South Africa.

Refereeing has been a success story but the task is now to maintain and improve the high levels of performance.

‘The Future is Asia’ – but only if it keeps working at it!

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Big decisions for World Cups 2018 and 2022

FIFA will decide on 2nd December this year which countries or countries will host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup.

FIFA’s policy of continental rotation ended in October 2007 and now countries that are members of the same confederation as either of the last two tournament hosts are ineligible, leaving Africa ineligible for 2018 and South America  ineligible for both 2018 and 2022.

Although technically some federations have submitted bids for both, the reality is that 2018 looks as if it will be in Europe while 2022 will be decided from among the Asian Football Confederation candidates.

USA has also bid for both tournaments.

The European contest is an interesting one. England and Russia have submitted individual bids while joint bids have been submitted by Belgium and the Netherlands and by Spain and Portugal.

Many criteria are considered such as the infrastructure of the country, how easy is it to travel, how many hotels have they, what is the geographical location of the stadia and so on.

The experience of Korea and Japan being joint hosts in 2002 will make FIFA very wary of repeating the joint hosting arrangement.

There were major problems, not least the strained historical relationship between the two countries.

This led to basic questions such as ‘what will be the official name of the tournament?’ Will it be 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan or 2002 FIFA World Cup Japan/ Korea?

So too was the decision on where the opening ceremony and the Final would take place – Seoul or Tokyo?

These may seem simple questions but when national identity and pride are involved they were big issues.

In South Africa there were 10 stadia for the competition in Korea/ Japan in 2002 there were 20.

It was almost at times as if there were two separate World Cups taking place. In terms of organisation, this was certainly the case.

I believe therefore that the vote for 2018 will be between Russia and England. I do not think that FIFA will want to repeat the experience of 2002 and this will in all probability rule out the joint bids of Spain and Portugal as well as Belgium and Netherlands.

England or Russia?

Russia has never hosted the competition before and has a strong bid team. It also has access to oil wealth but there are problems in the distances the thousands of supporters will have to travel and special passport arrangements will have to be made to allow them entry to the country and also to travel to different parts of Russia.

China was able to deal with the passport problem for the 2008 Olympics and Russia will do the same if it is awarded the 2018 World Cup.

England’s bid is very strong. It is already spoiled for choice of stadia. It has the best marketed and most watched league in the world and is recognised as the home of football – an emotional argument which can be pitched against the fact that Russia has never been a host country.

It will also argue that it will be over 50 years since it had the 1966 World Cup.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to England has been the apparent arrogant attitude of those involved in the bidding process. Initially England appointed Lord Triesman, the then Chairman of the Football Association to head the bid. He is very well connected politically in England but in terms of world football he was an unknown. This was a major mistake.

Only when he resigned, and the FIFA Vice-President Geoff Thompson took over as chairman of the committee did the bid regain the momentum it had certainly lost.

David Beckham is England’s best ambassador and he must be used to promote the bid in the way that Franz Beckenbauer headed the successful German bid for 2006.

On balance, England could win but it all depends on securing 13 out of the 25 members of the FIFA Executive Committee on 2nd December.

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