Archive for September, 2010

FIFA must speak in more languages

Tradition is a great thing. The International FA Board, founded in 1886, is a very important part of the football scene and continues to act responsibly and wisely as the guardian of the Laws of the Game. Yet if you were to decide today to set up a body to control the Laws of football worldwide you would not create the IFAB. But it works!

When FIFA was founded in 1904, the founder seven members were all European since that was where football was developing at that time. The languages of FIFA therefore were the four main European languages – English, French, German and Spanish.

My experience in Asia has emphasised the importance of communicating in the local languages. AFC now prepares teaching material for referees in the six main Asian languages – Arabic, Hindi. Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and Russian, as well as English.

I believe that, as we now enter the second decade of the 21st century, FIFA must consider increasing the number of official languages it uses.

Today German speakers are very limited but Arabic is spoken in a large number of member associations. Similarly, considering the size and population of China, Mandarin and Cantonese must be considered major world languages as should Russian.

I appreciate that an Arabic version of the FIFA website is now available and this is a big step forward and the inclusion of Mandarin, Cantonese and Russian this would extend the concept even further.

I believe that consideration should given, as a development project by FIFA, to recognise the main Asian languages as official FIFA languages. English will always remain the definitive language for the Laws of the Game but FIFA should consider widening its language base.

Europe, South America, Central America. Oceania and Africa are mostly covered by the present four official FIFA languages but Asia would greatly benefit from the addition of Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese and Russian language versions of the Laws of the Game and new FIFA teaching materials to aid the development of football.

 FIFA must always think ahead – it has always been multicultural – it must now be multi-lingual!

  • Share/Bookmark

It was interesting to read that football fans watching the first group matches in the Champions League and Europa League were shown a video explaining UEFA’s additional assistant referees experiment.

A 30-second advert,  prepared by UEFA, was shown at stadia and by broadcasters before matches.

The advert shows a refereeing team in action, with the messages emphasising that the two extra officials provides ‘More Vision, More Communication and More Information’ to help the referee to make correct decisions.

UEFA’s chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina pays lip service to the slogan at the end of the video: “Now we see more.”

Under the refereeing experiment – recently extended from the Europa league to the Champions League and Euro 2012 qualifiers – the referee, two assistant referees and the fourth official are assisted by two additional refs located behind each goal line.

The experiment will also take place in the AFC President’s Cup in Myanmar and in Qatar as well as in France. Brazil and Mexico will also be involved in the experiment.

The extra officials have the responsibility of spotting incidents which take place in the penalty area. This includes assisting the referee in ruling on whether ball has crossed the goal-line or whether a goal should be disallowed for offside.

This is a UEFA backed experiment – the brainchild of its President, Michel Platini. It has had a tremendous amount of money spent on it so far, more than any experiment previously considered by the International FA Board.

This high pressure marketing approach is a major concern.

No-one connected with UEFA – Pieluigi Collina of the UEFA Referee Committee, Hugh Dallas of Scotland, another UEFA Referee Committee member who is also a member of the IFAB Technical Sub-Committee, or any other UEFA official,  is ever going to publically criticise it and oppose the proposal of the UEFA President.

This creates a major problem.

The debate must fully examine the pros and cons of the experiment.

There are serious weaknesses in the experiment concerning the role of the referee, the change in his positioning with an extra official on the goal line and the possibility of conflict in the information given to the referee from the extra official and the assistant referee.

Any changes to the Laws of the Game must look at the big picture and not what suits the cash rich confederation of UEFA, although it must be said that Platini sees this principally as a way of preventing video replays being introduced.

Most confederations could not afford to appoint six officials to a confederation tournament.

The experiment has two more years to run before a final decision is taken.

This decision must be taken on the basis of whether it will benefit football worldwide – not on the success of a major marketing initiative.

For the Good of the Game.

For the Game. For the World.

No matter the slogan, the International FA Board must come to its decision based on what is good for football worldwide and ignore the intense pressure coming from UEFA.

  • Share/Bookmark

No one can ever say Sepp Blatter, the FIFA President, is not a man with both ideas and opinions.

Despite the justifiable public praise for much about the 2010 FIFA World Cup – the enthusiasm of the South Africans –except those vuvuzelas – and the fantastic stadia, the reality is that for the majority of football supporters the quality of the football in South Africa was very disappointing.

The best team won but only after arguably the worst final in World Cup history.

Blatter knows this and has set out some ideas to tackle the problem.

He believes that negative tactics in the group stages, when teams were more intent on not losing rather than winning, must be changed.

To combat the problem, he will ask FIFA’s Football Committee and Technical Committee to consider new ideas to encourage “free-flowing” football.

This Committee is chaired by Franz Beckenbauer and includes Michel Platini and Pele.

“In the first few matches of the group stage in South Africa, we witnessed some teams that went out to avoid defeat, that were playing for a draw from the outset. This is a topic that I would like to discuss at upcoming committee meetings.

“We have to try to find a way to encourage free-flowing football in tournaments like the World Cup, with teams playing to win.”

Blatter’s comments about extra time may seem surprising given that only two matches went to penalties in the World Cup, Paraguay’s victory over Japan in the round-of-16 stage and Uruguay’s win against Ghana in the quarter finals.

However, the possibility of ending extra time is on the agenda at meetings of the FIFA’s Football Committee and Technical Committees in Zurich on October 18.

The Golden Goal rule by which a side wins as soon they score the first goal in extra time, was introduced in 1993 but scrapped  11 years later.

“Often we see teams set themselves up even more defensively in extra time in an attempt to avoid conceding a goal at all costs,” Blatter said. “To prevent this, we could go directly to a penalty shoot-out at full time, or reintroduce the Golden Goal rule.”

My own opinion is that going directly to the penalty shoot out is worth considering since all that is required in the knock-out stages of any is a result and in some cases teams play for a penalty shoot out from  the start of extra time.

A complicating factor is some competitions is also the “away goals rule”, though not obviously in the World Cup.

The Golden Goal, however, can be an unfair way of achieving a result. Consider if one team has to play into a strong wing in the first half of extra time and the other team scores the Golden Goal. This is not fair.

Blatter’s stated aim is to encourage “flee-flowing football.”

The answer lies with the coaches – not with the competition rules!

  • Share/Bookmark

Who is the greatest?

An easy way to start a heated discussion is to ask the question “who was the greatest footballer of all time?”

Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Ronaldo, Messi – all will have their own supporters.

But ask the question “who was the world’s greatest sportsman?” and you are into a new field of controversy.

Who is the greatest sportsperson in world sport today?

I think the first thing you must consider is that when you try to identify the world’s top sportsperson, they must be involved in the top sports.

Football, athletics, tennis, boxing and golf can justifiably be considered worldwide sports but baseball, cricket, basketball and rugby are minority sports in a global sense.

It would be hard to argue against Mohammed Ali being the greatest sportsman of his era or Pele and Maradona being the greatest in other times.

Michael Johnson, the Olympic gold medalist, whose world records lasted for over 20 years, must be a candidate while, until his recent personal troubles, Tiger Woods was an unbelievably successful golfer.

Tennis has some strong candidates. The Williams sisters have dominated women’s tennis for the past decade.

In my opinion, though, the greatest sportsmen today, are both tennis players – Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer.

They combine their fantastic skills with an off court humility and are wonderful role models for young people.

The chances are they will play against each other this weekend in the final of the US Open at Flushing Meadow in New York.

What a match that could be!

Any other suggestions for the world’s greatest sportsman?

  • Share/Bookmark

Blatter’s refereeing revolution

After the high profile refereeing mistakes made in the 2010 World Cup, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that only full-time professional referees should be chosen to officiate at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

He said that improving the standards of elite referees will be a top priority if he is re-elected next June to lead FIFA for another fourth four year term.

“You can’t have non-professional referees in professional football,” he said and will reveal a detailed review of training for top level referees in October.

This move was expected after South Africa.

In South Africa only Howard Webb of England, who refereed the final, and Yuichi Nishimura of Japan, who was fourth official at the final, are full time referees

In the 64 matches of the World Cup tournament you are always going to have some mistakes. Imagine, in a 16 team national league, having no controversy for eight weeks. It never happens. Controversy is always present in football.

FIFA is estimated to have spent $40 million in referee training in the build up to World Cup 2010. The introduction of professional referees for the 2014 World Cup will be a new focus for the budget.

There are many problems to be overcome.

How many referees will be given a FIFA contract?

Will the referees also be funded by their national associations?

Will the full time team also include assistant referees?

Will the referees continue to referee in their own national leagues or will they become ‘international’ referees, refereeing in different leagues throughout the world?

All should be revealed in October.

An unfortunate point in South Africa was that the most of the major refereeing controversies were in high profile matches involving high profile teams.

Would there have been the same publicity had the goal line incident in the Germany v England match happened instead in the matches between Switzerland and Honduras or DPR Korea and Ivory Coast?

Certainly not.

Many problems in South Africa were assistant referee problems and not referee decisions.

There will be no benefit in spending large amounts of money on full time referee contracts if the assistant referees on the touchline, whose signals are always under tremendous scrutiny from the television cameras, are not included.

  • Share/Bookmark

Changes at football’s top table

The recent comment by UEFA President Michel Platini that England’s bid for the 2018 FIFA world Cup was being hindered by the fact that it had not yet replaced Lord Triesman, the previous FA Chairman, brought into prominence the role of the president or chairman in a national federation.

When I first became involved in full time football administration in 1988 there were some major differences from the way things are organised today.

At the Scottish FA, the Secretary was Ernie Walker. There were elected Presidents, with a four year term but he was the man in charge of Scottish football. He was the driving force and he was good at his job.

The media sometimes called him ‘the Ayatollah,’ (not to his face) but he had a presence and was respected throughout world football. No-one was in any doubt who was in charge.

He was, of course a paid employee and not an elected official.

This was the situation in many football organizations.

At FIFA Sepp Blatter was the General Secretary and Joao Havelange was the President but Sepp was the driving force. He was the man in charge.

At UEFA, Gerd Aigner was the strong administrator while the UEFA President, Lennart Johansson, a hugely respected figure in world football, allowed him to get on with his work.

Things have changed today.

Perhaps the moment of change was at the FIFA Congress in Paris in 1998 when Sepp Blatter was elected FIFA President.

After being the hands on FIFA General Secretary there was no chance that he was going to be a figure head President. He became an executive President and appointed his deputy Michel Zen Ruffinen as General Secretary.

After Zen Ruffinen left in 2002, he was replaced by former FIFA Finance Director, Urs Linsi and he in turn has been  replaced by former Marketing Director Jerome Valcke.

But always Blatter was the executive President – driving initiatives forward and the face of FIFA.

The same situation was developing in the confederations.

When Mohamed Bin Hammam was elected President of AFC he became an executive President like Blatter and the role of Peter Vellapan, the General Secretary became different. Previously Dato’ Peter was the man in complete charge but things had changed and he moved on.

In Europe, the election of Michel Platini as UEFA President had the same effect. He is an executive President like Sepp Blatter and Mohamed Bin Hammam and did not require an executive General Secretary – so Gerd Aigner left.

If the administration of a federation is sound and driven by a strong leader it also has every chance of succeeding. If it does not have strong administration and leadership it will never make long term progress.

Football also needs Presidents in national federations who have the same drive, ideas and vision.

Executive Presidents are a problem for football only when they do not have the drive and vision to move forward.

Blatter, Bin Hammam and Platini are good for football. They are ideas people and, as Presidents, they deliver results.

  • Share/Bookmark