Archive for October, 2010

Tribal contest with Neanderthal supporters

In Scotland the Glasgow derby match took place on Sunday between Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers. It is called ‘the Old Firm Derby.’

Their rivalry goes back over a hundred years and is still as intense and tribal today as it ever was.

Basically it a religious divide between Catholic and Protestant although today many protestant players play for Celtic and many catholic players play for Rangers.

Before Sunday’s match both teams had won all their eight previous Scottish Premier League matches so there was a lot at stake on the result. The winning team would go to the top of the league.

Add to the mix that the Scottish FA appointed 31 year old FIFA Referee, Willie Collum for the match. Willie is a young referee who is close to the UEFA Premier Referee Group and this was his first Old Firm Derby. He is a very competent referee and is the youngest ever to be appointed to a Rangers v Celtic match.

Add to the mix that that during the week before the match the Celtic Coach, Neil Lennon, had made public statements criticising the officials in Celtic’s last match against Dundee United.

Add to the mix that in the build up to the match Lennon made public statements about how he wanted the referee to be strong and to make sure his team was treated fairly.

No pressure on the referee then!

As it turned out Celtic lost 3-1and the third goal was a controversial penalty. Lennon also thought a Rangers player should have been sent off.

The better team won but after the match, Lennon succeeded in turning the public attention from his team’s defeat onto the decisions of the referee.

He demanded to know from the Scottish FA why these two decisions had been taken and received massive media coverage in Scotland.

What of referee Willie Collum?

After Lennon had made his statements, which many considered to be irresponsible and inflammatory, the referee and his family received telephone death threats from Celtic supporters.

A tribal contest of sport was taken over by a few Neanderthal supporters, justifying their actions by comments from a coach who should have known better.

How tragic that our game has come to this.

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World Cup voting must be public

The recent accusations of corruption against two members of the FIFA Executive Committee are public relations disasters for the organisation.

FIFA claims itself, publically at least, to have transparency in its decision making but the present situation raises serious doubts about the validity of such claims.

The power to decide the venue of the FIFA World Cup, which has a major economic influence in the successful bidding country, can attract those seeking to influence the result illegally. Add to this the sporting advantages and the chance to promote the country on a global stage and you can realise the attraction of making a winning bid.

There is a legacy although sometimes this is more a white elephant and a financial burden than an actual legacy when the stadia built for the competition are not required when the World Cup leaves town.

The FIFA Ethics Committee are to investigate the claims but other claims are now emerging of bidding countries for 2018 and 2022 reaching agreements on voting strategies.

The only way FIFA can gain some sort of respect is for it to change its voting procedures.

Corruption, either alleged or actual, can hide behind the mask on anonymity.

FIFA must do at least three things quickly.

1         It must complete its enquiry into the accusations made against its two Executive Committee Members as soon as possible. If they are found guilty they cannot be removed from the Committee according to the FIFA Statutes but they should be suspended from voting.

2         It must a complete an enquiry into alleged voting arrangements by bidding countries

3      At the moment the ballot is carried out in secret. The voting must now be made public This will be resisted by many in FIFA but it is the only way to achieve the transparency which FIFA claims to have.

The status quo is not an option!

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FIFA must face up to the corruption charges

The claim that some members of the FIFA Executive Committee have compromised themselves by allegedly offering to vote for a certain candidate for World Cup 2018 and 2022 in return for some sort of financial gain is a major embarrassment for FIFA.

FIFA publically prides itself on transparency and the thought that at least 2 of the 24 members of the FIFA Executive Committee are prepared to take money to support a certain candidate must be a matter of major concern.

The decision to award a major sporting event to a country or to a city has often been clouded in mystery and suspicion.

When Germany was awarded the 2006 FIFA World Cup in 2002 it was a very close vote and only the controversial decision by Charlie Dempsey, the President of the Oceania Confederation, to abstain when he had been initially mandated to vote for South Africa, confirmed that the competition would go to Europe.

It was clear after this disappointment that the 2010 competition would go to Africa and, especially with the Mandela factor, to South Africa.  

The Olympic Games, the other great global sporting event, has had similar problems to the present accusations being leveled at FIFA.

Marc Hodler, an octogenarian IOC member and recognised as a champion of integrity was the man who started questioning the integrity of the Salt Lake City bid.

He’d suggested all was not as it should have been in the bid process for the 2002 Winter Games won by Salt Lake City.

The consequences of Hodler’s whistle blowing shook the IOC to its core.

The Olympic values of fair play, honesty, and respect had little place in the conduct of some of the IOC members, who had enjoyed the hospitality of the cities bidding to stage the games.

Four investigations followed, including one by the US Department of Justice. Astonishing tales emerged of members securing university scholarships and plastic surgery for family members, all-expense paid ski trips, visits to the Superbowl.

It was a gravy train, and for the first time in its history, the IOC expelled 10 members and 10 others were sanctioned.

The ethics commission established by the IOC drew up rigid new rules and new codes of conduct. Visits to bidding cities by IOC members were banned and the practice of giving excessive gifts to members or their wives stopped immediately.

FIFA had experienced a similar problem in the bidding for the 2002 FIFA World Cup when Japan and Korea bombarded the FIFA Executive Committee with all sorts of gifts.

It was left to the late David Will, the Scottish FIFA Vice- President and a man of the utmost integrity, to publically state that he would refuse to accept any gift from any candidate federation. Other FIFA Executive Committee Members followed his example.

Make no mistake the present crisis is a major challenge to FIFA.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter will want to clear things up as soon as possible.

If the two minor members of the FIFA Executive Committee, Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii, President of the Oceania Confederation, are shown to be guilty, they will quickly be removed from the FIFA Executive Committee.

And rightly so!

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Goal line technology is on its way

Contrary to what most people believe, the Laws of the Game are not made by FIFA but by the oldest international body in world football, the International Football Association Board.

It was founded in 1886, 18 years before FIFA was formed, and initially was composed of the British founding nations of organised football – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – FIFA joined the Board in 1912.

That is history but what was decided on Monday 11th October 2010, could also create a bit of history. At the meeting of its technical sub-committee, the IFAB discussed the introduction of goal-line technology.

There have been discussions on this topic before but this meeting was different. Thirteen out of seventeen companies invited to submit proposals for goal line technology did so and the challenge is now on to find a fail-safe method.

There are certain in-built criteria. The signal must alert the referee whenever the ball crosses the goal line and it must be direct to the referee, perhaps using a transmitter on his watch. The signal must not be sent to the referee by a third person. No cameras will be involved.

The IFAB, which is the guardian of the Laws of the Game, will raise the matter during its Annual Business Meeting in Cardiff on October 20th, although no decision on the issue will be made until the IFAB Annual General Meeting in March 2011 also in Cardiff.

FIFA have previously rebuffed all demands to use video technology to resolve contentious refereeing decisions, despite it being successfully implemented in other sports such as tennis, cricket and rugby union.

However calls for goal line technology have increased, especially when a goal scored by England midfielder Frank Lampard in the World Cup tie against Germany was disallowed. England went in at half time 2-1 down when it should have been 2-2.

England eventually lost 4-1 but that disallowed goal was a critical error.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on recently, “I have said if we have an accurate and simple system then we will implement it, but so far we have not had a simple, nor an accurate system.”

The technical solution is not an easy one but it does look as if some form of goal line technology will be introduced in the next two years.

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Doctors need some fingerspitzengefühl

F-Marc – the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre – is a high quality FIFA body composed of top medical specialists. It is funded by FIFA to carry out research into different aspects of football.

FIFA Chief Medical Officer, Jiri Dvorak, is highly regarded for his work, among other things, in the field of doping control and it is a matter of pride that positive tests are extremely rare in World Cup football.

When this is compared to the regular failed drug tests in the Olympic Games and in the Tour de France, for example, football can be said to be basically clean of the problem of drugs.

While F-MARC is funded by FIFA, all research is independently conducted following the highest scientific standards. More than 100 publications in world renowned scientific journals bear testimony to  the sound research work of F-MARC within the international science community, systematically contributing to an ever growing body of knowledge in football medicine.

It has issued valuable guidelines about injury prevention and treatment and the need for a good warm-up before matches, for example and after some fatal incidents has examined the health risks associated with active sport participation including sudden cardiac death.

It can sometimes be over-scientific however and ignore the reality of the match situation.

It has criticised referees for over physical play taking place on the field for example.

If a player commits a challenge using excessive force and an opponent is severely injured, the fault lies with the player and not with the referee.

The referee can only act according to the Laws of the Game after the challenge. It is not his fault that the challenge has taken place in the first place.

Doctors are a very important part of the game in so many ways but they sometimes lack a bit of fingerspitzengefühl – a feeling for the game.

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Better late than never!

This year’s World Cup between Spain and  the Netherlands was eagerly awaited by millions of people all over the globe but the anticipated spectacle degenerated in one of the most disgraceful examples of indiscipline seen at this level for years.

Referee Howard Webb was on a hiding to nothing.

He tried to keep 22 players on the field. He issued cautions and spoke to the players but no-one took any notice. He was heavily criticised in some quarters but a referee can only do so much. The players must play their part and accept their responsibility.

Webb did say however that he regretted only cautioning and not sending off Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong for a two footed assault into the chest of Xabi Alonso.

De Jong has a reputation.

In March this year he broke U.S. international midfielder Stuart Holden’s leg with a reckless tackle and on Saturday, in the third minute of the English Premier League clash between Manchester City and Newcastle, he flew into Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa with both feet and broke the tibia and fibula in the Frenchman’s left leg.

Once more, as in the World Cup Final, the punishment did not fit the crime.

For his tackle on Holden he was only shown a yellow card while he escaped without even a caution for Saturday’s challenge on Ben Arfa.

Dutch national team coach Bert van Marwijk was very critical of Howard Webb after the Final.

After the Final when asked about the tactics that resulted in an astonishing nine yellow cards and one red for his team, which surpassed the all-time record for both sides in a World Cup final by 50 percent, he said,

“It has been our intention to play beautiful football, but we also were facing a very good opponent. Spain was the best the last two years and we needed to play to beat them. We did a good job and were in good position. Both sides committed fouls. It might be regrettable for a final. It’s not our style but then again, you do play a match to win. It’s a World Cup. It’s a final.”

In July, he claimed the ends justified the means.

He was at the match on Saturday and perhaps seeing Ben Arfa taken off the field on a stretcher has made him face up to reality.

This week van Marwijk said he was dropping De Jong from the Netherlands team that will face Moldova and Sweden in 2012 European Championship qualifiers on 8th and 12th October. The second game is a big one since Holland and Sweden each are joint leaders of Group E.
“I was at the match in Manchester and I’ve seen the pictures of the tackle. It was a wild and unnecessary offence. He went in much too hard. It is unfortunate, especially since he does not need to do it,” he said of the tackle.

Van Marwijk  appears finally to have developed a sense of right and wrong.

He is to be commended for his stance and I wish more coaches were prepared to take similar action.

Better late than never!

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I have looked at the recent change to the Laws of the Game concerning Law 14 – the Penalty Kick, with some concern.

Basically I think the change in the Procedure for Law 11, as stated in the Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees is unsound and incorrect in Law.

Law 14 states that the ball is in play when it is kicked and moves forward.

Anything which happens before the ball is kicked can be punished according to the Laws of the Game but the procedure to restart the game cannot be changed,

If a player feints before he kicks the ball at a penalty kick he must be cautioned according to the new interpretation but what cannot be changed is the restart of the game since the infringement occurred before the ball was in play.

As has been stated above, the ball is in play when it is kicked and moves forward

No matter the outcome of the kick – goal or no goal – the kick should be retaken since the ball was not in play when the offence occurred.

This is different from the situation when a player encroaches into the penalty area at the taking of a penalty kick.

The offence occurs immediately the ball is kicked and should be punished accordingly. I believe the punishment should be an indirect free kick to the defending team if the offence is committed by the attacking team, no matter the result of the kick, a goal (or a retake if the kick is missed) if the offence is committed by the defending team and a retake if both teams encroach.

This would at least tackle encroachment – one of the major problems of Law 14 – even it will not always solve it.

The other problem to be dealt with is the goalkeeper moving from his line. If the Law now punishes the kicker who feints before he kicks the ball, it should also punish the goalkeeper who moves forward before the ball is kicked with an automatic caution for unsporting behaviour.

Surely in a penalty kick situation when the offence has been committed by the defending team, it is wrong to introduce sanctions against the attacking team, while not recognising that the most common offences are encroachment by both teams and the goalkeeper moving off his line before the kick is taken.

Feinting before the ball is kicked is much less common than these two offences but for some reason this is the offence which the IFAB has chosen to target.

Some fair play and common sense are needed here!

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