Archive for June, 2011

For the last eight months I have been a member of a three man team which has looked at the governance of the Irish Football Association.

The review team comprised of Timothy Quin, the Chairman, a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland and former President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, David Watkins, formerly a senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office and Deputy Chief Executive of the Industrial Development Board and myself.

It was a very balanced team with expertise in commerce, law, finance, company governance, national government procedures and of course football.

All are essential elements in a review of governance of a football association.

A very important part of the review was listening to the opinions of stakeholders from all over Northern Ireland and the review team did this with meetings and presentations to different divisional associations, leagues, associations and individuals.

Over an eight month period the final report emerged, and although sometimes critical of some aspects of the IFA governance, the changes to the IFA Articles of Association and Standing Orders which were recommended were accepted at the AGM and EGM of the Irish Football Association on 29th June 2011, with 84% of the members in favour.

This is just the starting point for the IFA, but it is an essential first step and many more changes will emerge in the next few years with this report as the catalyst.

A few weeks earlier, a similar approach was taken by the Scottish Football Association, which approved a report into its governance and procedures by Henry McLeish, a former First Minister of the Scottish Parliament and former professional footballer.

Again, the results were accepted at an AGM, this time unanimously, by the SFA members.

The main point is that both associations recognised the need to modernise and grasped the nettle and the challenge of change.

FIFA was founded over 100 years ago but has had major governance problems in the last ten years.

It must also grasp the nettle of change and have an independent review into its governance and structure, chaired by a universally accepted senior international diplomat, not by a football personality, as it has done in the past.

The recent allegations of corruption and maladministration do no credit to the governing body of world football.

The accusations must be fully investigated and not pushed from one committee to the next to be finally lost in the labyrinth of FIFA procedures.

FIFA must move forward but it must have a structure and administration which can generate the essential changes.

The question many people will ask is has it the courage to face up to the challenges of modern football governance?

The Irish FA and the Scottish FA have done it.

Why not FIFA?

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What next for CONCACAF?

The decision of Jack Warner, the President of CONCAF and FIFA Vice-President to resign following allegations of corruption has created a major power vacuum in the region.

Previously Warner could deliver 35 votes to the FIFA Congresses, making him a big player in the politics of global football. He has now resigned to concentrate on his role as Minister of Transport in the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and after him there is a significant void.

There was obviously a breakdown in the relationship between Warner and the whistle blower Chuck Blazer from USA, the General Secretary of CONCACAF.

Blazer, however is not a spokesman or representative for US Soccer. He has a position on the all powerful FIFA Executive Committee and this will be further consolidated following his divulgence of information which was hugely significant to the unopposed election of Sepp Blatter as FIFA President at the 2011 FIFA Congress.

Under Warner the Caribbean countries have dominated CONCACAF to the exclusion of the two biggest countries, USA and Mexico.

The election of a new CONCACAF President will be highly significant.

It is unlikely it will be an American, given Chuck Blazer’s position on the FIFA Executive Committee, but maybe a Mexican candidate will emerge to represent the major countries in CONCACAF and re-address the balance of power which had swung to the Caribbean.

The next few months will be very interesting – and very political!

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Olympic Gold or World Cup participation?

The British Olympic Association, BOA, has recently said that a “historic agreement” has been reached with the English Football Association over fielding teams at the 2012 Games.

Unfortunately the Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland know nothing about the alleged agreement.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reacted angrily to claims that their players could take part in a united Great Britain football team and a collective statement from these three  nations denied this was the case.

“No discussions took place with any of us, far less has any historic agreement been reached,” it said.

“The Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reiterate our collective opposition to Team GB participation at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, contrary to the media release issued by the BOA.

“We have been consistently clear in explaining the reason for our stance, principally to protect the identity of each national association.

With that in mind, we cannot support nor formally endorse the approach that has been proposed by the Football Association.”

Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan, Football Association of Wales Chief Executive Jonathan Ford and Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson all signed the joint statement.

For athletes in every other sport, except football, the Olympic Games are the most important world sporting event every four years. Winning the Olympic Gold Medal in swimming, wrestling or badminton is the highest honour in that particular sport.

In football, however, the top prize is winning the FIFA World Cup. Only underage teams take part in the Olympics.

Football fans always know the teams which have won the FIFA World Cup.

How many fans know which team won the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament? It was actually Argentina with a team which included Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano.

This issue goes to the very heart of the structure of football in Great Britain.

The four British associations have a privileged place in world football by having separate identities in UEFA and FIFA although they are all politically part of the United Kingdom.

They are however the founder members of the International Football Association Board, which since 1886 have been responsible for the Laws of the Game, and this gives them a special status.

Another special circumstance is that the British Associations have a FIFA Vice President who is elected for a four year term by the FA, IFA, SFA and FAW.

It is highly unlikely, no impossible, that the Football Association would ever be integrated in to a British FA with one vote in FIFA and a limited number of representatives in the major UEFA competitions.

The FA’s status in European football is too strong for that ever to happen.

In the unstable world of football politics however, these become real threats.

Who would have thought four weeks ago that the Presidents of CONCACAF and AFC would now be suspended by FIFA from all football involvement pending an enquiry by the FIFA Ethics Committee?

The SFA, IFA and FAW are wise to be suspicious of the intrigues of world football today.

The associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales must resist the Trojan Horse of Olympic representation.

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Don’t forget the 99.99%

You will have noticed that there is a different picture on this page.

The previous picture was from the 2010 FIFA World Cup but this one was taken at a recent match in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between Bintang Muda and Majestic Stone.

They were participating in a competition organised by the Asian Football Confederation as part of its Project Future programme.

Sometimes we have got to move away from the high profile football issues and look at what makes the game so special.

Grassroots or recreational football, as distinct from professional football, is played by 99.99% of players throughout the world. Football is justifiably called ‘the people’s game.’

It is estimated that worldwide over 270 million play football and nearly 30 million of these players are women.

The professional game is very important since it sets targets for which talented players can aim but it also has important responsibilities. The top players are role models for the young players who watch them and, with the ever extending web of communication, they are seen all over the world.

Too often they forget this responsibility.

The other 99.99% just want to play football and their commitment on the field is every bit as passionate as those playing in the World Cup Final.

FIFA’s slogan is ‘For the game, for the world.’

Very admirable but it also must accept its responsibilities to the ethics of the game and keep the trust of the 99.99%.

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Things have gone quiet on FIFA matters in the last week.

The election is over and Sepp Blatter has been overwhelmingly confirmed as the President of FIFA for the next four years.

Be prepared for fallout, however.

Traditionally, FIFA General Secretaries have been an endangered species after every election since 2002.

The then General Secretary, Michel Zen Ruffinen, made strong accusations about financial irregularities against the FIFA President, Sepp Blatter. At one time Blatter’s position was under threat in a finely balanced FIFA Executive Committee with most of the UEFA members demanding his resignation.

However a small, but highly significant, change in the UEFA representatives on the FIFA Executive Committee after the UEFA Congress gave Blatter the votes he needed to survive.

He won the election in Seoul, Korea and Zen Ruffinen was sacked.

The next FIFA General Secretary was Urs Linsi, former FIFA Director of Finance and Depute General Secretary to Zen Ruffinen. He had been instrumental in arranging the financial package which allowed FIFA to overcome the failure of ISL its main marketing partner and his reward was to be the next General Secretary.

Again he failed to survive long after the 2006 Congress. He had fallen out with some of the Executive Committee, notably Jack Warner of CONCACAF, and he was the fall guy – albeit he allegedly left with a massive payoff to soften the blow.

He was succeeded by Jerome Valcke, formerly the FIFA Marketing Director. Ten months earlier Valcke had been sacked by FIFA after a New York judge ruled he had lied to two groups – MasterCard and Visa – bidding for the right to sponsor the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. FIFA eventually agreed an out of court settlement of $90 million.

His appointment astonished many but who can predict or understand such things in FIFA?

The question now is will he keep his job after the revelations in an e-mail to Jack Warner, subsequently clarified, when he suggested that Mohamed Bin Hammam, Blatter’s Presidential opponent, was trying to buy FIFA in the same way that he had bought the World Cup 2022 for Qatar?

Things have gone quiet for the moment but they have not gone away nor been forgotten.

As was said earlier General Secretaries have been an endangered species after every election.

They may be endangered but they are not protected!

It couldn’t happen again, could it?

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White elephants follow every World Cup

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was a major success in many ways.

The fears of crime and lawlessness were groundless and South Africa projected an image to the world of a vibrant young country which had met the challenges of producing a world class sporting event.

It was claimed by the Johannesburg local authority recently that for every rand which was invested eight were generated, although the figures are not entirely accepted by many local economists.

Hosting the World Cup does not come cheap.

FIFA are hard taskmasters since the income it generates from the competition is the main source of income, over a four year cycle, for all its development courses, other competitions and special projects, not forgetting the $1 million paid to all its 208 member association over this four year period.

Sentiment was not FIFA’s only consideration in staging the competition in South Africa.

It demanded new stadia, rather than refurbished ones, at a cost of $1.6 billion.

Attendances in the Absa Premier League in South Africa were up 8% last year but several of the venues are still without tenant clubs since they are too big to fill on a weekly basis.

Things are not yet as bad as they are in Portugal where two local councils are considering demolishing EURO 2004 venues because they are too expensive to maintain.

Korea had a similar problem after the 2002 FIFA World Cup when it found it impossible to fill all ten stadia it built for the joint hosting with Japan.

In South Africa, the iconic Cape Town Stadium in the shadow of Table Mountain has major problems with escalating costs. The most successful events have been pop concerts by Neil Diamond and U2 but the profits are well short of meeting costs and there is no sign of a host club such as the Ajax football team or the Western Union rugby union club taking residence in a stadium that cost just less than $700 million.

Not all South African stadia are in this position. The FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, where the World Cup Final was held, is comfortably meeting the $4.5 million annual running costs with a mixture of regular rugby and football matches as well as concerts and stadium tours.

The one guaranteed winner from the 2010 World Cup was FIFA.

It made a profit of $631 million.

After recent events we can only hope it is used ‘For the Good of the Game.’

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Governance – For the Good of the Game

The Scottish Football Association, founded in 1873, is the second oldest in world football after the Football Association which was founded 10 years earlier in England.

It was a founder member of the International FA Board in 1886, a position it still retains today.

Over its 138 year history it has evolved in many ways. Committees have been created here and there and been added on to the historical structure.

History and tradition have been major assets to Scotland but they have also brought problems since today many of the practices and procedures of the past are not relevant to the modern game.

The SFA took a major step forward yesterday when, at its Annual General Meeting, it approved changes which will affect Scottish football for years to come.

Following an independent review by Henry McLeish, a former First Minister in the Scottish Parliament and former professional footballer, major changes were proposed for the game in Scotland.

Not everyone agreed with every proposed change but the 93 clubs voted unanimously to accept the package of changes.

It will mean, among other things, that the disciplinary procedures will be changed, the Board will be reduced from 11 to 7, an independent Board member will be appointed and protection will be provided for referees.

Scottish football has realised that it must change and has responded to the challenge.

FIFA has had a bad few weeks.

When FIFA has a problem such as the financial accusations of the ISL collapse in 2001, the voting for the World Cups in 2006, 2018 and 2022 or the allegations of corruption among its senior officials, it forms a new committee.

True to tradition, after the allegations of corruption which surfaced at the recent FIFA Congress in Zurich, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that the solution is to form a Solutions Committee.

It has been suggested that two possible members of the new committee will be Henry Kissinger and Placido Domingo. Blatter loves to play the personality card but is in danger of become a figure of ridicule by appointing an 88 year old politician and a football fan who also happens to be one of the world’s great opera singers.

FIFA needs to review its governance, just as the Scottish FA did.

It must appoint a strong team of independent experts who will provide an honest and probably painful report.

But it won’t!

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The controversial intervention of the FA Chairman, David Bernstein, at the FIFA Congress in Zurich on Wednesday has raised a number of matters.

There is no doubt that the Football Association is still smarting from the humiliation of the vote for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in December 2010 and sees a conspiracy against, what most would agree, was the strongest technical bid.

The stadia are there and are full every match day to broadcast live matches to all parts of the world. The infrastructure of hotels and transport is also in position and there is the unquestionable fact that England is a hotbed of football with an incomparable history as the birthplace of the modern game.

Suggestions have been made that the bid process was flawed because of bribes paid by competing countries for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.

But there is a fine dividing line between what some would consider to be a bribe and what others would consider to be a development project and assistance.

The dictionary definition of a bribe is “a gift bestowed to influence the recipient’s conduct.”

We now start to enter murky waters.

Did the Football Association attempt to influence Jack Warner, the FIFA Vice-President and President of CONCACAF, by agreeing to play a match against Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean on 1st June 2008, or was this merely an attempt to develop the game in the area with no thought of the possible vote of the Caribbean countries for England’s bid in 2010?

Did the FA agree to appoint three successive English coaches for the Thailand national team – Peter Withe, Peter Reid and Bryan Robson – and agree to a friendly match in the future between the two countries, without suggesting that Dato’ Worawi Makudi, President of the Football Association of Thailand and a  member of the FIFA Executive Committee might support the English bid?

Interesting questions.

As the saying goes “people in glass houses should not throw stones” – or should it be “people in glass houses should not take baths”?

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England and Scotland score an own goal

Gesture politics are rarely successful.

The Football Association and the Scottish Football Association, the two oldest football associations in world football, attempted to have the FIFA Presidential Election postponed in view of the claims of corruption and malpractice which have surfaced in recent days.

They would have required 156 member associations out of the 208 members of FIFA to have supported a motion which was proposed only a few days ago.

It had no chance of success and has only proved how out of touch some of the leaders of British football are with the world game.

England have a particular grievance after their failure to gain only two votes in the first round of voting for the 2018 FIFA World Cup but this was not the way to move forward. If they felt so strongly they should have started their campaign weeks ago.

As far as Scotland is concerned, what on earth were they thinking?

They have tagged along on England’s coat tails with a proposal which has no chance of succeeding, alienates a large number of FIFA members and could have long term effect on Scotland’s privileged position, with the other British associations, as separate entities, members of the International FA Board and the right to elect a British Vice President of FIFA.

The leaders of the FA and the SFA need to wake up to the realities of world football.

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