Archive for October, 2011

Keep coaches away from the Laws of the Game

I always have some concern when coaches demand changes to the Laws of the Game.

Basically they want to maximise the benefits for their teams, which is totally understandable.

It is a fact, however, that many of the recent changes to the Laws of the Game have been necessary because of the failure of the coaches to control their players and because of their desire to stretch the Laws to the limit.

The International FA Board Decision outlawing the tackle from behind was necessary, not because it was the opinion of some uninformed lawmakers, but because the game had become increasingly violent and action had to be taken.

Simulation, or more correctly cheating, had to be addressed because it had become so widespread – and still is.

Coaches are still prepared to complain bitterly when an opposing player successfully deceives the referee while they accept it as part of the game when it is one of their own players who gains an advantage by cheating.

The recent meeting of the FIFA Task Force 2014 – one of a number now created – and chaired by Franz Beckenbauer, has decided that a clear understandable rule is required for Law 11 – Offside. Suggestions to be made by its next meeting.

Offside is a very technical Law but it is essential to the structure of the game. I think its application is just about right since it tries to favour the attacking team. It is one of the shortest Laws in the Laws of the Game but it will continue to be the most controversial, no matter what proposal the Task force come up with.

My main concern, however, is the suggestion that the red card for denying a goal or a goal scoring opportunity inside the penalty area should be changed because of the Task Force’s belief that it involves a triple punishment – penalty kick, red card and suspension.

A player who prevents an obvious goal scoring opportunity by a challenge inside the penalty area which is not considered serious foul play would only receive a yellow card and the opposing team would be awarded a penalty kick.

The group agreed that the red card and penalty punishment will remain for any outfield player who stops a goal on the goal line by using his hand, whereas any other simple fouls in the penalty area should only be sanctioned with a penalty and a yellow card.

This approach is totally inconsistent.

For example why should a tackle inside the penalty area which prevents a goal or an obvious goal scoring opportunity only receive a yellow card while a handball which prevents a goal be punished by a red card?

The Task Force say, and I quote, “the aim is make it easier for referees to ensure uniform and fairer decisions.”

Nonsense!

The suggestion is made by coaches to ensure that they do not get players sent off and subsequently suspended, not for any consideration of referees.

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FIFA crisis? Form a Task Force

Following the FIFA Executive Committee Meeting on 21st October, President Sepp Blatter announced to the world that he would support the documents prepared by the High Court in the Swiss canton of Zug relating to the collapse of the marketing company ISL being made public.

This was a massive about turn by Blatter considering FIFA had done everything in its power to keep these papers secret over a number of years.

The documents are alleged to show that illegal payments had been made to high ranking FIFA office bearers.

By agreeing to make the 42-page file public, FIFA has taken a step forward. But not too big a step.

The FIFA Executive Committee only agreed to release the file and it is now for the lawyers to work out which parts will be released to the public and when they can actually be made available.

FIFA has also announced that the document will be passed to an independent body which will investigate any officials involved in any wrongdoing.

Who is on this independent body and when it will meet are unclear but it is expected to report by the end of the year.

If this report is as damning as has been suggested, high level heads should role at FIFA.

But will they?

FIFA has had more Task Forces than NATO.

They are used as vehicles to take contentious subjects for a long walk before they get lost in the long grass.

The new task forces that Blatter will set up also look at governance, suitability for office, ethics and a regulatory group.

Blatter has been in charge of FIFA, either as General Secretary or President for nearly 30 years.

The troubles have happened on his watch but few decisive actions have been taken.

The pressure is now building up however.

In May 2011 he said that there was no crisis in FIFA.

Recent events suggest there is.

Send for the task force!

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Is transparency arriving at FIFA?

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has made a massive u-turn in his attempt to satisfy the intense demand throughout football for transparency in FIFA.

He will now call for the release of papers by the High Court in the Swiss canton of Zug which previously FIFA had tried to keep secret.

The documents relate to a criminal investigation into the collapse of FIFA’s former marketing partner International Sport and Leisure (ISL) and are believed to show that senior FIFA officials received bribes in return for granting ISL lucrative World Cup television and sponsorship rights during the 1990s.

It is alleged that two of those involved were former President Joao Havelange and his former son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira, who is a FIFA Executive Committee member and the Chairman of the World Cup 2014 Organising Committee.

Teixeira is alleged to have received £6.4 million via a company based in the tax haven of Liechtenstein.

Last year, lawyers acting for FIFA and the officials named attempted to pay £3.9 million to settle the case and keep their identities secret.

In May this year FIFA appealed for the second time against a Swiss prosecutor’s decision to make them available to the public. The case is due to be heard later this month.

Blatter is now embarking on a high risk strategy which could alienate a number of his FIFA Executive Committee members.

He is under immense pressure to fulfil the commitment to zero tolerance on corruption which he made during the FIFA Presidential Election Campaign.

This about turn will be part of a package which Blatter will present to the FIFA Executive Committee on 20th October.

Other proposals will be to reform the Executive Committee, make the controversial Ethics Committee totally independent, change the voting procedures for selecting the World Cup hosts and set up a Solutions Committee, composed of non-football figures who will look at the big issues facing the sport.

Nobody should ever under-estimate Blatter’s ability to survive a crisis.

But how will those who do not survive react?

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Would you want to watch Barca every week?

FC Barcelona is the best team in the world, probably better than the Spanish national team.

Spain are the FIFA World Cup Holders and UEFA Champions while Barcelona are the FIFA World Club Champions and the winners of the UEFA Champions League.

Spanish football is in a strong position at the moment.

Barcelona keep possession often on an 80% to 20% ratio to the opposition.

The players have fantastic skills.

Iniesta, Messi and co are world class players and to see them play as a unit is amazing.

I saw tonight on television the La Liga match between Barcelona and Racing Santander.

Today I have also watched the top English match between Liverpool and Manchester United and the Scottish Premier League match between Kilmarnock and Celtic.

The tactics were different and the skill levels in the English and Scottish matches were nowhere near as high as in the Spanish match.

The crowd reactions, however, were also very different.

The Spanish spectators seemed to sit back and admire the fantastic skills of the Barca players while the English and Scottish crowds generated a passion which was missing in Spain.

Any Liverpool v Manchester United match is a tense, competitive spectacle while today’s Scottish match featured an amazing comeback by Celtic from 3-0 down in the last 20 minutes to level the match 3-3.

I love to see and admire the skills of Barca and Spain with their ability to retain possession and score fantastic goals.

I believe, however, that in terms of spectator enjoyment and passion the British game has a lot to offer.

Maybe that is why the English Premier League is the most popular and lucrative league in the world.

Barca players have fantastic skills but would you like to watch this type of football every week?

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Refereeing at the Rugby World Cup 2011

The Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand is getting close to its climax with the semi final matches being played this weekend.

I have been particularly interested in some aspects of the refereeing, especially regarding the appointments.

Only ten referees were selected by the International Rugby Board, all of them from what would be considered the top rank countries – two from Ireland, two from South Africa, two from England and one each from New Zealand, Wales, Australia and France.

Also, all are native English speakers, apart from Romaine Poite from France.

Imagine one semi final between England and Ireland and the other between South Africa and New Zealand.

According to FIFA procedures, only three referees could have been appointed to these matches which is not a satisfactory situation for any World Cup.

This is very restrictive and, I would argue, very unprofessional.

I have to say I totally agree with the basic principle of selecting only the best referees and also of selecting two or more from the same country if they are the best. However, there is also the suggestion that the creation of such a group in New Zealand from only seven countries is elitist and restrictive.

In FIFA competitions there is a built in requirement for all confederations to be represented and this affects the quality of the officials.

Going by the IRB policy the best 24 referees in the world would have been selected for South Africa 2010.

Perhaps this would have been made up of 2 from AFC, 2 from CONCACAF, 6 from CONMEBOL and 14 from UEFA. This would have meant no representatives from OFC or CAF which would have been politically unacceptable to FIFA and to these confederations.

What would also have been unacceptable for FIFA would have been for a referee from a country in the same qualification section to referee a match involving other teams in that section. This happened, for example, when Englishman Wayne Barnes refereed the crunch match between Argentina and Scotland with Scotland to face England in the next match.

Imagine a situation in a FIFA World Cup when Argentina played Scotland in the qualification rounds refereed by an Englishman and Scotland’s next match was against England. Two Scottish players are controversially sent off and miss a deciding match against England.

No way, but maybe that is one of the differences between football and rugby.

I would imagine the IRB would have preferred to have had a wider choice of top referees and would possibly have appointed a larger number. 16 would have given them more options and might also have opened up the almost exclusive English speaking club.

It does not say much for the development of world refereeing in rugby that only 10 are considered good enough to be appointed to the premier tournament in the sport.

Also the Rugby World Cup 2011 is not without refereeing controversy.

Just like criticism of referees in the FIFA World Cup, New Zealander Bryce Lawrence has become Public Enemy Number 1 in South Africa after he refereed the controversial quarter final match with Australia which South Africa lost.

Two codes of the game, some refereeing similarities, some differences but many of the same problems!

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Beware the politicians

Politicians the world over enjoy being in the limelight because of sport and especially football.

Governments can be of great help to football’s governing bodies in many ways, especially in giving assistance with facilities.

But there is a problem when governments seek to control how an association is run.

Rightly, the FIFA statutes do not allow political interference in the affairs of its member associations.

Over the years FIFA has banned a number of countries of associations because of such interference – Greece, Kuwait, Brunei, Peru, Iran, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Iraq are possibly the most recent.

Iraq, for example was banned in November 2009 for government interference and the ban lasted over a year. This meant that everyone connected with the Iraqi Football Federation during this time could take no part in international sport.

The national team was banned as were all Iraq’s international referees.

Today, The Football Association has been given a deadline of 29th February 2012 to bring in rules tackling debt levels at clubs or face government action.

Members of Parliament have also warned that if the governance of football in England is not changed by the FA itself, then the UK government will take action.

This is a serious challenge to the English game which includes not only the English national teams and grass roots football all over the country but also the Barclays Premier League, the wealthiest league in world football.

Another question is whether FIFA will become involved.

There are many things happening at FIFA just now with the Ethics Committee investigations into alleged corruption and Sepp Blatter still to reveal his long awaited plan to introduce transparency in the FIFA organisation.

England is a big fish, but there is no love lost between FIFA and the FA, especially after England lost the bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Could FIFA ban the FA for government interference?

Certainly not immediately, but don’t be surprised if it sounds a few alarm bells just to let the FA know it is on the case.

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It’s hard being Scottish!

When you are Scottish you can look forward to many moments of despair with a few moments of ecstasy thrown in.

Consider our sporting involvement in the past few months.

Our national football team were robbed of the opportunity for a straightforward passage to play in the play offs for EURO 2012 by a bizarre refereeing decision to award a penalty kick for a dive by a Czech Republic forward while refusing to award a last minute penalty for a similar and probably more illegal challenge on a Scottish player one minute later.

Celtic suffered the curse of Scotland when the Turkish referee in the Europa Cup tie with Udinese, who previously had performed well, awarded an unconvincing penalty against Celtic in the last few minutes of the match.

But the pain of being Scottish does stop with football.

Scotland played Argentina last week in the Rugby World Cup and again the Gods of Fair Play deserted us.

With the score at 13-12 for Argentina in the last phase of the match, a drop goal attempt by Scotland was prevented by the Argentinian captain attacking the kicker from an offside position.

The English referee Wayne Barnes had taken up a very poor position and inexplicably failed to see the offside position which would have resulted in a probable match winning penalty to Scotland in front of the posts.

But regular despair comes with the odd moments of ecstasy.

A goal for Scotland in the opening match against Brazil in World Cup France 1998, a goal by Joe Jordan in a final qualification match for World Cup 1974 against Czechoslovakia at Hampden Park in 1973, Scotland beating England at Wembley in 1967 after England had won the World Cup in 1966 and the Scottish rugby team beating England at Murrayfield in 1990 to win the Grand Slam.

Yes, being Scottish can be painful – but the occasional moments of success are wonderful!

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