Cheating is the name of the game

20 years ago the word ‘simulation’ was a term hardly ever used in football but today it is used regularly.

Simulation is a sanitised way of describing cheating.

Players dive to win penalties or simulate injuries to have an opponent sent off or cautioned. They try to cheat the referee and more importantly, the game of football itself.

The Scottish Football Association has fairly recently appointed a Compliance Officer to speed up the disciplinary procedures. He is a lawyer and not a football person but he has the responsibility to look at video evidence and decide whether a case should be brought against a player for actions such as simulation.

As part of the speedy settlement of cases, the SFA charged Rangers’ player Sone Aluko with diving to gain a penalty in last Saturday’s SPL match between Rangers and Dunfermline. The referee awarded a penalty kick, Rangers scored and won 2-1.

Ally McCoist, the manager of Rangers FC has openly criticised the fact that a ‘non-football’ person should be in such a position of influence.

I do not agree since I think there is great value in having an independent view in such cases.

Very few footballers become top football administrators – Beckenbauer and Platini are notable exceptions.

The SFA Tribunal decided that the Rangers player had been guilty of diving and banned him for two matches.

In my opinion, there was no doubt that he dived. The referee was deceived and awarded the penalty.

If the referee had seen the dive he would have cautioned Aluko but now he has been punished by a two match ban.

I think this is should have been one match but I agree with the principle of taking retrospective action against cheats.

A major problem in Scottish football, however, is that in a similar case involving a different referee, a different player and a different tribunal, a player who, in my opinion, was also clearly guilty of the same offence, was found not guilty.

If you want to have consistency from referees who have to make an instant decision, you must also have consistency from disciplinary tribunals who can watch replays from all sorts of angles and replay the incident as many times as they wish.

This is, I believe, a major weakness in the new system but hopefully, as more and more cases are dealt with, an essential degree of consistency will appear.

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Blatter under pressure – again!

The past few weeks have not been good for FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Firstly he became involved in the racism issues which involve two high profile Barclays Premier League players – Luis Suarez of Liverpool and England and Chelsea captain John Terry.

His suggestion that that racial discrimination could be settled with a handshake might have been non-controversial in most countries but in England, where these cases are still being investigated by the FA and feature prominently in the media, it lit a blue touch paper of outrage.

There is also the not insignificant matter of the ongoing resentment of FIFA in England following the failure of the England 2018 World Cup bid.

Blatter admitted his comments had caused a “serious incident” and that he had used “unfortunate words” which he “deeply regretted”.

He also said any players found guilty of racism on the pitch should be thrown out of the game.

“Zero tolerance,” he said. “This was a good lesson for me as well.”

Blatter will not resign because of his comments, no matter the demands of the FA and others in the English game but the most recent problem is much more serious.

Transparency International, a highly regarded corruption watchdog which was advising FIFA after a series of bribery and corruption scandals, has cut its ties with world football’s governing body.

An official of Transparency International said two of the key recommendations in a report it had produced had been ignored.

Firstly it said FIFA was paying an expert to oversee major reforms to how it is run and this would jeopardise his independence.

But perhaps more significantly the new investigative body would not re-examine any old allegations or scandals.

How can world football opinion be expected to ignore the basic reasons why such an investigation was necessary?

It is like saying there has been a murder but we are not going to investigate it. Instead we are going to install CCTV cameras to make sure it will not happen again.

FIFA was looking to Transparency International to give its investigation credibility but its decision not to take any further part totally undermines FIFA’s position.

Blatter is a supreme political operator who has remained at the helm of SS FIFA, as General Secretary and President for over 30 years.

He is under major pressure now, but who will call him to account?

Not most of the member associations who benefit from FIFA largesse through, for example, Goal Projects worth $4000,000 and a four yearly payment of
$ 2million.

Not most of the FIFA Executive Committee who benefit from their First Class Travel, $500 per day allowances, $50.000 annual payment and a generous pension scheme.

Oh to have someone with the integrity and courage of the late FIFA Vice-President David Will to fearlessly face up to Blatter and challenge FIFA’s Governance – or lack of it!

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The technology argument continues

There has been a great deal of speculation in the English media over the past few days about the possibility of goal line technology being introduced in the Barclays Premier League for the start of the 2012-2013 Season, although this does seem a bit optimistic.

Certainly testing of nine separate systems is underway at the moment and it would seem sensible to expect that some will pass the strict criteria set out by the International FA Board.

A decision will be taken at the end of the 2012 EURO Finals, by which time further testing of the UEFA backed additional goal line assistants experiment will be completed.

Sepp Blatter, the FIFA President, is a late convert to goal line technology after the embarrassment of the disallowed England goal in South Africa 2010 World Cup but he seems to be against the UEFA proposal which is the long term concept of UEFA President Michel Platini who in turn is totally against goal line technology.

Goal line technology has been on the agenda for a number of years but as yet no satisfactory system has been discovered. It will have very limited use since it will only be used to signal if the ball has crossed the goal line into goal.

‘ Goal or no goal’ incidents are fairly rare in a match – perhaps there will be less than 10% of all matches played where there will such situations. The equipment, which will be expensive to install and maintain, will be unused for much of a season.

It might also create a demand for cameras to be used for other things such as penalty kick claims or offside. It this is allowed the whole concept of football’s match control system and ethos will disappear forever.

If it is decided to allow goal line technology, it will only be the very rich leagues or competitions which can afford it.

Similarly the additional assistant experiment, while it is possible in rich UEFA competitions, would be very expensive in continental competitions in Asia and Africa with the added expense of training a whole new group of officials to perform a duty which, for the most part, referees and their assistants do well at present.

There does not seem to be great support for this from anyone except UEFA.

It is popular to demand some new initiative, especially after a controversial incident, and to point out the other sports which use technology. The final decision in sports such as rugby union, however, is still made by a video referee in the stand and mistakes can still occur.

There is no perfect answer.

Maybe we should just accept a wrongly disallowed goal in the same way that we accept a missed penalty kick or a missed open goal.

That’s football!

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FIFA poppy ban is correct

Much has been said, particularly in the English media, about FIFA’s decision to ban England players from wearing shirts embroidered with a poppy in the forthcoming match with Spain.

The poppy is a special symbol for the British to remember those who gave their lives in military conflicts over the years, not just in the two World Wars.

Millions of Brits stand in silence to respect the two minute silence at the 11th hour of the 11th month every year.

Factories and offices will come to a halt for what is a special moment in Britain to respect our fallen heroes.

But I believe that FIFA were correct to ban England from having the poppy embroidered on their shirts.

International shirts have always been free of sponsorship logos and rightly so.

They have also been free of any political or religious messages.

Only the manufacture’s logo, the competition logo and the Fair Play logo are permitted.

The FIFA ban on wearing a poppy embroidered on a football jersey was correct.

To allow England to wear the poppy would set a precedent for all 208 members of FIFA to have special jerseys created to remember special events in their own history.

A sensible compromise has been reached which allows England players to wear a poppy on their black armbands.

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No diving in Maldives

The 1200 or so islands that make up the Maldives are a paradise for holiday makers and especially divers who can explore the coral reefs in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean.

But in other circumstances diving is not allowed in Maldives.

I mean on the football field.

AFC Project Future is an initiative for the development of young Asian referees under the age of 25. They are selected firstly from the AFC Festivals of Football and, after successfully completing a selection course, they take part in a two year development programme which takes them to different parts of Asia.

Recently 11 referees, who were selected from the 2010 Festivals, officiated matches in the Maldives Third Division as part of their training and diving was certainly on the agenda.

Diving on the field was very common.

Diving, or simulation to give it its official title, is no more prevalent in Maldives than in other countries but judging from the amount of players who dived or made miraculous recoveries from the ‘injuries’ they received during the matches, Maldives should promote itself not only as a centre for diving but also as an Asian version of Lourdes in France where many of the Roman Catholic faith believe miracle healing has taken place.

Diving is a common problem in world football and referees can only hope to get most calls right but the divers are highly skilled.

You win some – you lose some.

Wouldn’t it also be good if we could go back to the good old days when it was a sign of weakness to show you were injured instead of leaving the field for the slightest knock as happens today?

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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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