Thursday, June 23, 2016

Why I'm Not a Fan of the Expanded Euros

I’ve seen mixed reviews of the 24-team Euros format.

Some people are decrying the 36 matches required to eliminate just eight of the 24 teams, the overall low-scoring matches and emphasis teams have placed on being hard to break down knowing that in most cases gaining three points (out of a possible nine) will be enough to progress to the Round of 16 and the lack of fairness in the schedule.

Others have chosen to focus on some of the positives, notably the performances of some of the teams making their debuts in the competition and the excitement that was generated on the last day of matches as teams fought for the final few spots in the knock-out rounds.

There is merit in both arguments.

The tournament has been lengthened with an extra match required to be played by the two finalists. Whereas in an eight-team tournament the finalists played five matches and in a sixteen-team tournament the finalists played six matches, this latest expansion requires the finalists to play seven matches. There is no doubt that this will cause a little extra fatigue for the players and either reduce their summer breaks after they have just gone through a long domestic season or require them to report for pre-season training later than their club team-mates.

It also requires fans who are following their teams to stay longer and attend more matches, adding expense in terms of both accommodation and in paying the inflated ticket prices.

Some teams and their fans, such as Albania’s, had to stay in France a few extra days after their last group game to see whether they would be moving on or going home. It must have been difficult for the players to be fully motivated in training knowing that in all likelihood they would probably be eliminated and could be sitting resting on the beach.

The format also gave teams playing on the last day a huge advantage over teams who had already finished, knowing exactly what they had to do to qualify for the Round of 16. Had Ireland played Italy three days earlier would they have gone all out for a late winner or would they have settled for a draw? We will never know. But it is probably no coincidence that both the groups that played on the last day saw their third-placed teams qualifying for the next phase.

Of the 36 matches in the group stage there was arguably only one classic, the 3-3 draw between Hungary and Portugal. A number of the other 35 matches had late drama where a match that had been fairly pedestrian and sterile for 87 minutes or more saw a team grab a late winner or equaliser. And then there were some truly awful offerings like England versus Slovakia and France versus Switzerland, where everyone knew before the matches started that a draw would comfortably send them through to the next round.

But what about the heroics of tournament debutants like Iceland, Albania and Northern Ireland?

Iceland, no doubt, have been a wonderful story, although in all likelihood after beating the Netherlands both home and away in the qualifiers they would have been present in France even without the expansion to 24 teams.

Albania scored their first ever goal, thus gaining their first ever win, in their final group game, but ultimately it proved to be too little, too late. It was nice for them and their fans to qualify, of course, and they didn’t look out of place, but in truth the real reason they earned an automatic spot in the finals was the three points they were awarded by UEFA when Serbian fans invaded the pitch in the qualifying match between the two political rivals in Belgrade. A loss for Albania in that game would have seen Denmark finish in second spot in the group and Albania playing-off for a place. To be fair they drew with the Danes in both qualifying matches between the two teams and won their opening away match 1-0 in Portugal, so they certainly would have had a chance if they were forced to qualify through the play-off route.

As for Northern Ireland, they won their qualifying group and would have qualified under the sixteen-team format. They began the tournament losing 1-0 to Poland in a match in which they were out-shot by 18-2, played well and deservedly beat a poor, seemingly dispirited and disinterested Ukraine team, and then lost 1-0 to a Germany team in a match in which they once again had only two shots, while their opponents had 26, nine of which were on target. Northern Ireland knew coming into the Germany game that a narrow defeat would probably be sufficient to move on with the less than stellar record of one win and two losses. This is by no means meant as a criticism of Northern Ireland. They aren’t responsible for the tournament format. They just did their job professionally to ensure they did enough to move on. You have to congratulate them for that. They now face Wales on equal terms in the next match. I wish both teams well.

Of the five teams that won play-off matches to qualify after finishing third in their qualifying groups, Ireland and Hungary have progressed to the last sixteen, while Turkey, Ukraine and Sweden were all eliminated, the last two with barely a whimper. Hungary, of course, picked up just one point against a badly under-performing Greece in the qualifying matches, and won two hard-fought wins by one-goal margins against the Faeroe Islands, but came good in France when it mattered (or perhaps Austria and Portugal disappointed when it mattered.)

I’ve never liked 24-team World Cups that used this formula, especially the one in 1986 that saw Uruguay move on after two draws and a 6-1 loss to Denmark, so perhaps I’ve cherry-picked my arguments to support my pre-tournament view that the expanded tournament would not overall be a success, but after the completion of the group stage I really have no reason to change my mind.

It is a cumbersome format, gives an unfair advantage to the teams that play on the last day, and does little to encourage teams to set out to win all their group matches, which, not surprisingly, no team managed to do. Why would the top teams expend unnecessary effort at the start of the tournament when they can progress by playing a cagey defensive style?

And it’s not like all the teams that won their groups were rewarded as things turned out. Arguably Switzerland, Poland and Belgium were better off finishing second than France, Germany and Italy, the winners of their respective groups.

Some of the group winners are now rewarded by playing teams that finished third in their group, such as Wales versus Northern Ireland and France versus Ireland, while others play very strong group runners-up in the next round, such as Italy versus Spain and Hungary versus Belgium. It’s all a bit of a lottery but the overall feeling is that e format isn’t quite fair.

The increase to sixteen teams in the sudden death phase means that the good teams are now given an extra opportunity to slip up before the Final, which for me just lowers the overall integrity that little bit more, making this even more of a cup competition rather than a league competition with all that implies about the likelihood or not of the ‘best’ team winning the tournament.

My strong belief is that any sort of ‘Finals’ should use a fair format, encourage teams to play to win, allow for the occasional upset while still seeing the best teams progress for the most part and not allow so many teams to enter that it loses its currency as an elite event.

And for me that is why this format has failed so far.

Those arguing that this tournament is great despite its obvious weaknesses, merely because some new teams have competed for the first time and scored their first goal or picked up their first win, in tandem with the excitement of finding out which teams progressed on the final day of the group stage, are somewhat missing the point.

I could devise a 43-team tournament where some teams play one more game than others, a weird mathematical formula is used to determine which teams move on to the last 32, numerous teams such as Georgia, Finland, Armenia, Belarus, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Israel, Montenegro and, why not, even Scotland qualify and score some goals and win some games.

Think how great that would be!

An extra 19 teams would get the chance to play in the Finals and make history!

The final day of group play would be a roller-coaster of emotions as every goal scored changes which teams would qualify as the calculators confirm each team’s coefficient to three decimal places!

Sixteen more teams would have the chance to make history and progress beyond the group stage!

An extra sixteen of those exciting knock-out matches would be played!

There would be a whole extra month of football, increasing revenues for everyone and improving all the important business metrics!

It would be a win, win, win, win, win. What’s to dislike?

Plus, best of all, every UEFA member would vote for me for UEFA President.

I rest my case.




Thursday, April 14, 2016

Infantino's justification for World Cup expansion is part false equivalence, part ignorance, part failure to carry out due diligence.

A big part of Gianni Infantino's manifesto for the job of FIFA President was his idea (actually Michel Platini's) that the World Cup should be expanded to 40 teams. He has continued to mention this with great enthusiasm on a fairly frequent basis since he won the job.

Most recently, he was asked about it by Alexi Lalas as part of a Fox Soccer interview. Here is the entire World Cup excerpt.

video

Once again Infantino has fallen into the twin traps of:

1) arguing that there are only two criticisms of the idea, and
2) using faulty logic to 'rebut' these criticisms.


Boring Qualifying Competition

The first criticism he mentioned was that the qualifiers would become boring. He then went on to argue that his experience with the expanded Euros showed the opposite, because with so many more teams qualifying, more teams had the chance to qualify and even more teams had the dream that they could qualify. While this was obviously true in the case of the Euros being expanded from 16 to 24 teams (a 50% increase), the effect would not be nearly as pronounced with eight extra teams spread across six Confederations.

With a sixteen-team Euros, 29.6% of the 54 UEFA members qualify for the Finals. Increasing the number of Finalists to 24 means that 44.4% of the members qualify for the Finals.

But even with the increased number of qualifiers, there are still countries at the bottom of the rankings who have no realistic chance of qualifying. I would conservatively include Kazakhstan, Malta, Luxembourg, Andorra, Gibraltar, San Marino, Liechtenstein and the Faroe Islands in this group. Other lower ranked nations could arguably be added to the list.

Once these nations are taken out of the equation, it means that in a tournament with sixteen teams, 16/46 (34.8%) of potential qualifiers are successful, whereas in a tournament with 24 teams, 24/46 (52.2%) of potential qualifers are successful. That's right. Over half the teams with a realistic chance of qualifying for the 2016 Euros were successful. Of course that was going to generate some excitement in the qualifying rounds. It basically meant that all the nations that fall into the category of 'below average but not no-hopers' could dream that they had a realistic chance of qualifying for the final tournament, although of course not all of them managed to qualify.

The situation with the World Cup Finals would be completely different. At the start of this interview segment, Infantino suggested that there would be the following additions to the tournament if forty teams qualified:

1.5 extra qualifiers from Africa (I think he means 2, because African teams currently aren't involved in inter-Confederation play-offs)
1.5 extra qualifiers from CONCACAF
0.5 extra qualifiers from South America
1.5 extra qualifiers from Asia
0.5 extra qualifers from Oceania
1 extra qualifer from Europe
1 additional extra qualifer to be determined via some sort of on the pitch method

Lets look at these Confederation by Confederation:

Africa

Africa has 54 FIFA members. Currently five African teams qualify, meaning 90% are currently unsuccessful. Under an expanded tournament seven would qualify. While this is an increase in qualifying teams of 40%, it still means the vast majority (87%) of African members would not qualify for the World Cup even with expansion. The middle and lower-ranked teams in Africa (Botswana, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Rwanda, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, etc.) are hardly likely to get excited that they have much more chance of being one of the seven qualifying teams than they have of being one of five qualifying teams.

CONCACAF

Of all the Confederations, based on their on-the-field performances, this is the one that most deserves an increase in my opinion. In the last World Cup three out of the four CONCACAF qualifers progressed past the first round. Mexico drew with hosts Brazil and defeated Croatia from Europe and Cameroon from Africa. Costa Rica defeated Uruguay and Italy and drew with England. The United States snuck through after beating Ghana from Africa, drawing with Portugal from Europe and only losing 1-0 to eventual winners Germany which saw them qualify on goal difference.

In the second round the US lost to Belgium after extra time, Mexico lost to the Netherlands thanks to a controversial penalty, and Costa Rica beat Greece on penalties before falling to the Netherlands via the same method in the quarter finals.

CONCACAF has a small number of really strong teams, another set of teams who can reasonably expect to progress to the 'Hex' (the final six team competition of the qualifying competition), a few more teams that usually don't make it to the Hex but still manage to win a few games along the way, and a large number of weak teams that fall into the category of no-hopers.

Boosting the number of CONCACAF teams that qualify from 3.5 to 5, while arguably deserved, isn't going to change the dynamic of qualifying very much at all. The same teams that have a realistic chance of qualifying now (Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States, Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Canada, El Salvador and Panama) will have a realistic chance of qualifying if five teams are successful.

Of the remainder, perhaps teams like Guatemala, St Vincent, Haiti or Antigua & Barbuda could pull together a great team once in a while, but they would still be unlikely to qualify. For the remainder, their chances of qualifying would remain the same as they are now: zero.

South America

Realistically, all ten CONMEBOL members currently believe they have a realistic chance of qualifying under the current allocation of 4.5 spots, at least at the beginning of the qualifying process. Increasing it to 5.0 will have no practical effect, because South American teams invariably win their inter-Confederation play-offs.

Asia

Asia has 46 members. While they currently have 4.5 spots between them, practically, that means 4.0 spots, because Asian teams have lost every single inter-Confederation play-off they have played. An increase of 1.5 spots would mean an extra two Asian teams would qualify.

In a Confederation in which Japan, South Korea and Australia seem to qualify every time, this means that there will be three spots remaining. The same teams currently trying to win one of 1.5 spots would now be trying to win one of these 3.0 spots. This group realistically includes many of the stronger West Asian nations (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, etc.) plus Uzbekistan from Central Asia and China from East Asia and from time to time DPRK.

Overall an expansion looks like good news for West Asian nations who have struggled to qualify in recent tournaments, despite having a realistic chance to do so.

I don't see any teams that currently don't harbour realistic dreams of qualifying having realistic dreams of qualifying under an expanded tournament. Certainly none of the South Asian, Southeast Asian, remaining Central Asian or smaller nations like Guam, East Timor or Chinese Taipei would have any realistic increased chance of qualifying.

Oceania

This is the only Confederation that currently doesn't have an automatic spot. New Zealand have so far won every Oceania qualifying tournament since Australia left the Confederation. They defeated Bahrain to qualify for 2010 but lost to Mexico for 2014 and should they again win in Oceania they would face the daunting prospect of facing a South American team for 2018, which is unlikely to go well.

Some of the other OFC nations are growing in strength, notably New Caledonia, but also Tahiti, the Solomon Islands and to a lesser extent, Vanuatu. These are the nations that currently believe they can reach the inter-Confederation play-offs, and nothing will change in this list should automatic qualification become reality. Despite some success at age-group level recently, Fiji have flattered to deceive, PNG still lack experience, and Samoa, Cook Islands, American Samoa and Tonga have no chance at all.

Europe

Not much needs to be said. Adding one additional qualifier (as opposed to eight in the Euros) is hardly likely to get a bunch of additional countries thinking they can qualify. Those teams should just dream of Euro qualification.

Based on this analysis, I feel comfortable stating that Gianni Infantino's comparison of Euro expansion to World Cup expansion with regard to a change in the qualifying dynamic is nothing more than a false equivalence fallacy.


Reduction in Quality

The second criticism Infantino mentioned was that there would be a reduction in quality. I have no argument with his view that an increase of one or two teams per Confederation would not affect quality. I think this is a more valid criticism of the Euro expansion, where eight more teams would be qualifying, rather than of World Cup expansion.


Other Issues

I would be concerned about many other issues that necessarily result from the expansion. Gianni Infantino, however, has never acknowledged that these issues exist, so eager is he to pronounce the 2016 Euros a success even though they have yet to be played.

Firstly, the formats of both tournaments have had to change.

The Euros will see four 'lucky' third-placed teams progressing to the last sixteen. Previous experience, about which perhaps Gianni Infantino is ignorant, suggests that this can result in some pretty undeserving progressing. The most obvious example is Uruguay in 1986, who drew two of their group matches and lost the other one 6-1 to Denmark. With the advantage that knowing a draw would see them progress, they used incredibly negative tactics in their final group game against Scotland, which resulted in their securing the 0-0 draw they required.

I suspect there will be a lot more matches in which both teams are happy to play out a draw rather than attempting to win, because it just makes sense that a draw becomes a much better outcome if two-thirds of the third place finishers get to move on to the last sixteen. Time will tell, but in my opinion, this is a serious risk.

By way of contrast, increasing the World Cup to forty teams in what appears to be a favoured format involving eight groups of five teams, would make draws a much less enticing outcome than they currently are. This might help lead to more attacking and positive play.

But of course there is also a downside.

Some teams may already know after their second match that they have been eliminated, resulting in an increased chance of playing weakened teams or being susceptible to bribery in their remaining matches.

Some teams will have byes while other teams play their last group games, giving teams a chance to manipulate the results of their final games for mutual benefit, much like what occurred in 1982 between West Germany and Austria.

Some teams will have byes in the first two rounds of group play, meaning when they play their second matches their opponents might be playing their third matches and have players suspended for already having received two yellow cards.

The increased number of teams will see a corresponding increase in matches. The current format requires a total of 64 matches - 48 in the group stage and 16 in the knock-out stages.The expanded format would see 80 group stage matches and 16 in the knock-outs.

All of these extra games would have to be squeezed into the first half or so of the tournament. Necessarily this would result in four matches per day being played for the first twenty days of the tournament.

Theoretically, if the teams with first round byes in groups G or H progress all the way to the Final, meaning they wouldn't play their first game until Day 8 of the tournament, they would have to play eight matches in 28 days (or 27 days if they play in the third place play-off).

Add in the increased travel that would occur from the extra games and there would also be reduced time for training and recovering from injuries. The demands on players, who are already tired from long domestic seasons, would be hugely increased. The physical, mental and economic demands on fans would also be increased and there would be an increased chance of spectators getting tired of watching so many matches and losing interest in the tournament.

It appears Infantino hasn't done the due diligence to sit down and see what the ramifications of an expanded tournament would be from a logistical perspective.

One of my biggest concerns is that based on his comments, Infantino seems to lack high quality analytical skills. Expanding the Euros to 24 teams is nothing like expanding the World Cup to 40 teams. Add in the fact that the Euros haven't even been played yet and it's hard to accept Infantino's rationale for promoting World Cup expansion based on the 'success' of the Euros as being logically valid.

He also seems ignorant of any criticisms other than the two he raises in the interview with Alexi Lalas. Partly this is because journalists have tended to focus on the Confederation-breakdown issue rather than asking important questions about logistics. But still, can he not think for himself?

And finally, it appears that Infantino meekly accepted Michel Platini's questionable claim that adding eight teams to the tournament would result in only three more days being required to play the entire tournament, instead of doing the required due diligence himself.

I hope this is not how his entire presidential reign will be conducted, but I fear the worst.

It seems obvious to me that to increase participation in World Cups, Infantino should be looking towards the women's game. FIFA could introduce a women's Club World Cup, Beach Soccer World Cup, Futsal World Cup and Confederations Cup, and add more teams to the Women's Under 17, Under 20 and Senior World Cups.

This would result in more tournaments being held in more locations, more women playing the game and a positive statement being made about equality rather than the empty promises I'm expecting to hear over the coming years.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Huge Wasted Opportunity for Oceania Football

Whatever the outcome of this week's FIFA Presidential election, the last few months (i.e. the official campaign) represents a huge wasted opportunity for Oceania Football.

As the deadline for nominations approached and there was no sign that anyone from the Oceania region would be nominated, I wrote to a number of the heads of the Oceania member associations (basically all those that were English-speaking and had a working e-mail address on their websites) suggesting a number of reasons why they should consider nominating a presidential candidate, and a listing a swathe of ideas for policies that would be of interest to Oceania and possibly not raised by any of the other candidates during the campaign period.

The following day I received a very positive response from the President of one of these member associations who also noted he would discuss the idea with the other countries' heads.

Around this time the expected candidate list included at least one from each of the other five Confederations: Michel Platini and Jerome Champagne from UEFA, Prince Ali from AFC, Tokyo Sexwale from CAF, David Nakhid from CONCACAF and Zico from CONMEBOL. I felt the OFC were in danger of being left out of the discussion and marginalising themselves.

After two weeks of hearing nothing, I recontacted the same people. Shortly thereafter, I received a brief, unenthusiastic e-mail from the Oceania Secretary-General, pretty much telling me, though in less colourful terms, to STFU.

That it was the Secretary-General who conveyed this news to me was a reminder that the Confederations seem to think they have the power and right to take decisions regarding Congress matters on behalf of their member associations.

As I have stated over and over again, nominating candidates for the Presidential election and voting during the election is the right of the 209 Congess members. Confederations have no nomination or voting rights.

In addition, FIFA Statutes specifically state that member associations are required to conduct their affairs without any interference from third parties. And yet here we are now in a situation where there is a fear that voters will feel compelled to take photos of their ballot papers to prove they voted for the candidate that their Confederations are backing. Third party interference is rife.

But back to Oceania.

In all likelihood, few, if any, of the five presidential candidates will be aware of the numerous ways in which Oceania is a unique Confederation.

1. Oceania is the only Confederation without an automatic men's World Cup Finals spot.

This is a big bone of contention from many within the region. Oceania has eleven members, one more than CONMEBOL which has anywhere from four to six World Cup Finals spots depending on which country is hosting and the results of play-off matches.

Personally, rather than give Oceania an automatic spot, which would benefit a single country (usually New Zealand) for a few weeks once every four years, I would rather see Oceania's World Cup Qualifying combined with Asia's, which could greatly benefit six or seven Oceania countries over a long period every four years.

No doubt, part of the reason for #1 above is:

2. Oceania is the only Confederation without any nation currently sitting in the top 150 of the men's FIFA Rankings. 

Because of the way the FIFA Rankings points are calculated, this means a win against New Zealand is worth the same as a win against Tonga.


A large part of the reason for Oceania countries being so lowly ranked is:
3. Oceania is the only Confederation where almost every year, none of the international teams play the five matches necessary to earn maximum ranking points.

In 2015 none of the OFC nations played five matches that could count towards FIFA Rankings points. Many of them played none. New Zealand only played three away friendlies against Asian opposition.

This is a record even worse than in the five previous years.

2014: 10/11 OFC nations played fewer than 5 matches.
2013: 9/11 OFC nations played fewer than 5 matches
2012: 7/11 OFC nations played fewer than 5 matches (4 teams involved in World Cup Qualifying third phase)
2011: 3/11 OFC nations played fewer than 5 matches (8 teams involved in combined OFC Nations Cup/World Cup Qualifying)
2010: 10/11 OFC nations played fewer than 5 matches.



In addition:
4. Only one OFC nation 'regularly' plays opponents from other Confederations.

The last matches against non-OFC opposition for each OFC nation:

Fiji 2 India 1 (August 14, 2005)

Vanuatu 4 Guam 1 (September 3, 2011 (South Pacific Games)) - before that, never.

New Caledonia 16 St Pierre & Miquelon 1 (September 28, 2012 (French Territories Cup)) - not a FIFA member

Uruguay 8 Tahiti 0 (June 22, 2013 (Confederations Cup)) - before that tournament the last time they played a FIFA member from outside the Pacific was Tahiti 0 Mexico 1 (September 2, 1980).

Papua New Guinea 1 China 1 (September 18, 1985).

Solomon Islands have never played a match against any non-Pacific team. Nor have Samoa, American Samoa, Cook Islands or Tonga.

#3 and #4 provide ample evidence for why I think OFC members could greatly benefit from the increased number of matches and variety of opponents a combined Asia-Oceania World Cup Qualifying competition would provide.


Another reason for the limited number of matches and opponents is:
5. Oceania is the only Confederation where every member has to fly to every away match.

There are no shared borders in Oceania, and the distances between nations is surprisingly big. The Pacific is truly a vast ocean. Flying from Auckland to Sydney (Australia, now part of the AFC) which many people in the world believe to be a short hop, skip and jump is 2159 km.

For the purposes of comparison:

London to St Petersburg (2114 km)
Baltimore to Havana (1878 km)

Tahiti's closest neighbour is the Cook Islands, a flight of 1142 km.
But to fly to the other French territory in Oceania, New Caledonia, is a flight of 4630 km (plus crossing the dateline).

The lack of population (every other Confederation contains at least one country with a larger population than the combined Oceania population) means there are few flights and those flights are very expensive. Given the limited funds available for football in general, it is no surprise that member associations can't afford to spend a lot on international football. Even getting the team together can be a logistical nightmare with players living on different islands


6. Oceania is the only Confederation without a professional league.

Since Australia left for Asia, the top-rated league in Oceania is the eight-team, fourteen-round New Zealand Football Championship. Like the MLS in the United States and A-League in Australia, it is franchise-based with no promotion or relegation. None of the players are professionals.

This means that the better New Zealand players end up scattered around the world in various leagues (Winston Reid (West Ham), Chris Wood (Leeds), Tommy Smith (Ipswich) and Rory Fallon (Bristol Rovers) in England, Michael Boxall (SuperSport United) in South Africa, Ryan Thomas (PEC Zwolle) in the Netherlands, Stefan Marinovic (Unterhaching) in Germany, Themi Tzimopoulos (PAS Giannina) in Greece, others in the United States, others in the A-League.

Organising matches is therefore extremely difficult and expensive, wherever those matches are played.


7. Oceania is the only Confederation with only one professional team, that is forced to play its domestic football in another Confederation.

Despite Auckland City's heroics in various editions of the Club World Cup, Wellington Phoenix is the only professional team in Oceania. The Phoenix play in Australia's A-League and provide the only way into professional football for anyone living in the Confederation, unless they are willing/able to move elsewhere in the world.

This is why it was so vital that the they retained their A-League franchise licence. The new ten-year licence was announced this past week after much indecision. It was a great day for football in New Zealand.

The Phoenix have also provided the opportunity for players from other OFC nations, such as Fiji's Roy Krishna and Benjamin Totori of the Solomon Islands to experience life in professional football.


8. Oceania is the only Confederation where the winners of every women's international tournament are known before the tournament is played.

Whereas in men's football, New Zealand are only slightly ahead of nations such as New Caledonia, Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, in women's football, New Zealand wins every single match against their Oceania opponents at all levels by convincing margins.

In last months' U-17 Qualifying competition in the Cook Islands, New Zealand beat Samoa 11-0, New Caledonia 12-0, Tonga 13-0, Fiji 11-0 and Papua New Guinea in the final by 'only' 8-0.

Five matches played, 55 goals scored, none conceded.

In last years' U-20 Qualifying competition, it was even worse. New Zealand beat Tonga 15-0, New Caledonia 26-0, Vanuatu 18-0 and Samoa 10-0. Four matches played, 69 goals scored, none conceded.

In last month's Olympic qualifiers, Papua New Guinea emerged from the minor nations to contest a two-game play-off against New Zealand. New Zealand won the first game in Port Moresby 7-1, effectively killing the tie. The final nail in the coffin was the failure of the PNG federation to apply for visas for the return match, resulting in New Zealand progressing by walkover.

Without considerable investment in women's football across the Confederation, it is hard to see how any of the other countries can start to challenge New Zealand. As a result, New Zealand's women's team will continue to have to make expensive trips outside the region to be able to play meaningful matches.


#9: Oceania is the only Confederation that could never host the World Cup Finals.

Where would the matches be played? Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin have the stadia for smaller matches, but no other cities in the entire confederation have large enough grounds.

As a result, Oceania will have to be content with holding youth World Cups and the keenly awaited upcoming Women's World Cup in Papua New Guinea, while never having the advantage of a bonus entry in the World Cup Finals via the hosting nation.


#10: Oceania is the only Confederation that still has a large number of independent nations that aren't FIFA members.

Can you think of a fully independent nation recognised by the United Nations that isn't a FIFA member? Difficult, isn't it?

And yet there are actually six in Oceania.

In addition to the seven independent nations (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa), two French territories (New Caledonia and Tahiti), one American territory (American Samoa) and one island country in free association with New Zealand (Cook Islands), there are also six nations that aren't members of FIFA (Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau).

Of these, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Federated States of Micronesia have shown some interest in being more involved in international football competitions. Requests they have made to FIFA in the past for assistance have reportedly fallen on deaf ears.

During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil we were subjected to numerous banners proclaiming FIFA Is For All, If that is true rather than just a clever acronym, FIFA should assist any of these six nations which wish to become members.

Of the five presidential candidates, only Jerome Champagne has noted he would like to ncrease FIFA membership, without mentioning Oceania specifically. However, it is hard to imagine where else he would look.


In Conclusion

Having someone from Oceania in the FIFA Presidential race, even without any expectation of that person winning the election, would have been a great opportunity to raise some of these points, make the other candidates aware of the major issues facing the region and maybe for some potential solutions to be discussed.

Instead, as I feared, Oceania's needs have been forgotten. None of Oceania's unique problems have been addressed.

And for that, sadly, Oceania Football only has itself to blame.



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What Shaikh Salman Didn't Say

This whole furore over Shaikh Salman's possible involvement in the alleged arrest and torture of Bahraini national team players during the Pearl Revolution of 2011 leaves an awful lot of important questions unanswered.

There is no doubt that torture did take place as a result of the uprising, as admitted by Bahrain's Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Kamal Ahmad, in this BBC newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman.


The list of torture methods outlined by Paxman is shocking, yet there is no denial from the Khalifa Government's representative, so in my opinion it is fair to assume that torture was systemic (and probably still is). I have no reason to doubt that those citizens brave enough to protest against the minority government of the royal family, which has ruled Bahrain since 1783, underwent some quite horrific human rights abuses, whether or not they were athletes who had previously represented their country at international level. To be clear, Shaikh Salman was the President of the Bahrain Football Association at the time these events are alleged to have occurred, and he is member of the royal family that permitted (if not encouraged) these abuses to take place.

I personally found it suspicious that when these allegations first came to light, Salman's initial response was not to deny them categorically and condemn torture, but instead to ask for proof. Perhaps I've watched too many police dramas on TV, but my impression is that when people are guilty, their first line of defence is to say, "You can't prove it."


Just one question! If I had been accused of being complicit in human rights abuses and was entirely innocent, I would refute the allegations in the strongest possible terms while simultaneously expressing my absolute opposition to torture.

I also find it interesting that Salman's response in this October 2015 BBC interview with Richard Conway was, "It's not just damaging me, it's damaging the people and the country. These are false, nasty lies that have been repeated again and again in the past and the present."

Was he saying that the torture didn't take place, or that it did take place but he personally wasn't involved? In my opinion his argument that the "false, nasty lies" are damaging the people and the country, would suggest that he was trying to argue the former, when we already know that Kamal Ahmad didn't deny torture did take place. Whether that torture was committed against athletes or not seems to be a moot point. Surely torture against any citizen is far more damaging to the country and the people than reporting that it has occurred is.

If Shaikh Salman was arguing that torture did occur but he personally wasn't involved, that doesn't seem any less damaging to the people and the country than if he had been involved.

It is disappointing to me that he has never made any statement, at least that I am aware of, decrying torture or condemning the actions of the Bahrain government that arrested and killed Bahraini citizens who were seemingly carrying out peaceful protests.

At 14:23 in the Richard Conway interview video, Salman deliberately interrupts Conway to make a point of raising the issue of the infamous alleged Committee that he was rumoured to have led, mocking the suggestion that such a Committee would exist. And yet we are aware that such a Committee was suggested, because as reported in The Guardian, it says so on the Official Bahrain News Agency website, so its existence doesn't seem so unlikely.

After this information came to light, Salman admitted in this Fox Sports report that despite his earlier denials, there actually was such a Committee, but argued, "This is a committee that's been asked to look (at events) within the sports law, not the civil law ... but never met because it cannot look into responsibility beyond its restriction.''

If that was true, why not come clean in the interview with Richard Conway and state outright that the government  formed a Committee with him as Chairman but it never met because doing so would be illegal, instead of trying to pretend that the mere suggestion of such a committee existing would be ridiculous?

(In passing,  I also find it interesting that in this interview Salman claims to be a relative newcomer, with only two years involvement with FIFA, unlike some of the others who have been involved for over a decade, but later in the interview, when asked about the human rights abuses, and perhaps when he thinks a long association with FIFA would be of benefit to him, he mentions he's been involved with FIFA tournaments for thirteen years.)

This Daily Mail article by Nick Harris for The Mail on Sunday goes even further:
The statement said the committee had convened the previous day in a meeting chaired by Sheik Salman. He now denies it ever met. Sources close to him say legal advice was that the committee should not proceed.
A statement from Sheik Salman said: 'While it was 0proposed (sic) that Sheik Salman lead a fact-finding committee, that committee was never formally established and never conducted any business whatsoever. Sheik Salman had nothing to do with that proposal and played no part in any sanctions taken against any individuals in 2011.'
Again what I find most striking, other than the obvious contradiction between the official government statement saying that the Committee had met, and Salman's outright denial that it had, is that instead of taking the opportunity to condemn the very idea of Bahrain's citizens being tortured for protesting, it suggests that Salman's only reason for not taking part was because of legal advice. It leaves me with the impression that he would have been happy to be involved if he thought it were legal to do so.

The last sentence of the quote above also seemingly admits that sanctions were indeed taken against individuals in 2011.

There are also issues raised by the reported relegation of two clubs by the Bahrain Football Association, as reported in The Guardian. In case there is any doubt as to whether this happened, here's the 2010-11 Bahrain league table as displayed on the Bet365 website:


As can be seen, two clubs, Al Shabbab and Malkia, have records indicating they played zero games. Al Shabbab had finished seventh the previous season and Malkia ninth, after which they won a play-off to retain their place in the top division. So this relegation was imposed for reasons unrelated to performance on the field.

Was the punishment imposed by the Bahrain Football Association? If so, why? There has been no reason supplied that I can find, despite transparency being one of the values that Shaikh Salman includes numerous times in his FIFA election manifesto.

Here's one such example from Page 3:


So where is the transparency about the relegation of two clubs from Bahrain's top division in 2011 for reasons other than performance on the field?

Perhaps Shaikh Salman might argue that these clubs were relegated as the result of decisions made by someone other than the Bahrain Football Association (i.e. the Bahrain Government) and that therefore he couldn't legally intervene. But such an argument would be very problematic for the Bahrain Football Association, because it would surely constitute third party interference in football which under FIFA Statutes must necessarily result in suspension from FIFA, just as has occurred recently with Kuwait under the leadership of Shaikh Salman's close ally, Shaikh Ahmad.

There is some history worth noting with Malkia, which is a small Shia fishing village on the outskirts of Manama. In 2007 there were widespread protests after a member of the ruling Khalifa family seized some local coastline potentially threatening the local fishermen's livelihoods. The reportedly peaceful protests were met with truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

And then there is the extremely troubling evidence of the Bahrain international players who never again played for their country. The six players to suffer this fate reportedly included the Jubail brothers, A'ala and Mohammed, who at 31 and 29 respectively, were hardly too old to keep being key members of the national team. This article in the Kyiv Post is well worth reading, in my opinion, along with this from The National based in the United Arab Emirates..

To make matters worse for Bahrain, after falling at the last hurdle to Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 World Cup Qualifying and New Zealand in 2010 World Cup Qualifying, their performances under Peter Taylor in 2014 World Cup Qualifying were worse than expected, no doubt partly because of the loss of key players for unexplained reasons and partly because, as explained in this Al Jazeera article:


I'm surprised the poor state of Bahrain's national team and domestic league under Shaikh Salman's regime hasn't been raised before by any of the numerous Shaik Salman critics out there.

So to summarise, we first had allegations that Shaikh Salman was involved in illegal arrest, detainment and torture of Bahraini footballers as the leader of a committee that identified athletes involved in the Pearl Revolution protests.

This was followed by Salamn asking for proof that he was involved.

When further pressed he called the allegations nasty lies, yet when interviewed, Bahraini Cabinet Affairs Minister, Kamal Ahmad, made no attempt to refute the allegations of torture and seemed to confirm them.

Salman also seemed to go out of his way to mock the idea that an identification Committee would be set up with him in charge.

However the Bahrain Official News Agency's own website then provided evidence that such a committee was at least planned and Salman was the intended leader.

At this point, Salman admitted that the Committee did exist but said it never met, not because it would be outrageous and unethical to have such a committee, but because it would be illegal.

There are further reports in various newspapers that the committee did actually meet.

We know two teams were relegated from Bahrain's top division for reasons other than their performance on the field, but because of a lack of transparency, we don't know what the reasons are or whether the punishment was imposed by the Bahrain Football Association or the Khalifa Government, which would clearly constitute illegal government interference in football affairs.

We know that there are plenty of websites that contain articles in which some of the players say they were arrested, detained and tortured.

We know that a number of players who had previously appeared for the national team suddenly stopped being selected.

We know that Salman seemingly did nothing to protect these players.

We know that soon after this Bahrain's national football team started performing less well than it had in the preceding years.

And still Shaikh Salman sticks to his version of the events. And still as far as I can ascertain, he has not yet condemned what happened to athletes in Bahrain's jails in 2011.

I'm not telling you what to think about Shaikh Salman and whether or not he, as a member of a family that has for the past 233 years ruled Bahrain, a country with numerous alleged human rights violations made by multiple different human rights watch groups, would be a suitable candidate to be FIFA President.

But I've made my mind up.





























Friday, January 8, 2016

Elleray's Proposed Offside Law Creates Inconsistency

I read today that former top flight referee, David Elleray, has rewritten the laws of the game with a view to making them more consistent.

Overall the changes he has made make sense to me, but I do have huge disagreement with him over his comments and proposed change regarding Law 11 (the Offside Law).


In particular I am referring to his statement that, “The law tells you to give the free kick in two different places.”

What utter nonsense.

The offence isn’t touching the ball. The offence is standing in an offside position when involved in play. Touching the ball is merely one of the criteria we use to determine whether the player was involved in play.

So in the case where a player is standing in an offside position, then runs 20 yards back into his own half and plays the ball, the place where the offense was committed was the spot where he was standing in an offside position in his opponent’s half, not the place where he actually touched the ball.

Elleray’s proposal completely changes this. Now the offence is touching the ball when previously being in an offside position. As he himself notes, this means a free-kick can now be given against a player when he is inside his own half, even though the existing Law 11 clearly states


It then very clearly goes on to say


This clarifies that the offence occurs at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, not a few seconds later after he has run 20 yards into his own half.

Therefore, there is NO inconsistency under the existing law, but this is not the case under Elleray's proposal.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

2018 World Cup Finals Group B in Review

The surprise last-minute decision to enlarge the 2018 World Cup Finals to 40 teams in exchange for a raft of administrative reforms being passed by the FIFA Congress was welcomed by numerous countries around the world. Here's how Group B panned out.

After the draw which saw England placed in Group B along with Chile, Sweden, Uzbekistan and the Cape Verde Islands, Roy Hodgson could hardly contain his delight. "We've avoided all the really big teams," he noted, as well as the strongest teams from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF. "When I look at Group E containing Argentina, Belgium, Croatia, Cote d'Ivoire and Mexico, I feel we've dodged a bullet. Also, we have a relatively simple game first up to ease into the tournament.

Round 1:

England 3 Uzbekistan 1
Chile 3 Cape Verde 0

After a nervous start which saw them concede inside the first ten minutes after a mix-up between Joe Hart and John Stones, England overcame the Uzbeks thanks to a strong second half showing. Jamie Vardy had equalised on the half hour mark, and Uzbekistan's brave resistance was finally overcome by a pair of Theo Walcott goals, the sub netting in the 73rd and 82nd minutes after replacing Wayne Rooney who suffered a minor hamstring strain. However, the team from Central Asia showed enough good touches and organisation to overall have been delighted by their performance in their World Cup Finals debut.

"We had to work hard," Hodgson admitted, "but we know that there are no easy games in the World Cup."

The only concerns for the England manager were the injury to Rooney and needless yellow cards for both central defenders, Gary Cahill and John Stones.

Meanwhile, Chile cruised to an easy 3-0 victory over Cape Verde, their three early goals allowing them to leave both their tired stars Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal on the bench for the entire match.


Round 2:

Sweden 1 England 1
Chile 4 Uzbekistan 0

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a last gasp equaliser to earn Sweden a point. The mercurial Swede had been a doubtful participant in this match after struggling with a groin strain, but a first round bye meant he had time to recover before his team's opening match and his goal, which cancelled out Raheem Sterling's well-taken first half strike, meant England once again failed to overcome Sweden, leaving a clearly disappointed Roy Hodgson ruing the way the fixture list had been drawn up. "We were without the injured Rooney, and we had both Cahill and Stones scared to make a challenge for fear of picking up a second yellow card and missing the Chile match. Overall we're happy enough with the point, but we really should have won. Now both Walcott and Vardy have picked up knocks too and will miss the Chile game. Sweden came into the match fresh after their first round bye and as you all saw, this proved vital in the last five minutes.

As it turned out, both John Stones and Gary Cahill picked up late yellow cards and will miss the vital game against the South American champions. Sweden also picked up four yellow cards, but having had a first round bye all the players affected are available for their next match.

England's opponents in the next game, Chile had no such problems, cruising to an easy 4-0 win over Uzbekistan, who had themselves suffered some late injuries to key players in their first game. Alexis Sanchez played himself into form after being introduced in the 65th minute, scoring two clinically taken goals against his tiring opponents.

After losing both their opening two matches, Uzbekistan's World Cup was effectively over just five days into the 35-day tournament. However, they still had to wait twelve more days before heading home. With nothing on the line, their coach promised to give some of his squad players the opportunity to play in the next match, against Sweden, resting his starting line-up for the final match against Cape Verde where he deemed the opportunity to win more likely.


Round 3:

Chile 2 England 1
Sweden 1 Cape Verde 0

A depleted England team deservedly lost to Chile whose victory was more convincing than the 2-1 scoreline suggested. "Obviously we missed Rooney, Vardy and Walcott through injury, and with both Stones and Cahill suspended we were forced into playing an unfamiliar team. Sanchez opened the scoring after 24 minutes when he was left unmarked in the box, second-half substitute Fabian Orellana added an insurance goal on the break as England pushed forward to equalise, and although James Milner's twenty-yard pot shot gave England late hope, it was the South Americans who looked most likely to score again as the match neared its conclusion.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the crucial goal midway through the second half for Sweden as they picked up three more points with a 1-0 victory over Cape Verde, to move level on points with England.


Round 4:

England 4 Cape Verde 0
Sweden 2 Uzbekistan 1

England were nearly back to full strength for their match against Cape Verde, missing just the suspended Ross Barkley after he picked up his second yellow card against Sweden. Wayne Rooney completed his first full game of the tournament and provided assists for both England's first half goals. After just six minutes he cleverly played in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and after 42 minutes his headed effort off a Sterling corner rebounded off the bar before being bundled in by the returning Gary Cahill. Harry Kane scored two late goals to boost England's chances of qualifying for the second stage on goal difference.

In the other game, Sweden held off a late Uzbekistan onslaught to claim the points with an unconvincing 2-1 win, despite their Central Asian opponents resting their entire starting team in a match that was meaningless for them.


Round 5:

Chile 0 Sweden 0
Cape Verde 4 Uzbekistan 4

Both Chile and Sweden qualified for the last sixteen after playing out the dull scoreless draw that would ensure they would both progress. A game of little excitement saw just two hopeful long-range efforts on goal, both easily saved, and a notable lack of physical play which meant neither team picked up injuries or suspensions.

The other match couldn't have been more of a contrast, with both teams eager to pick up their first ever World Cup Finals point. As it transpired, both were successful in this endeavour, after a rollicking seesaw battle which saw both teams squandering one-goal leads twice before ending all square. Unfortunately only 11,000 fans bothered to turn up to this eighth game in seventeen days in Yekatarinburg, presumably most anticipating it would be a dead rubber and focusing instead on the Chile versus Sweden clash.

Commenting on England's failure to progress past the group stage, Hodgson professed he was overall happy with the team's performances given the players they had available. What cost us was the late goal we conceded to Sweden. We would have moved on if not for that. Now our players will go home and rest before the Premier League starts again in a few weeks.

While grateful for the earlier than anticipated return of his five-man English contingent, Arsene Wenger indicated his annoyance that he would be without Koscielny, Coquelin, Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Ozil, Cazorla, Bellerin, Monreal, possibly Ramsey, if Wales failed to beat the United States in their last group game, and also both goalkeepers for the upcoming opening game of the Premier League season away to Leicester. "I may have to re-sign Bendtner," he said gravely.


Final Standings:









Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Answers to New FIFA Now's Online Survey for Presidential Candidates

New FIFA Now recently created a survey for the FIFA Presidential candidates.

I thought it might be an interesting academic exercise to answer the survey. While it took some time to finish, I think it is as important for the candidates to go through a similar process as it is for prospective small business owners to write a business plan before starting their business.

Here are my answers. They are not set in stone and I am open to persuasion if a good case is made. (All typos are mine, and unintentional.)

--------------------------------

Question 2: It's the first day in the job? What would you address as your top three priorities?

(Other; Gap between rich & poor clubs; Privatisation of clubs; Gender equity; Match fixing; Independent, external governance reform; Restoring the reputation & credibility of FIFA; How to deal with Qatar 2022; How to deal with Russia 2018; Racism; Use of technology in football)

Priority 1. For me the clear winner has to be restoring the reputation & credibility of FIFA. The President's raision d'etre is to run the organisation in a way that reflects it in the best possible light. To do this, it needs to be fair, transparent and accountable, concepts that are in danger of becoming buzzwords as more and more people who ignored the lack of these ideals in the past start to say that they are needed. Some of the options listed in the question might well contribute to this, but they are only sideshows to the main event. Possibly the most important task of any leader is to clearly communicate what is acceptable. The leader should be clear about what sort of culture the organisation should have and repeat this often to the other members of the organisation.

What is the ultimate purpose of football? My answer is that it should improve people's lives through providing opportunities for achievement, personal growth, friendship, international cooperation and understanding, a means for many to make a living, health and fitness and a feeling of community and belonging. In fact this should probably be the ultimate goal of every organisation, from the United Nations to the local badminton club to libraries to ballet companies. We just have different modes of delivery.

We should stop talking about the football 'family' which has some negative connotations. I've always felt it is a football community. Many times I meet people in contexts away from football and recognise them from my encounters with them through football, be they opponents, coaches, referees, journalists or whatever. There is a mutual respect and shared understanding, but generally I don't think of them as family.

To sum up, FIFA should do everything it can to improve the lives of the people it serves, just like any national government should do. To do that it needs the best possible reputation and the highest level of credibility attainable.

Priority 2. Independent, external governance reform. Poor governance and twentieth century thinking is what got FIFA into its current mess, which has resulted in a high proportion of its former leaders being banned or suspended or resigning. Of course, this is clearly a subsection of the answer to Priority 1 above.

Priority 3. Gender equity. Women's football has grown in leaps and bounds in the last 35-40 years but this is not reflected in the administratiuon of the game, in the number of FIFA worldwide tournaments for women, in the number of women coaches and referees or even at all in many countries. I would hope and expect that eliminating the gender imbalance would be dealt with automatically as part of Priority 2.

Of course the other issues are important too but if the first three priorities are taken care of properly I believe the remainder will inevitably be dealt with satisfactorily.


Question 3: Would you agree to an independent external reform committee led by an eminent person to develop and implement governance reforms in FIFA, as advocated by advocacy groups and some sponsors?

My record shows that I've been an advocate for governance reform long before advocacy groups and sponsors started demanding it. I'm not sure it needs to be done by an eminent person (depending on your definition of 'eminent'), but it should be done by someone who is both a governance expert and independent. There are still too many people within FIFA with conflicts of interest for FIFA to undertake this task itself, even if those people have the best of intentions. Also FIFA has plenty of purely football issues work on. It is easy to imagine a situation where football is neglected while FIFA becomes bogged down in how to reform. Let FIFA continue running and improving football while someone independent and competent works on reforming the governance structure.


Question 4: Regardless of the outcomes of investigations, do you think there should be a re-run of the vote for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022?

Definitely no revote for Russia 2018. Russia is a big country with a long football pedigree that is fully capable of hosting the event in a way that closely matches its bid document. The preparations are well in place and without knowing the outcomes of investigations I don't see how the tournament could reasonably be taken away. Of course there are questions about possible corruption, racism, etc., but we should remember that all countries have similar problems. Take a look at the current US election campaign or shootings involving police officers for example. We also know or have reason to believe that other bidding nations didn't run totally clean bids, among them England and Spain. It is easy to identify problems in other countries but can be much harder to see some of those same problems in your own country. Of course, if there were compelling evidence that egregious corruption occurred, that could change things, but that's not what this question asked.

Qatar 2022 is a little more problematic. The tournament has been moved from the June/July timeframe that the rules said must be followed, to a winter time slot that will greatly affect major club competitions. The tournament infrastructure is allegedly being constructed in many cases by poorly treated and underpaid migrant workers. There are question marks over what the fans would do during the day, with the tournament traditionally being an event involving quite a lot of alcohol consumption. There is also the question of homosexuality being illegal which we now find unacceptable, though I would note in passing that no-one batted an eyelid when Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympic Games, even though sodomy was illegal in the state of Georgia at the time. The attitudes of many (not all) in the West have changed quickly after a very long period of intolerance towards gays but most of the world has not yet followed suit.

I would prefer that Qatar host the tournament in summer if possible, with the cooled stadiums the bid promised and perhaps evening and nighttime kick-offs. But this would also require dozens of events held in cooled areas for spectators between matches. Also, huge progress needs to be made on the employment conditions for the construction and other migrant workers. It is not acceptable for hundreds of people to die in exchange for a month-long football tournament. The latest report from Amnesty International suggests that almost none of the improvements for workers have been enacted. This failure to honour agreed reforms might well provide a legal way for FIFA to remove the tournament from Qatar. Unfortunately this is now a no win situation. Leave the tournament in Qatar and hundreds of thousands of workers could potentially suffer. Take it away and you are left with a bunch of half-finished stadiums and thousands who died or suffered for nothing. This is why it's so important that a scoring rubric is set up, part of which should look at the ability of the hosts to deliver the required infrastructure in a manner that is acceptable to global community.

If Qatar does eventually host the tournament, I imagine it would still be a 'success' from a purely financial standpoint, with any fan boycotts being offset by an increase in fans from the Middle East, but clearly there are bigger issues to consider. Remember, I suggested as part of my answer to Question 2 that FIFA should ultimately be concerned with improving people's lives. Having hundreds of thousands work in miserable conditions is clearly at odds with that goal.


Question 5: If corruption were proven against them, as a matter of principle, would you take away the World Cup from Russia 2018 or Qatar2022?

I am answering this question independently of the previous question, where I have already suggested that 2022 could be moved for reasons unrelated to corruption.

It depends on the level of corruption. Other bidding countries are also known not to have followed the rules and offered various inducements to the Exco of the time. At some point it would need to be determined whether the level of corruption was out of whack with what was, unfortunately, apparently the norm not just for 2018 and 2022, but also some of the preceding tournaments, among them France 1998 and Germany 2006, as recent revelations involving Chuck Blazer and Franz Beckenbauer have brought to light. It seems many of the bids were just following the accepted protocol of the time, i.e. if you want to win the bid, you have to offer the Exco members something in return.

What we can say is there is no way we can allow this sort of quid pro quid situation to occur in any future bids.


Question 6: Knowing what you know today, if the vote for 2018 was held again, who would you vote for?

It's very difficult to answer this sort of question in retrospect. Probably England is the 'safe' option, but the idea of taking the tournament to new countries is appealing, so I couldn't rule out the other bids. I would need to see the bid documents and the comments from the FIFA evaluation teams.


Question 7: Knowing what you know today, if a vote for 2022 was held again, who would you vote for?

This one's easy. I always hoped Australia would win. It is such a sports mad country and I think it would host an amazing World Cup, just as it held a fantastic Asian Nations Cup. It's a shame the bidding team got involved in crazy shenanigans with some disreputable individuals. But if the correct culture had been in place in FIFA at the time of the vote in 2010, I believe Australia would have felt able to run a clean bid.

I should add that I would like to see a CONCACAF nation host in 2026. The USA would be favourites, but Canada and Mexico could also probably host wonderful tournaments.


Question 8: Do you think that international sports federations have a role to play in considering broader issues such as human rights in potential host nations when making decisions about where events are hosted?

Absolutely. It became clear to me that instead of leaving the decision up to the whims and idiosyncracies of each Exco member, a scoring rubric needs to be developed with sensible weightings accorded to each aspect. Some things, such as a suitable climate and relatively clean human rights record should be either mandatory or very heavily weighted. Other things would still be scored but with lower weightings, such as whether the country has previously held the tournament, for example, the existing football culture, the potential to lead to an increase in participation in the host nation/region, etc. Coming up with the rubric sounds like a perfect job for someone like Bonita Mersiades!


Question 9: Will you pursue issues such as reform to the kafala system in Qatar as President?

Yes as long as Qatar is still hosting the World Cup. No in the event that the tournament is moved elsewhere. FIFA has a rule that governments cannot get involved in football matters. By making kafala a football issue, FIFA would practically be forcing the government of Qatar to become involved in football matters. As distateful as we may find the kafala system, it is not FIFA's job to fix everything that is wrong with the world unless it directly affects football.


Question 10: Would you consider an independent voting process for future major events such as the World Cup? For example, an expert external panel making the decision based on assessments based on cost-benefit (to FIFA and the host nation), technical capacity,security and player and fan enjoyment?

As I noted in my answer to Question 8, I definitely want to see a scoring rubric created and every bidding nation should know how the scoring will be done prior to even starting work on their bids. Without it, the process cannot be fair or transparent and there can be no accountability. These are the three pillars that everyone says they want. Whoever creates the rubric should also be capable of deciding who should be on the voting panel.


Question 11: Would you institute term limits for FIFA Executive Committee members?

Yes. Two terms of four years each would be my preference. It seems that the potential bad done by a bad Exco member in three terms would probably outweigh the potential good done by a good Exco member. New blood is vital to keep organisations from going stale, but of course there should be continuity measures in place too that allow for smooth transitions from one member to the next.


Question 12: Would you institute age limits for FIFA Executive Committee members?

No, provided there are term limits. Age limits seem like they are just a way to prevent people from hanging around too long. There are plenty of people in their seventies and eighties capable of making a positive contribution, and some of them may remember issues from the past that are unknown to younger people. I would hope that term limits would be introduced so age limits are unnecessary.


Question 13: Do you think the report into the ISL case should be published?

Yes, with redactions. Almost all of the people involved have left FIFA or are about to leave, but I think it's important that the truth is told and the air is cleared. The words transparency and accountability once again come to mind.


Question 14: Do you think the Garcia Report should be published?

Yes, with redactions. Frankly the entire process turned into a farce. Let's publish and be damned, let people see the evidence and then we can determine as a community what measures need to be taken in response.


Question 15: Two women whistleblowers were all but identified & disparaged by the Eckert Summary Report. As President, would you apologise to them on behalf of FIFA?

Of course. It should have been done as soon as the issue became known. Let's not wait decades or hundreds of years like has been done by various governments and religious institutions in the past. Admit your mistakes and then you can move forward.


Question 16: Would you introduce independent external non-executive directors to the Executive Committee?

I think there are some good reasons to consider this, but as I noted in my answer to Question 3, I would leave these types of decisions to the people in charge of reforming the organisation. I've already said FIFA should not be in charge of this.


Question 17: Do you think other key stakeholders, such as players and fans, should have an input into the nomination and voting process for the FIFA Presidency and Executive Committee?

Probably, but you wouldn't want important decisions to come down to a popularity contest so the method used to incorporate players and fans need to be carefully thought out. However, my answer is ultimately the same as for the last question.


Question 18: Do you think the professional players group should be directly represented on the FIFA Executive Committee?

This is already covered in Question 17. But I would ask why would we limit it just to professionals?


Question 19: Do you think fans should have representation on the FIFA Executive Committee?

Again I see some merits, I'd worry about popularity contests, and these decisions should be left to the independent experts in charge of reform.


Question 20: Would you publish annually the total remuneration package of all Executive Committee members, other committee members and senior executive management of FIFA?

Yes. I would also publish their voting records and the extent to which their initiatives have contributed to the organisation's key performance indicators.


Question 21: Subject to commercial or personnel confidentiality, would you publish the minutes of the FIFA Executive Committee and other relevant committees on the FIFA website?

Yes. I would also consider live video streams of meetings discussing issues of high interest to the worldwide football community.


Question 22: Would you introduce a pecuniary interests register for all Executive Committee members, other Committee members and senior executive management?

I would like to see this. It goes along with transparency and accountability.


Question 23: Which option best describes how you would handle a personal conflict of interest?

(Other; I would take part in the discussion but not the decision; I would have nothing further to do with the matter until a decision is made; I can't see any situation where I would have a conflict of interest; I see no reason to do anything)

At this stage I can't see any situation where I would have a conflict of interest, but I am fully aware that such a situation could potentially occur. I would state my reasons for not being involved in the discussion, answer any questions addressed to me, and then leave it up to the rest of the committee to make a decision without my input.


Question 24: Would you agree to an independent external audit of FIFA's development programmes around the world?

Absolutely. I worked in the development field from 1987-91 and am reasonably au fait with a lot of the issues. Rather than just knowing whether the money has been spent where it should have been, I would be interested in knowing to what extent the various projects have met their stated goals. This analysis should be published on the FIFA website.

FIFA should also tap into the knowledge of organisations like the UNDP (superbly led by New Zealander Helen Clark, by the way), the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, and experienced donor nations such as Norway to learn how to better run development programmes.

I should add that not too long ago I downloaded all the available GOAL Project data from the FIFA website for the period up to 2014 and some things that stood out included the difficulty in pulling the information from the website, the relatively low level of funding given to African nations (in total the top ten African recipients received less than the amount spent on making the United Passions movie) and some surprising nations near the top of the recipient league tables, including Bahrain and the UAE.

Clearly there is huge scope to improve these programmes. The overall concept is good, but the money should be spent according to predetermined rules with specific goals in mind, rather than at the whim of the Exco.


Question 25: Would you require all member associations in receipt of development funding to publicly account for the funding it receives?

Yes, along with how all income and expenditures moves in and out of the national federations. It shouldn't just be limited to FIFA development funding.


Question 26: Would you institute proceedings to recover at least some of the money that has been lost to the game over years because of corruption?

It's a nice thought. I would need to check with the legal team to determine how easy it would be to do this, and what the potential costs would be versus the potential benefits.


Unnumbered Question, presumably 27: On a scale of 1-10, where 1 = Terrible and 10 = Fantastic, how do you think FIFA (not the game of football) is viewed by the global community overall?

My surprise answer is somewhere around 7. First of all, keeping an eye on FIFA is relatively low on most people's to-do lists. Secondly, FIFA is actually very well regarded in most of the developing world, thanks to the various hand-outs they have given out and increased automatic spots at FIFA tournaments for non-UEFA members under the Sepp Blatter Presidency. At the other end of the scale, there are people like you and me who believe FIFA has been a power hungry, shoddily run kleptocracy for many years. I would say the average score is probably 6-7, but the standard deviation of those scores is very high.

We should also remember that the vast majority of FIFA staff are in all likelihood competent, professional and ethical. It is just the upper level Exco that gives the organisation a bad name.


Question 28: What is your 'elevator pitch' to football fans? (If you had 45 seconds in an elevator with a group of fans, how would you convince them you're the best person for the job.)

At heart I am one of the fans. I love the game, the actors, the drama, the feeling of being part of something big. I value the game above my own personal ambitions and want to see it thrive. The fans want to see good football, good refereeing, fair competitions, comfortable stadiums, reasonably priced admission and recognition that they are a vitally important segment of the game. And that is what I want. I have lived in four of the six Confederations and visited the other two and have good friends from around the world, so I understand the need to be even-handed in my actions. I also support term limits so if I am really bad at the job they would be rid of me in eight years at the most!


Question 29: What is your 'elevator pitch' to professional players? (If you had 45 seconds in an elevator with a group of professional players, how would you convince them you're the best person for the job.)

Let's be honest. The very top level players don't care who runs FIFA, as long as they still get the chance to earn megabucks, play in the biggest games, win a bunch of medals, drive fast cars, buy big mansions and pick up attractive women (or men). However, such players make up a tiny proportion of all professional players around the world.

The professionals we need to think about are the ones who play in smaller countries or lower level leagues in big countries, for teams like Alloa Athletic, Enugu Rangers, Atromitos, Cajamarca, Suchitepequez or Sarawak, plus of course, every single professional female player. These players need to know that they play for clubs that are viable and won't suddenly lay them off because of financial issues. They want decent training facilities, playing surfaces, referees, payment (and this should always be on time), the opportunity to progress, high quality medical treatment, a decent welfare system in the case that their careers are shortened by injury, and the feeling that they are an important part of the football community whose views are listened to and acted upon.

I am concerned about the future of Wellington Phoenix, a New Zealand-based club playing in Australia's professional A-League. The club was invited to join the league a number of years ago because it was felt they would add to the league. They have proved to be financially viable, well-supported and competitive on the field, and have acted as a pathway for players not just from New Zealand (Kosta Barbarouses, Marco Rojas, etc.) but also Australia (e.g. Nathan Burns) and the Pacific (e.g. Ben Totori and Roy Krishna). Now there is concern that they will be axed from the A-League for reasons that appear to change every few days, none of which appear to hold much water. Kicking Wellington out of the league would prove disastrous for New Zealand football, not to mention the current players, coaching staff and other employees.

I think back to the ultimate aim of football, which should be to improve people's lives.


Question 30: Which statement is closest to what would you believe is needed to address anti-corruption measures in football? (No statements are included on the PDF version of the survey.)

I'll have to play this one by ear. What is most needed is a change in FIFA culture, with the President repeating the expectations under the new culture on a frequent basis. Also:
- An increase in diversity amongst Exco members with an increase in women, more realistic membership by Confederation and a diversity of age and backgrounds should also be implemented.
- The Exco should lead by example by being transparent over the goals of FIFA, their personal remuneration and their voting record.
- All of this information should be easily accessible via the FIFA website.
- Rules for development programme funding, football competitions and votes should be clearly stated before any ball is kicked, bid book word is typed or campaign speech is given.
- An improved judicial system that clearly sets out not only the rules but how they are set, what penalties can be applied, who gets to be involved in these matters and how they are elected and removed from office must be established. The recent case involving Palestine versus Saudi Arabia in World Cup Qualifying is an example of something that should have been better handled by only having clearly independent panel members.
- All conflicts of interest should be stated and the people involved should not be allowed to vote on affected issues.
- It should be recognised that ALL members of the football community could potentially be pressured into acting unethically and therefore the aim should be to administer a mandatory education campaign pointing out the potential pitfalls to the entire football community.


Question 31: Is there anything else you wish to add? For example, if you wish to provide further information related to any of the questions, or anything else you would like to bring to our attention.

Many football-related things.

I would like to see experimentation with World Cup formats to encourage more attacking play and lessen the chance of games where teams can achieve mutually beneficial results (e.g. like West Germany 1 Austria 0 in 1982). I don't see any way a 40-team World Cup can be held with eight groups of five teams.

I would like to see the opportunity for national teams from Oceania to play more meaningful matches than the handful of WCQ games they play every four-year cycle. Combining Oceania with Asia qualifying with five teams guaranteed to progress would be a win-win for these two Confederations.

There should be the same tournaments available for female players as there are for male players, with the same number of teams participating in all of them.

The Oceania representative in the FIFA Club World Cup should not automatically have to play the host nation's team in the first round. The previous year's final standings should determine which teams enter when. This would mean clubs are playing for their Confederations and a fifth-place match could become meaningful.

I would like to see the FIFA Rankings revised so they are fair (for example, immediately remove the COnfederation Coefficient part of the formula) and better reflect the reality of how teams compare.

I would like to see a worldwide, online player eligibility database established so that teams know before they play which players are eligible to play and which aren't. This would cover suspensions, nationality issues, and age-related issues. I would hope this would eliminate a lot of the instances where teams win on the field and then see the result being overturned. I feel situations like this reflect badly on the game and FIFA.

I am interested in promoting opportunities for older players. Imagine an Over 40 and/or Over 50 World Cup for both men and women. Lots of players retire not because they want to but because they can no longer play at a level that allows them to be competitive. Other sports, notably golf and tennis, provide opportunities for people who love the game to keep playing as they age. Why not football?

I would like to see some scholarships made available for qualified individuals who lack the financial resources to attend the FIFA Master's Degree programme. Perhaps some revenue from fines could be set aside for this. In addition, I would like to see this programme expanded, perhaps to universities in other parts of the world such as Asia, Africa or the Americas, to increase the number of skilled and qualified football administrators.

I would like to see some changes to the laws of the game, with clarifications on what constitutes handling, what counts as denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, when encroachment on a penalty kick should be sanctioned, what amount and type of contact constitutes a foul, more consistency in determining stoppage time, retroactive punishments for players who dive or feign injuries or attempt to get their opponents sent off, and an overall increase in consistency within leagues, countries and confederations. In addition I would like to see experiments in the use of video technology with a view to permitting it worldwide for those leagues who desire to do so.