Tuesday, November 18, 2014

FIFA cannot break its own rules (except when it suits FIFA to do so)

"Once again, we have examined this matter very, very carefully from a legal point of view. The result was clear: if FIFA were to publish the report, we would be violating our own association law as well as state law. The people who are demanding in the media and elsewhere that FIFA publish the report are obviously of the opinion that FIFA should or must ignore the law in this regard. We obviously cannot do that."

The above is a direct quote attributed to FIFA President Sepp Blatter in the statement released today in his answer to the fifth question on FIFA's own website. This statement makes it very clear that in the opinion of President Blatter, FIFA cannot violate its own association law.

I find this interesting, given what I read in Section 4.1.3 (Bid Books) in the 42-page report released by Judge Eckert.

A binding legal character.

More than empty promises.

So what was in Qatar's bid?


"Fans, players and officials will be able to enjoy cool and comfortable open-air conditions, not exceeding 27 degrees Celsius, it added."

There was no mention of playing the tournament at any time other than June or July, because everyone accepted that, as Sepp Blatter put it:

"... they (other bidding countries) signed the exact same bidding documents (the bid registration agreement) as Qatar did, must know that point 1.2.1. stipulates that the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup is 'scheduled to take place' in June and/or July of 2022 'in principle'. (My italics)

So what does 'in principle' mean? Here's a definition from dictionary.com.

In case that's not clear enough, here's another one.

So "scheduled to take place in June/and or July of 2022 in principle" means the tournament must be held in those two months. The details of which particular days in June and July are left to the host nation to decide.

So when President Blatter added, "It does not say that it 'must' take place in those months. What the document does, is express FIFA's wish to host the World Cup in June or July," he was either wrong or (more likely) being deliberately misleading.

He has, of course, since made numerous statements that the 2022 World Cup Finals will not be held in June and July.

How does this fit in with the claim in today's statement that FIFA cannot violate it's own law?

President Blatter loves to use the convenience of the law, but only when it suits his own purposes.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The 2018/2022 World Cup Finals Hosting Bid and Corruption

The recent story in the Daily Telegraph alleging that former CONCACAF supremo Jack Warner and his sons were paid almost $2 million (£1.2m) from a Qatari firm linked to the country’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup should come as no surprise.

We have known for years that the process for choosing World Cup hosting rights was corrupt. Back in 1999, when Germany was selected to host the 2006 World Cup, New Zealand and Oceania football boss was so flustered by the pressure and bribes he fled the building before the final vote, rather than have to cast a vote that would potentially have given the tournament to South Africa. Dempsey died without ever disclosing the full facts, but he noted that envelopes were slipped under his door and it's not too hard to make a pretty good guess as to what happened.

Even before the votes for 2018 and 2022, Reynaldo Temarii and Amos Adamu had been booted from the 24-man ExCo for being caught asking for bribes in exchange for votes.

England only managed to receive two votes in their bid for the 2018 World Cup Finals, despite being convinced that they had secured many more. On 10 May 2011, the former England 2018 bid chief, Lord Treisman told a House of Commons select committee that four FIFA committee members, amongst them Jack Warner and Nicolas Leoz, approached him asking for various things in exchange for votes. England also agreed to play a full international match in Trinidad in an attempt to win Warner's, and by extension, all of CONCACAF's votes.

That same day, The Sunday Times reported that two committee members, Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma were given $1.5 million in exchange for their votes in favor of Qatar. FIFA President Sepp Blatter rejected the evidence in a press conference after FIFA requested to see the evidence of the allegations.

As for Australia, meanwhile, a whistleblower has recently alleged that they paid A$462,200 into an account controlled by Warner in 2010 to upgrade the Marvin Lee Stadium in Macoya, Trinidad, a payment that was always intended to influence his vote rather than to fulfill any genuine philanthropic purposes. Warner allegedly used the payment for his own advantage rather than for the benefit of football in Trinidad.

Warner apparently was happy to take gifts from everyone. He didn't promise a vote in exchange; seemingly he just offered to CONSIDER a vote if he received a gift. No gift, no chance of a vote. Gift, maybe a vote, unless someone else gives a bigger gift.

Having appointed Peter Hargitay to assist with their bid (you can see more about his 'activities' here and on the four linked pages), Australia received just one vote.

In November 2010, a documentary broadcast by the BBC had alleged that FIFA officials voting on the World Cup bids had received large bribes between 1989 and 1999.

So what do we have here?

Firstly, the entire process for selecting World Cup hosting rights is/was a corrupt cesspool, where 24 all-powerful men got to choose the winners based on their own whim, which usually involved countless large 'favours' being offered by bidding countries in exchange for votes.

There was no written rubic for determining how the winning country should be selected, which is no surprise given FIFA's legendary lack of transparency, fairness and accountability. The voting process did not consider any critical prerequisites, such as adequate hotel rooms, infrastructure, or acceptable climatic conditions.

Instead, the ExCo members were free to give their vote to the highest bidder, without even having to disclose who they voted for, let alone why.

Secondly, it would appear that every bidding nation was probably guilty of playing the game. England and Australia are known to have offered gifts in exchange for votes, so they can't really complain about being rejected because other bids offered bigger or better gifts.

Thirdly, the decision to select both the 2018 and 2022 hosting countries at the same time resulted in collusion between bids (we'll vote for you if you'll vote for us) and Sepp Blatter has publicly admitted it was a mistake. I suspect that privately he is happy, because it gave himself and his ExCo cronies double the opportunity to receive 'inducements' in exchange for votes. Blatter thought he and some of the ExCo members wouldn't be standing for FIFA again and wouldn't get the chance to choose any more hosts so he (and they) happily brought the 2022 bid forward. This is my opinion of course, not a verifiable fact.

Fourthly, as much as anything, the hosting selection process is a failure of management and leadership. Blatter knew there were problems at least as far back as the 2006 bidding process, but did nothing to improve it. There were no measures introduced that would make it fair or transparent. No stated scoring rubric.No list of well-considered prerequisites.

Instead it was business as usual, or in other words, ExCo members making personal gain as a result of their 'elected' positions, in which they are supposed to be improving the game for their constituents, rather than lining their pockets.

Blatter, as President, is culpable. He had known their were problems with corruption, not just with the World Cup bidding process but also with issues like the ISL payments to Joao Havelange, Nicolas Leoz, et al. Yet he made no attempt to change the culture. As President (CEO if you will), that was one of his most important duties, and he failed miserably. Only when the clamour from the world had reached fever pitch did he consent to changes that would clean up the game, and these have been much too little and much too late.

He's almost certainly going to stand for election again. And he will probably win. And the game will be much the worse off for it.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Net Run Rate in Cricket and Simpson's Paradox

Here's what happens when a football fan with an understanding of numbers and a passing interest in paradoxes turns his mind to cricket. (I'm sure something similar was possible when goal average was used as a tie-breaker in football, before goal difference became the preferred method.)

Imagine a typical eight-team cricket tournament, where the teams are divided into two groups of four, and the top two teams in each group progress to the semi-finals. Final placings in each group are decided by points gained (two points for a win, one point for a tie or no result) with the first tie-braeker being net run rate.

After two rounds of matches in one of the groups, these are the results.

North 250/4 off 50 overs defeated South 230/8 off 50 overs by twenty runs.
East 101/2 off 14 overs defeated West 100/10 off 22.3 overs by eight wickets.
East 205/7 off 44.3 overs defeated North 200/10 off 47.1 overs by three wickets.
South 160/10 off 31.2 overs defeated West 150/10 off 46.4 overs by ten runs.

Remembering that when a team is bowled out it counts as fifty overs batted, and that the decimal equivalent of 44.3 overs is 44.5, at this stage, the points table is as follows:

East 2 2 0 4 306 58.5 5.231 300 100 3.000   2.231
South 2 1 1 2 390 100 3.900 400 100 4.000 -0.100
North 2 1 1 2 450 100 4.500 435 94.5 4.603 -0.103
West 2 0 2 0 250 100 2.500 261 64 4.078 -1.578

(M = Matches, W = Wins, L = Losses, P = Points, RS = Runs Scored, OB = Overs Batted, RRF = Run Rate For, RC = Runs Conceded, OF = Overs Fielded, RRA = Run Rate Against, NRR = Net Run Rate)

After two rounds, South and North are tied on points, but South are ranked narrowly ahead of North as the result of their better net run rate.

The third round of matches is then played, with the following results.

West 295/6 off 48 overs defeated North 294/4 off 50 overs by four wickets.
East 129/9 off 47 overs defeated South 125/10 off 21.3 overs by one wicket.

East now have three wins and therefore win the group.

West have joined North and South on one win, so net run rate will determine which of the three teams will finish second and progress to the semi-finals.

In this last round of games, West’s net run rate is 0.266, bringing their average net run rate over the three matches to -1.19. This will see West finish last in the group.

In the third round, South’s net run rate was -0.245, slightly better than North’s -0.266. South were already ahead of North on net run rate after two rounds, so one would expect that South would finish above North in the final standings.

But no! Quite remarkably, the overall net run rate for South is -0.165 while North’s is slightly better at -0.163. So even though South had a better net run rate than North after two matches, and achieved a better comparative net run rate in the third round, North finish with a better net run rate overall and progress to the semi-finals.

East 3 3 0 6 435 105.5 4.123 425 150 2.833   1.290
North 3 1 2 2 744 150 4.960 730 142.5  5.123 -0.163
South 3 1 2 2 515 150 3.433 529 147 3.599 -0.165
West 3 1 2 2 545 148 3.682 555 114 4.868 -1.186

This is an example of Simpson’s Paradox and shows how adding and averaging numbers can be fraught with peril.

What if instead of combining the scores from the three matches and then doing the net run rate calculation, we calculated each team’s net run rate compared to their opponents for each individual match and then added these together to create the NRR?

North’s run rates compared to their three opponents were 0.400, -0.607 and -0.266 for a combined total of -0.473.
South’s run rates compared to their three opponents were -0.400, 0.200 and -0.245 for a combined total of -0.445.

East 3 3 0 6 435 105.5 4.123 425 150 2.833 6.066
South 3 1 2 2 515 150 3.433 529 147 3.599 -0.445
North 3 1 2 2 744 150 4.960 730 142.5 5.123 -0.473
West 3 1 2 2 545 148 3.682 555 114 4.868 -5.149

So using this method, South would finish above North.

My personal feeling is that this is a fairer method of calculating net run rate and more accurately reflects the reality of what happened during the three matches. It certainly does a good job of depicting the thrashing East handed out to West in the first match.

It may also have some negatives I haven't thought of. Perhaps some statistical experts could provide their input.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Corruption throughout his Presidency, but Blatter thinks he's the man to steer FIFA, and who has the courage to stop him?

I recently came across an article on FIFA's own website, dated 29 January 2003, which if it weren't so sad, I would find quite funny. It is an interview with then recently-elected FIFA General Secretary, Dr Urs Linsi, and his answer to the first question is particularly ironic.

Partly it states: "In the first six months of 2002, FIFA attracted too much negative publicity, but this changed during and after the FIFA World Cup™ as we delivered a perfect tournament. In the last six months of the year, everything calmed down, both inside and outside FIFA, and we proved that FIFA is a healthy, clean and transparent organisation with nothing to hide."

Yes, you read that correctly.

FIFA proved it is a healthy, clean and transparent organisation with nothing to hide.

This was in 2003, remember, five years after Sepp Blatter was elected President, three years after the final illegal ISL payments were made to Joao Havelange, Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz et al. (Sepp Blatter has now admitted he knew about a 1.5 million Swiss Franc payment to Havelange in 1997, although he feigned ignorance when asked about it by Andrew Jennings and did not divulge it to anyone) and a little over ten years before a slew of FIFA ExCo members were banned for various transgressions involving corruption and/or unethical behaviour.

Here's another quote from the Linsi interview: "There is huge public interest in FIFA, therefore we have to be as transparent as possible. We will try to communicate in a more open way concerning football matters so the world can believe us and be proud of their federation."

How did that work out? There is still a clamour for fairness, transparency and accountability, and it is only recently that Sepp Blatter has begun to even pretend to address this problem. Here we are, eleven years on, and the same old problems still exist. And everyone at FIFA knows and has always known that it is corrupt.

There is a telling comment by Tongan former FIFA ExCo member Ahongalu Fusimalohi in the transcript of his 2011 Court of Arbitration for Sport case against FIFA:

"351 Ahongalu Fusimalohi: It has to be strictly confidential.
352 Reporter: I just got the impression that to a certain extent the whole organization works like
353 Ahongalu Fusimalohi: Yes. It just, I mean, the eleventh commandment of the CIA, just don’t
get caught, don’t get caught, that’s it."

Not surprisingly, the CAS found, amongst other findings:

"130. On the basis of the evidence before it, the Panel is of the view that the Appellant
realized that he was offered some significant money in exchange for an improper
and shady lobbying activity. In spite of this awareness, the Appellant set out the
conditions under which he would assist Franklin Jones. The attitude of the
Appellant throughout the whole Auckland Meeting clearly establishes that his
collaboration with the alleged lobbyists was linked to the personal profit he could
131. In short, the Panel is comfortably satisfied that a gift or other advantage was
offered to the Appellant and that, accordingly, the first requirement of article 11
para. 1 FCE is met.
b) Incitement to breach duty or behave dishonestly for the benefit of a third

I'll write more on this case soon in another blog post about the 2022 World Cup hosting bidding process.

So there we have it. Years and years of unbridled corruption and unethical behaviour, known by FIFA and Sepp Blatter, Illegal payments he knew about but did not divulge, and numerous ExCo members banned for illegal and unethical behaviour, and based on the comments of Fusimalohi above, these are the ones who were stupid enough to get caught.

And this man, Sepp Blatter, wants us to believe that he is the man to steer the FIFA ship through the stormy waters.

And in case you are tempted to think that Urs Linsi was speaking just for himself - he was, after all, fired from his job in 2007, shortly after Vice-President Julio Grondona had negotiated an expensive new contract for him - take note also that Linsi himself said in his interview: "Communications is now directly linked to the President, because FIFA should speak with one voice." It is hard to believe that Blatter would let this interview make it all the way to the FIFA website if it were not an accurate reflection of the organisation's views.

Blatter has been FIFA President for sixteen years, knowing full that the organisation was corrupt before he took on the role and has been corrupt ever since. He even manoeuvred to prevent his only opponent in the last election, Mohammed bin Hammam, from standing, by getting him banned.Yet the man still has the balls to tout his record on reform and has hinted that he might stand for election again.

And he might succeed too, because although he cannot be attired with the epithet 'Teflon', plenty of mud having stuck to him, he has survived due to the lack of courage of the people who can vote him out, namely the National Associations who are too scared to nominate another candidate. They know that should their nominee lose to Blatter,  the nominating association would be sure to feel Blatter's wrath in terms of reduced funding for GOAL Projects, cash grants, hosting opportunities, promotions, and the like.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Asia/Oceania World Cup Qualifying

I've been thinking about the possibility of recombining Asia and Oceania World Cup Qualifying for a while and I believe it makes sense for both confederations. The confederations themselves are believed to be actively discussing the issue.

It isn't so long ago that the countries from these two confederations regularly faced each other as part of the qualifying process. I clearly recall New Zealand's matches not just against China, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the final 1982 qualifying round, but also against Indonesia and Chinese Taipei in the first qualifying round.

This is no longer the case. The 2014 play-offs saw Jordan, from Asia, lose heavily to Uruguay, from South America, while Oceania's New Zealand were convincingly defeated by CONCACAF's Mexico. To be honest, I feel that the only way a team from Asia or Oceania will make it through the intercontinental play-offs in future is if they are drawn against each other, as happened in 2010 when New Zealand beat Bahrain 1-0 over two legs.

Some would say we should have the best teams at the World Cup Finals so it is better to have both Mexico and Uruguay there. While I see this argument, the World Cup Finals are also a worldwide celebration of the planet's culture, and the fact that we already have qualifying based on confederations shows that we recognise that we want the finals to be a truly global event.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who would argue that Oceania should always have one team in the Finals. I see their argument, too, but realistically, now that Australia has joined the Asian Football Confederation, that would pretty much guarantee New Zealand a spot in every Finals..Don't use Tahiti's qualification for the Confederations Cup as a counterargument. That only came about through a perfect storm of circumstances that are unlikely to be repeated.

My current favourite format for a combined Asia/Oceania Zone is as follows:

Phase 1 57 nations

OCEANIA (11 members)

Nation with highest ranking receives bye into Phase 2
Remaining ten nations play round-robin in two groups of five (could be part of South Pacific Games)
Top two from each group progress to semi-finals or final group
Top three qualify for Phase 2

ASIA (46 members)

16 nations with highest ranking receive bye into Phase 2
Remaining 30 nations play round-robin in either ten groups of three or five groups of six
Ten of these 30 nations qualify for Phase 2

Phase 2 30 nations as follows:
1 Highest ranked Oceania nation
3 Qualifiers from Oceania Phase 1
16 Highest ranked Asian nations
10 Qualifiers from Asian Phase 1

Round-robin played in five groups of six

Top two from each group progress to Phase 3

Phase 3 10 nations (winners and runners-up from Phase 2 groups)

Round-robin played in two groups of five
Winners and runners-up in each group qualify for World Cup Finals
Third-placed teams play each other home and away to decide fifth qualifier for World Cup Finals

Of course there are other configurations that could be used but I like the overall concept. It would guarantee four of the Oceania teams a vastly increased number of meaningful games against better opposition. Currently they are reduced to playing each other in a competition that often starts as the South Pacific Games, then evolves into the Oceania Nations Cup, and finally ends up as the World Cup Qualifying competition.

For the most part the Oceania nations never play any countries from outside their own confederation, other than New Zealand, and even then we are only talking about a handful of meaningless friendlies and the occasional Confederations Cup. This makes it extremely difficult for them to come out on top in a two-legged play-off against a team that might have played eighteen highly competitive matches in their own qualifying competition.

It would also increase by one (from 25 to 26) the number of Asian teams that make it through to Phase 2.

Cost may be an issue, of course, but perhaps TV money could help offset this.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Run the world game? FIFA can’t even run an online prediction game!

As a fan of the world game I decided to join the FIFA Club and play FIFA’s online prediction game. One reason is that I enjoy putting my football prediction skills to the test. Another is that the winner gets tickets to the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil.

The game consists of FIFA posting a series of matches from around the world on their website, and players predicting the outcome of these games. The winner is the player who gets the highest streak of correct matches, so the main skill is in knowing which games not to predict.

The game has been running for just over a year and every month there have been administrative issues that have adversely affected the playing experience, as well as in some instances being blatantly unfair.

A common issue has been FIFA’s failure to process games in a timely manner. There have been numerous occasions where I have made a prediction, the game has finished, and hours later (sometimes over 24 hours later, as was the case on May 28, 2013 for Sligo Rovers versus Dundalk) the game has still not been processed, making it impossible for me to make another prediction. Meanwhile, games played later have been processed allowing other players to make additional predictions and increase their streak. This most commonly (though not exclusively) occurs when scheduled games are postponed, and it is a source of real frustration.

Another issue has been FIFA’s failure to add to the list of games on their website. This occurred twice in the last three months. In September 2013 it involved a new twist whereby the website was listing games from June 2012 (Olympic matches on the whole) which were obviously unavailable for making predictions because they were played over a year ago. At least this issue affected all players equally.

A much more serious error occurred on April 25th, 2013. The website listed a match from Singapore as Young Lions versus Hougang. But the game that was actually played was Young Lions versus Home United, a completely different team. I used the online help form on the Rules & Help section of the website to contact the game organisers to point out this discrepancy, quoting the relevant rule, which states:

“CANCELLED MATCHES: If a match, the result of which you tried to predict, does not take place for any reason, then your streak will NOT be reset. The fixture will simply be marked as "cancelled” and your score will remain the same.”

It made no difference. Anyone who picked Hougang to win was credited with a correct prediction, despite the fact that they didn’t even play on that day, while anyone who picked Young Lions had their streak reset to zero.

May 16th, 2013, brought another fiasco. The listed game was Kilmarnock versus Hibernian from the Scottish Premier League, but seconds before the game kicked off, the website showed it had been cancelled, and players were allowed to make new predictions, which I did. Imagine my surprise the next day when the game was suddenly included in the list of games that had been played and counted.

Again I contacted the game organisers, pointing out that having made a mistake and cancelling the game, thus allowing players to make a new prediction, they couldn’t go back the next day and suddenly include the game. It's like wrongly disallowing a goal in the first half, playing another ten minutes, and then announcing at half-time that the goal counts!

On July 26, 2013, the website listed a match from the Gambrinus Liga as Dukla Prague versus Teplice. I picked Dukla to win at home. The match that was actually played was Znojmo versus Teplice. It ended 0-0, resetting my streak to zero. I contacted the game organisers and let them know. Of course I heard nothing back, and again nothing was done to rectify the mistake.

The other really annoying issue with the game is that sometimes the webpages can take over two minutes to load, and when they do they quite often open with an error message.

So all in all, FIFA’s running of this game has been awful. There have been numerous errors in administering the game, and few have been rectified, despite them being brought to the attention of the game administrators. The customer service has been terrible for a game that is presumably aimed at attracting fans to the website and engendering goodwill. 

Only once have I received a response to issues I brought to FIFA’s attention and that was to say they had a computer problem at the start of July which is why no games were available for making predictions.

It would be fair to say that the game suffers from a lack of fairness, transparency and accountability, the exact same problems we find at the top of FIFA. It can probably be assumed that FIFA employees take their cue from the top, and the culture of the entire organization from top to bottom reflects this.

No wonder FIFA can’t make a decent fist of running the world game. They can’t even run an online prediction game.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

FIFA Investigating Itself over 2018/2022 WCF Bidding Process

FIFA noted this week that its Ethics Prosecutor, Michael Garcia, will be investigating the allegations of corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.

In a statement released by FIFA, Garcia said he "intends to conduct a thorough review of those allegations, including the evidentiary basis for and credibility of any allegations of individual misconduct."

I can already tell you what his findings will be. There is insufficient evidence of any irregularities. The allegations have no basis in fact and are the result purely of English and American media bias and sour grapes. No further action will be taken. Case closed.

And it's possible that such a finding would be accurate.

The problem is that observers are now so aware of the numerous other corruption scandals that FIFA has been embroiled in that the organisation has absolutely no credibility.

An independent, third party investigation is needed.

Also, changes need to be made to the bidding process.

The first thing I would do would be develop a scoring rubric and release it to potential bidders  at the time bids are asked for. It would clearly state how the winning bid would be selected and what weight is being given to each aspect of the bids (stadiums, mass transport systems, environmental concerns, accommodation, training facilities, media infrastructure, human rights, legacy, climate, geographical location, fan experience, the ability to host in June/July, etc.)

Such a system would stop countries such as England or the United States concentrating on technical bids, and being unsuccessful when it turns out that geographical location is the prime concern.

Secondly, the FIFA ExCo should not be the people determining which bid is successful. I would instead pick a very large panel of independent experts from across the globe each capable of evaluating one aspect of the bid and have them each score the bids on their area of expertise. The final scores could then be calculated and the winning bid announced.

The current system is far too open to abuse. Having a relatively small panel of 24 ExCo members picking the winners is to invite corruption, especially when so many of them have been in positions of power for decades. There are too many favours owed and grievances remembered and conflicts of interests for the process to be fair and transparent.

Way back when Germany was awarded the 2006 World Cup Finals, ExCo member Charlie Dempsey abstained from voting because of the pressure placed on him by bidding countries at the time of the vote. One must assume this included bribes and/or threats. Dempsey had announced he would vote for the English bid until England was eliminated, at which point he would consider his options. But once England was out of the running, Dempsey was under so much 'pressure' he fled home to New Zealand, thus abstaining from voting and in the process allowing Germany to beat South Africa by one vote.

There is no reason to believe that the 'pressures' are any less now.

And given the number of current and recent FIFA officials involved in controversy over the past few years, I have little confidence that all of the ExCo members can conduct a clean vote.

And neither do I have confidence that an investigation of the 2018/2022 process, undertaken by a FIFA insider, will be capable of allaying public suspicion should the outcome be similar to what I predicted above.