Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Manifesto - Fairness, accountability and transparency, because football belongs to everyone.

My first few posts have necessarily been reactive, with so much to comment on happening in such a short time. It's only recently that I realised being angry with the way the game is being run is not actually going to change anything, which is why I decided to start this blog.

Let me say up front that I am fully aware that my chances of becoming FIFA President when Sepp Blatter finally retires are approximately the same as those of Havant & Waterlooville winning the FA Cup and then going on to win the Europa League the following season.

Nevertheless, I need somewhere to organise my thoughts, and if I can make a positive contribution to the overall debate, and at the same time learn from the many experts around the world who keep abreast of the issues, so much the better.

Unfortunately, the last election was won by the sitting President by default. I can only speculate as to how this situation came about, and there aren't enough minutes in the day to explore every conspiracy theory, so I'll leave it that.

I am aware that Grant Wahl started a semi-serious campaign for the 2011 election. In my opinion he had some good ideas, if a little simplistic. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading about what happened to him during his candidacy.

It's all very easy to criticise those in leadership roles, but probably much harder to lay out concrete ideas that will be agreed upon by the majority of stakeholders. What follows is my opening gambit.

1. Without a doubt, the most pressing need right now is not actually football-specific. I'm talking about fairness, accountability and transparency, which is what everyone should require of every governing body, from FIFA and the United Nations down to the local school board. Any group that spends other people's money and make decisions that affect people's lives should follow the basic tenets of good governance. Unfortunately, FIFA has only just started to address this, after decades of opacity and the appearance of widespread corruption.

a) All financial data should be available to the public online, in detail. FIFA should go beyond meeting the mimimum legal requirements and instead strive for excellence in financial disclosures. Salaries, benefits, donations, event costs, funding for GOAL Programmes, etc. should all be separated out, in detail, with clear reference to who received the funds.

b) Voting records for every decision made should be available online. There should be no more secret ballots or decisions made behind closed doors. The public has a right to know who is responsible for making decisions. Maybe votes and important meetings could also be streamed live online.

c) There should be clear limits on the salaries, benefits and bonuses paid to FIFA's executive members and other staff. These should be available online. Currently it seems that these are handed out on a whim to curry favour or further enrich some already incredibly wealthy people.

d) The guidelines and rubrics for selecting tournament hosts should be clearly set out prior to asking for bids. That will prevent countries from wasting their time and money bidding to host a tournament where they have no chance of winning the bid. In addition, a far greater and diverse pool of people should be on the selection committee to reduce the opportunity for bribery.

e) Seeding methods and competition formats should be finalised and published prior to competitions taking place. Currently there is the suspicion that FIFA waits to see which teams make confederation play-offs, and then selects a seeding method that best ensures that their favoured teams have the best possible chance to progress. Justice must be seen to be done.

2. Technology should be embraced. As a referee myself, I am all for anything that makes my job easier. Not that I'm likely to ever a referee a match with Hawkeye technology in effect, but if I did, I would certainly be happy to use it.

As well as using Goal-Line Technology, I believe video evidence should definitely be used for retroactive punishment or rescinding of cards. Diving, feigning injury or violent conduct should all result in punishment, regardless of whether someone in the officiating team thought they might have seen something but didn't make a call. And a free-kick or yellow card awarded by a referee should not be enough to prevent a player who engaged in violent conduct from retroactively being awarded a red card.

On the flip side, yellow cards, as well as red cards, should be rescinded if video evidence suggests that a player has been wrongly punished.

I haven't yet formed a view on the use of video evidence to confirm whether or not a goal should be awarded/denied for offside or a penalty kick awarded.

In my opinion the penalty-kick decision is more clear-cut than the offside, because I am never convinced that the video stops at the EXACT moment the ball was passed, which is critical in offside cases. A half-second delay is enough for both forward and defender to run five metres in opposite directions which can completely change the decision.

If referees' decisions were to be overturned based on video technology, there would need to be compelling evidence that the officials' original decisions were wrong.

None of these technological advances would be forced on any member association, but they would be available for those that chose to utilise them.

3. The Laws of the Game need some tweaking. There is too much uncertainty around the rules in some areas.

a) Contact by itself should not be enough to determine that a foul has taken place. Referees should determine who initiated the contact and whether that contact was significant or trifling. Too often we see the player with the ball unnaturally trail a leg, thus initiating contact with an opponent in the hope of earning a free-kick or penalty-kick, or going to ground at the most minimal of contact. This needs to be stamped out.

b) The method for determining stoppage time needs to be clarified. I have seen halves where a player has suffered a serious injury that has been treated for four minutes, goals have been scored with lengthy celebrations occurring and numerous substitutions made, and these have seen four minutes of stoppage time added, the same as a half with no goals, no injuries and one or two substitutions.

It appears right now that referees add on one minute in the first half and three in the second half, unless an unusually long delay occurs, in which case they will add another minute or two.

Lets come up with a better method for this. It will never be perfect, but there is always room for improvement.

c) There is still room for clarification of when a new phase begins in determining whether a player is offside. Otherwise, I am reasonably happy with the Offside laws.

d) The so-called backpass rule needs to be clarified. As a referee I have been told that the ball needs to be neither passed nor played back for it to be a violation if the goalkeeper handles it. If a defender deliberately plays the ball with his or her foot, and it goes where intended and the goalkeeper handles it, a free-kick should be awarded. Or not. Lets just clarify this.

e) DOGSO. Very often I see a defender foul a forward and receive a red card because they are 'the last defender'. Yet as a referee, I am told that the 4 D's apply (distance to the ball, distance to the goal, number of defenders and direction of the ball). Are we sending off defenders who prevented a goalscoring opportunity or those who prevented a CLEAR-CUT goalscoring opportunity? Would a defender be sent off in the World Cup Final for a foul, but that same foul not be deemed worthy of a red card in a lower level match, because of the decreased likelihood that a goal would be scored? Lets clarify this.

Having said that, I am a great believer that a DOGSO red card should only be awarded for a blatant foul, when the defender is clearly setting out to breach the laws of the game. A dubious foul that results in a penalty should not also result in a red card and a mandatory one match suspension. On the other hand, a blatant foul such as the handling offence committed by Luis Suarez of Uruguay against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup should be deemed worthy of the triple punishment.

f) In fact I'd like to see a review of the entire card system. A bad foul should not earn the same punishment as removing a shirt after a goal. And I would like to see a yellow card awarded to any player who tries to argue with a referee unless they were the player directly involved in the incident. I think it's acceptable for a player to discuss a decision with a referee, but it is completely unacceptable for an entire team to surround a referee in an attempt to intimidate.

4) Term limits should be brought in for all FIFA Executive positions. Eight years should be enough for anyone. Executives can then complete two four-year cycles if re-elected.

5) Fans should be involved more. They should be able to have a say in big decisions. (A say, not the final say.) Fans' needs should be considered in match scheduling. Stadiums should be safe and comfortable. Every last penny/cent/zloty shouldn't be extracted from the fans. Make the game more accessible to everyone at a reasonable priced, instead of only a game for the wealthy to enjoy.

Perhaps fans could be involved in World Cup draws or even be selected to hand the trophy to the winning captain. These are just ideas I am floating. I would just like to see some acknowledgement that the game belongs to everybody.

6) Matchfixing, doping, racism and corruption should be heavily punished, with lifetime bans from the game and prison terms for serious incidents. Disciplinary measures should be put online so everyone knows the punishment for each crime.

7) FIFA should continue to be involved in community outreach for the good not only of the game but also the people around the world who play and follow it. However, there should be accountability and transparency in where the money goes. More focus should be put on the educational side of the game, including referee, administrative and coach training, rather than just large infrastructure projects that can create the impression of vote-buying.

8) The FIFA Rankings should be revamped to more closely reflect the relative strength of teams. In particular, the strength of the opponents should be taken into account when a team loses, the confederation component of the score should be eliminated, and the minimum eight-game requirement when calculating teams' average score per game should also be eliminated.

9) A Women's Beach Soccer World Cup should be introduced. It is unfair that this competition is only held for men. This would be an ideal tournament for a smaller nation to host.

10) World Cup Qualifying places should be standardized. With UEFA expanding the Euros I can see their World Cup allocation dropping to provide more places for other Confederations. I envisage UEFA 12, CONMEBOL 5, CONCACAF 5, Africa 5, Asia/Oceania 5. The hosts would take up one spot from their Confederation's allocation. That's a bit of a drop for UEFA and a slight gain for some others, notably CONCACAF. This would not be a final mandate, just an idea for discussion.

I do think that Oceania should be combined with Asia for the men's World Cup Qualifying only. Perhaps keep them apart in the first round and then the second round could consist of 17 Asian teams and three from Oceania in five groups of four. The third round would consist of two groups of five as it is now. This would help develop the game in Oceania and provide for more meaningful matches for their teams. I'd love to see Tahiti v Qatar, Uzbekistan v New Caledonia or Fiji v China. It would also increase the Asian teams' chances of qualifying for the Finals, because the fifth spot wouldn't come down to a home and away play-off and neither would a game against South American opposition be required.

11) A completely revamped justice system is needed. It's ridiculous that an official can rig a football election in their own country and then when a court of law finds that the victory was illegal, FIFA bans the country from competing in FIFA tournaments, not because someone rigged an election, but because someone justifiably complained about it! Oman is the latest country to run afoul of FIFA in this regard.

That's what I have for now. If I were to change the FIFA motto it would be:

Fairness, accountability and transparency, because football belongs to everyone.

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