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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More on Future World Cup Expansion, Inequality and General Disgruntlement

Prior to the last FIFA Presidential election it seemed that the candidates were competing to hand out as much money as they could to the 209 national football federations, in a vain attempt to out-Blatter the then incumbent FIFA President.

There has been a shift of emphasis in the current election cycle, however, with the issue of the best World Cup Finals format for future tournaments being raised more than a few times over the past few weeks, most often by some of the candidates for the upcoming FIFA Presidential election.

Now that Blatter's days are clearly numbered, some of the election candidates seem to have switched their vote-gathering proposals to increasing the number of teams in the World Cup Finals from the current 32, to 36, in the case of Prince Ali, and 40, in the case of Michel Platini and his last-minute UEFA-backed replacement, Gianni Infantino.

As for the other three candidates, Jerome Champagne appears to favour a rebalancing of the 32 teams rather than expansion, Tokyo Sexwale merely hinted at the possibility of an increased number of finalists without providing specific numbers or details, while Sheikh Salman has not addressed the issue at all, his sole manifesto item apparently being that while various Bahraini athletes may have been arrested and tortured in 2011 and a committee was set up to investigate them, with he himself named as the leader, that committee never actually met. If he has any other proposals on his manifesto, I don't recall seeing them.

I've already outlined the numerous reasons why a 40-team World Cup, in eight groups of five, as proposed by Platini and endorsed by Infantino, is a terrible idea. I won't rehash the numerous points, other than to note it would add at a minimum seven to ten days to the length of the tournament, not a mere three, as suggested by Platini, which would have a further detrimental effect on club football, with the most affected leagues being the big five in Europe, which are, of course, the ones based in the very same countries whose interests you might expect the current UEFA President and Secretary-General to protect.

A quick look at Inafantino's twitter feed shows only one tweet where he hints at his potential ideas if he were to be successfully elected. Clicking on the provided link brings up the 40-team World Cup Finals suggestion and no other plans at all.

Whatever the requirements are to be nominated by five national federations as a possible FIFA presidential candidate, or indeed to be someone given the opportunity to nominate candidates, it seems clear that the ability to think critically or carry out any sort of detailed analysis is not among the criteria.

Indeed, any discussion about increasing future World Cups is practically a moot point, considering it is probably too late to do so in time for the 2018 tournament (think of the wrangling over the breakdown by Confederation of the additional four or eight teams), and with the 2022 tournament scheduled to now last just 28-days, thanks ultimately to the votes cast almost five years ago by a group of 22 men who have for the most part either resigned, been suspended, or been banned by FIFA, therefore being too short to realistically allow for any increase in the number of participants.

This would mean that at the earliest, expansion couldn't occur until 2026, by which time whoever is successfully elected in February next year will already have served two terms when the first expanded tournament is played.

It is for this reason that the whole discussion about an enlargened tournament during this election campaign strikes me as pandering of a type that is every bit as obvious as the time in 1972 when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai agreed to donate Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing to the National Zoo in Washington DC as a gesture of goodwill to First Lady Pat Nixon.

If the candidates are serious about expansion, perhaps they should take a look at the table below, which shows the breakdown of teams by gender in the upcoming four-year cycle of worldwide FIFA tournaments. Here's a clue. Whenever there is a number in red there is a good opportunity for expansion.

In every single instance, the men's tournaments include more teams than their female equivalents, or worse, there is no equivalent women's tournament. This also means, of course, that there are no qualifying matches for the non-existent tournaments.

Why is there no FIFA Women's Confederation Cup, Club World Cup, Futsal World Cup or Beach Soccer World Cup? At a time when women are crying out for an increased share of the administrative table, it seems obvious that they should also have the same opportunities to play in FIFA world tournaments as men do.

This seems a simple way of increasing the participation numbers and standard of women's football worldwide.

But instead, it seems for the most part, the presidential candidates are focused on the men's game. The women's game remains an afterthought.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why a 40-team World Cup is a bad idea

So Gianni Infantino, just like his boss, the beleaguered Michel Platini, wants to expand the World Cup Finals to forty teams.

“Look at qualifiers now where some teams who have never qualified did and some teams which have always qualified didn’t make it," he was reported as saying. The first half of that statement is true, although there's an argument that Iceland, at least, would have qualified under the old sixteen-team format. The second part, though, as well as being factually inaccurate, is patently absurd. Sure, the Netherlands didn't qualify this time, but this isn't the first time this has happened, and it's hard to make the case that they would have under the sixteen-team format.

An expanded World Cup isn't going to prevent the powerhouses from qualifying, unless of course, they are so bad that they don't deserve to. If a team can't manage to finish in the top two out of five or six teams of varying strength in qualifying, it's hard to make the case that they are likely to have a shot at winning the World Cup, nor that they deserve to.

There is no word, as of yet, as to what geographical breakdown Infantino would favour, but his remarks in 2013 when he argued for expansion of the European spots in the 32-team tournament, based partly on the dubious logic that European nations have won the last three tournaments and ignoring the fact that only five European teams have ever won the World Cup, of which only three have managed to when not hosting, it's fair to assume that he envisages a decent chunk of the extra eight available spots going to UEFA.

Whatever the final make-up of the forty teams, however, if, like Platini, he favours a traditional round-robin format with the teams split into eight groups of five, there are numerous reasons why this is a bad idea.

1. Additional time required to complete the tournament.

Michel Platini wrongly claimed that adding one extra match for each team would only add three extra days to the tournament, ignoring, or perhaps being intellectually incapable of understanding the fact that in addition to playing the extra game, each team would also require a bye while the other four teams in their group play each other. This means, at a minimum, six extra days would be required, though given that under the current format teams usually have four to six days between games, arguably at least an extra week to ten days will be needed. As well as adding extra demands on the players at the end of a long season, this would also reduce the recovery time before the next season. Already we see players whose teams reached the latter stages of the Finals showing obvious signs of fatigue and missing the first matches of their club seasons. A change to forty teams would make things even worse.

2. The last teams to have a bye would be at a disadvantage.

With five teams per group, five rounds are needed, with each team having a bye in one of them. This would mean that four teams in each group would enter the last day of the group stage knowing what is required to progress to the second round, while the remaining eight teams would already have completed their games and be at risk of being eliminated through the teams that are playing manipulating results. There's a reason the final group games have been played simultaneously since 1986. West Germany 1 Austria 0 in 1982.

3. Suspensions

The team that has a bye in the first round will have an unfair advantage in the second game, because it is likely that some of their opponents will have picked up yellow cards in their first match and will be at risk of suspension if they pick up a second card. The team that had a first round bye will not be playing under any such psychological disadvantage.

In the third set of group games, two teams will not have any yellow card suspensions because they'll only have played once, whereas two teams could potentially be missing players who have received yellows in both their opening matches. To be fair the two teams who have played once should face each other in the third set of games.

However, there is no way of making the fourth round of matches fair. One team will already have played three matches, and the other three will only have played two. Naturally the team that has played three will be more at risk of having players suspended.

4. Injuries

All the arguments about some teams being more likely to have players suspended can also be applied to the likelihood of injuries.

5. Reduction in the number of potential hosts.

Numerous countries could host a Wold Cup with sixteen teams. That number of potential hosts is reduced every time the tournament is expanded, to 24 teams, then to 32 teams, and then to 40 teams. When we reach the inevitable 64-team World Cup Finals, presumably, like the Gold Cup, it will always be held in the United States.

If a forty-team tournament were to eschew the traditional first round groups and instead adopt the format favoured by Leandro Shara and Match Vision, some of these issues could be avoided. However, given that Gianni Infantino claims to share a lot of his philosophies with Michel Platini, this seems unlikely.

One other point is worth noting. It seems likely that the next FIFA President will be allowed a maximum of three terms. Infantino has already admitted that it would be almost impossible to expand the 2018 or 2022 World Cups, so at most he could only preside over one expanded tournament, assuming he were to win two more elections in addition to the one this coming February.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why Gianni Infantino was Wrong about World Cup Allocations

I fully understand the recent announcement that Gianni Infantino, UEFA’s Secretary-General, is in the running to become the next FIFA President. Once it became clear that there is every chance that the previous preferred UEFA candidate, the embattled UEFA President Michel Platini, will be suspended and unable to run, it was no surprise that UEFA would look for a Plan B.

Infantino always comes across as an affable chap when hosting the live draws of UEFA’s various competitions, and unlike, for example, Sheikh Salman and Tokyo Sexwale, he appears to be a genuine football fan.

I am, however, not convinced of the credibility of Infantino’s claim that his upcoming manifesto will be “for a FIFA that genuinely serves the interests of all 209 national associations, big or small,” as he announced on deadline day.

Contrast this statement with the comments he made on the allocation of World Cup Finals places for the various confederations.

These comments strongly suggest a European bias. In addition, they don’t actually reflect the reality of what has been happening over the past World Cup tournaments.

The truth is that the performance of Europe’s participants has been on a steady decline over recent tournaments.

In the 1954 and 1958 tournaments, 75% of the competing teams were European, and at least this percentage progressed past the group stage.

Since then, the percentage of the teams progressing past the group stages that came from Europe has dropped roughly in line with the overall percentage of European teams in the tournament. By the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties the European make-up of the teams that progressed was generally 62.5%, but it dropped to 56.3% in 2002 and in the last two tournaments has fallen away dramatically to just 37.5%, while CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, and African teams along with Australia have become much more likely to progress.

These numbers do not support Infantino’s claim that Europe deserves more spots.

It also seems a non sequitur to suggest that because the last three winners came from Europe, a 14th, 15th or 16th European team should be added to the tournament. The truth is that since the FIFA Rankings began in 1993, the only European team ranked outside the top five European nations that has won the World Cup was France, who won as hosts in 1998. This hardly suggests that a 14th European team would be capable of winning the tournament.

I found Infantino’s comment about the Olympic Games being about participation and the World Cup being about winning contradictory to the idea that Europe deserves more places.

Here are the cold, hard facts: Since 1930, twenty World Cup Finals tournaments have been held. A total of five European countries have been victorious. Just five. Of those, only three have managed to win the tournament when not hosting.

In total, Europe has won 55% of the tournaments while providing 54.8% of the competing teams. This hardly suggests Europe has won more than its fair share of times. By way of contrast, South American nations won the remaining 45% of the tournaments while only comprising 18.9% of the total competing teams.

All this suggests that what some people might call the European Football Superiority Complex is alive and well.

I strongly suspect there are still many Europeans who base their view of African, Asian and CONCACAF football on a small sample of historical results, such as:

Yugoslavia 9 Zaire 0 in 1974
Poland 7 Haiti 0 in 1974
Belgium 10 El Salvador in 1982
Russia 6 Cameroon 1 in 1994
Argentina 5 Jamaica 0 in 1998
Germany 8 Saudi Arabia 0 in 2002

While at the same time writing off as aberrations results such as:

Algeria 2 West Germany 1 in 1982
Morocco 3 Portugal 1 in 1986
Cameroon 1 Argentina 0 in 1990
Costa Rica 2 Scotland 1 in 1990
Saudi Arabia 1 Belgium 0 in 1994
Nigeria 3 Spain 2 in 1998
Senegal 1 France 0 in 2002
United States 3 Portugal 2 in 2002
Ghana 2 Czech Republic 0 in 2006
Australia 2 Serbia 1 in 2010
Costa Rica 1 Italy 0 in 2014

I didn’t even mention Joe Gaetjens or Pak Do Ik.

Too many Europeans don’t treat football outside of Europe and South America seriously. All too often the ‘expert’ pundits don’t do the necessary background research on teams with which they are unfamiliar.

It’s the same attitude that caused so many pundits and publications to write off New Zealand’s chances in the 2010 World Cup, based purely on their defensive frailties displayed in the 2009 Confederations Cup, when a modicum of serious research would have revealed that none of their three best defenders (Ryan Nelsen, Winston Reid and Tommy Smith) were unavailable for the 2009 tournament.

There’s also a tendency from certain Europeans to treat alleged corruption by the likes of Amos Adamu, Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hammam, Worawi Makudi, Ricardo Teixeira, Julio Grondona or Nicolas Leoz as being somehow typical of the regions they represent, whereas alleged corruption by Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini or Jerome Valcke or matchfixing in Italy or Finland is seen as being a case of a few bad apples.

So I suspect that Gianni Infantino may be guilty of overestimating Europe’s importance in world football and underestimating the importance of other continents’ football.

Perhaps he was just making an argument to suit his constituents. But if so, how do we know that his claim that he would represent all 209 nations if he is elected FIFA President is not a similar empty argument?

Surely he should know that the World Cup Finals aren’t just about winning. Teams such as Honduras, Angola, Japan, Peru and Northern Ireland, while never winning the World Cup, have nevertheless added colour to the tournament, as would, no doubt, Venezuela, Cape Verde Islands, Panama or Uzbekistan.

Some of the greatest memories fans have of the World Cup were goals scored by countries who didn’t win, such as Saaed Al-Owairan’s winner against Belgium in 1994, Yordan Letchkov scoring for Bulgaria against Germany in 1994, almost any of Brazil’s goals in 1982, Dennis Bergkamp’s last gasp winner against Argentina in 1998 or Archie Gemmill’s goal for Scotland against the Netherlands in 1978.

If the World Cup were to truly be only for winners, perhaps it should be limited to just each Confederation’s Nations Cup winners, plus the hosts and the holders.

We could call it the Confederations Cup.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On Platini's Failure

I admit that watching Michel Platini’s career self-implode over the past few weeks has left me feeling a little smug.

Although I had nothing against the man personally, I always wanted and expected him to fail.

There’s no doubt that he was a fantastic player, easily one of the best ever and possibly for a time the best of his generation.

While my only memories of Platini in the 1978 World Cup were secondhand, the result of reading what a great talent he was, such was the limited TV coverage available in New Zealand at the time, like many others I fondly recall his fantastic performances leading the great French team in 1982 and 1986, and am fully aware that perhaps his greatest performance in a major tournament fell midway between these two World Cups, when he top-scored on his way to lifting the 1984 European Nations Cup.

Of course the other players in those French teams were hardly unskilled. Players like Trésor, Genghini, Giresse, Six, Rocheteau and Stopyra would have graced any team in those tournaments. Put Platini in the 1980 All Whites that lost 3-1 to Tahiti and 4-0 to Fiji in the 1980 Oceania Nations Cup and he may not have looked so good.

But fortunately he was French, at a time when they had a wonderful national team. What a player!

My initial problem with Platini’s burgeoning career in football administration was the attitudes and views expressed by so many that somehow a former top player would, unquestionably, make a first class football administrator.

It’s an idea that hasn’t lost its popularity. As recently as the run-up to the last FIFA Presidential election, there were numerous people supporting Luis Figo or David Ginola, purely because of their notable playing careers.

This view made as much sense to me as the logically equivalent idea that to play at the top level and lead your team to international glory, you should first have had a career as a successful CEO.

We already know that great players don’t necessarily make great coaches (Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst are two prime examples). Nor, I suspect, would great players necessarily make great referees, or great physiotherapists or great groundsmen.

So why would anyone believe that someone highly skilled at manipulating a football, making penetrating forward runs or arriving unmarked at the far post in a World Cup Quarter-Final against Brazil on his birthday, would automatically be top class at analyzing reports, pushing through legislative changes, creating budgets, overseeing multi-million dollar international development programmes or know where to begin to clean up an egregiously corrupt organization?

Even the fact that he played at the top level doesn’t necessarily aid his cause. The vast majority of past, current and future players, coaches, referees and administrators for whom FIFA is the worldwide body have been and will be involved in levels of the game far below those that Platini was involved in. They can relate much more to the footballing experiences of a skilled office manager or administrator who once played ten to fifteen years at grassroots level, coached a youth team, refereed high school level games or organized bus transportation for the team or fans than they can to Platini’s experiences in the game.

When is the last time Platini:

- Joined a club and had to pay for the privilege, rather than receiving numeration?
- Suffered a serious ankle injury while playing and drove himself home and then had his wife drive him to the emergency room?
- Drove himself and his wife five hours to an away last sixteen cup-tie, spent the night in a youth hostel, got up ridiculously early (in winter) to view penguins on a windswept beach, then drove to the match and played a part in a 2-0 victory against the fourth best team in the country, before winning a box of groceries in the clubroom raffle for good measure?
- Had a player try to sit on his lap while he was on the bench watching his team of six year-old girls play?
- Refereed five tournament matches in a row without even a single assistant referee?
- Placed the ball for a corner-kick on a cold winter morning, took three steps back and felt his foot break through the ice and into the freezing stream that ran alongside the pitch?
- Organised fixture lists so that parents who helpfully agreed to coach two of their children’s teams would be guaranteed to be able to watch both teams play every match?

While I played a number of years at a reasonable level, but never at the highest possible, my international career consisting of a single second half appearance for NZ Universities in a meaningless match against the Waikato Under 23's in 1990, those are some of my experiences in football and I’m sure there are tens of thousands of participants around the world who can relate. I doubt Michel Platini is one of them.

Platini has always struck me as someone who is happiest handing out the medals at major finals, hobnobbing with footballing royalty or eating a meal in a top class restaurant.

Even before his current fall from grace, in which he appears to have received a ‘disloyal payment’ from Sepp Blatter and then spent the following ten days (so far) giving increasingly unlikely explanations for what the payment was for and why it took nine years to receive it, his actual record at UEFA has been questionable.

Platini it was who increased the Euros from sixteen to 24 teams, partially, no doubt, to aid his own presidential campaigns. The idea, ostensibly, is to allow more nations the opportunity to play in the Euros. The logical extension of this idea is surely to allow all 54 European nations to play in the Finals, thereby allowing the luxury of scrapping the qualifying matches. This would free up time for the first round of matches to be played in a home and away group format so that every single UEFA-based international team could host Euro matches, with the best sixteen progressing to the later rounds, which could perhaps be held in a single country.

Yes, I’m being facetious.

It was also Platini who opposed the introduction of goal-line technology, insisting it was a slippery slope and that accurate decisions could just as well be made by the addition of extra officials on the goal-line. Discussing the disallowed goal scored by England against Germany in the 2010 World Cup Second Round, it was Platini who said, “If an official had been beside the goal that day, he would have spotted that Lampard's shot crossed the line. “

Two days later his words came back to haunt him in the Euros when a shot from Ukraine’s Marko Devic looped off Joe Hart and crossed the goal-line right in front of one of Platini’s goal-line judges, before being hooked out by John Terry. Despite it being his main job, the goal-line judge did not signal a goal.

Anecdotal evidence from multiple seasons of European club competition suggests that the extra officials rarely make any decisions that aren’t made by referees. To anyone with experience in refereeing, this should come as no surprise. My own experience is that the more referees there are in a match, the less likely it is that any one official wants to make a decision that seemingly disagrees with the referee’s decision or non-decision.

Platini it also was who promised the United States he would vote for the 2022 World Cup to be held in America, before meeting with Nikolas Sarkozy and the Emir of Qatar and then switching his vote to Qatar. When asked how the players would cope with the excessive heat he replied that he always thought the World Cup should be held in winter, thereby severely negatively affecting the big leagues in the UEFA countries he is supposed to represent. Meanwhile his son picked up a nice little gig in Qatar, completely unrelated to Platini's vote, of course.

Platini also promoted an increase to 40 teams in the World Cup Finals, in eight groups of five. It would only add three days, he argued, forgetting that each team would now have to play one extra match and also have a bye while the other four teams in their group faced off. He would surely be unable to explain how this format would fit into the 28 day Qatar 2022 World Cup that has now been foisted upon us. He's a man for ideas, not practicalities or details. If asked about this he would no doubt smile and shrug, as if that somehow constitutes the basis of a decent argument.

And as recently as this month, Platini it was, acting as one member of a three-man panel (the others being his close supporters, the two Sheiks Salman,of Bahrain, and Ahmad, of Kuwait), who agreed with Saudi Arabia that they shouldn't have to play their World Cup Qualifying match in Palestine, unlike the United Arab Emirates who apparently managed to do so without incident. The reasons for the Saudi request and Platini's panel's agreement were, to use a phrase Platini himself recently used, astonishingly vague.

So now we have discovered that in all likelihood, Platini has received a massive payment in 2011 in return for supporting Sepp Blatter in the 2011 FIFA Presidential election rather than running for that office himself or supporting Mohammed bin Hammam. The way things look he'll be found guilty and receive a ban or very long suspension.

But in my mind, he was already guilty of being at best a mediocre UEFA President and FIFA Exco member.

No doubt if he eventually loses support from the fawning UEFA members, some other ex-player will come along and take over the role.

People have very short memories.

Monday, September 28, 2015

You can't have it both ways, Monsieur Platini

Last week FIFA announced the dates for the Qatar 2022 World Cup Finals. The tournament will begin on November 21st with the Final scheduled for December 18th. The entire tournament will therefore last 28 days. This is three days shorter than the 2018 World Cup Finals being played June 14th to July 15th.

I had a look at how the tournament could be scheduled, using the same basic format as that being used in the 2018 World Cup, while still allowing every participating team reasonable breaks in between matches. It wasn’t too difficult to come up with a schedule that seems to be fair, although it does require four Group Stage matches to be played on each of the first twelve days of the tournament, including the opening day, which would be a departure from tradition.

In the already announced 2018 and likely 2022 schedules, the 32 teams have the following average breaks between matches:

The shortest interval between matches for any team in both schedules is three days. The longest is six days in the 2018 schedule and five in the 2022 schedule.

Holding a 28-day World Cup Finals under the current format is therefore possible without causing any great disadvantage to any given participating team.

So far, so good.

But let us remember that Michel Platini, whom it has been confirmed voted for the 2022 World Cup Finals to be held in Qatar, has reportedly been advocating for a 40-team World Cup Finals, split into eight groups of five teams, beginning in 2018.

This appears to be a key part of his FIFA Presidential election platform. Permitting an additional eight countries to participate in the World Cup Finals is obviously an attractive proposition to voters.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any way that it can possibly work within the confines of a 28-day tournament. Adding a fifth team to each group requires the addition of two extra match days in each first round group; one for the game against the extra team and one for the bye round.

This looks like just another example of Platini pandering to voters rather than thinking things through. Does he want a 40-team World Cup Finals, or does he want a 28-day Winter World Cup Finals in Qatar?

He can’t have both.

Friday, September 4, 2015

FIFA Rankings - Both Flawed and Discriminatory

(Originally posted on this blog on Friday, January 9, 2015 as part of my longer Debate on Football in response to Jerome Champagne.)

The FIFA rankings are not well understood by fans, and even many coaches and players seem to be at a loss to comprehend them. Part of the problem is that people don't realise that they are intended to be reactive (ranking teams' past performances) rather than predictive (identifying which teams are likely to win future matches).

Many may feel that the FIFA rankings are not important; just a meaningless exercise to rank teams for the sake of it with no actual consequences. However, this is not the case.

The FIFA rankings are often used to seed teams in international competitions, including, crucially, the pots used for making the draw for the first round groupings at the World Cup. Teams drawn into a tough group are much less likely to progress than teams drawn into an easy group. International pride is at stake to be sure, but so are coaching careers, winning bonuses for players and prize money payments to national associations.

In addition, certain countries will not permit players to be given work permits if they play for a national team that is ranked too low. This means that excellent players from lower ranked nations are not given the chance to improve by playing in stronger leagues, thus further hindering the nation they play for.

Another factor to consider is that national teams ranked higher are more likely to be invited to play friendly matches than teams ranked lower. This means countries with lower rankings are given less opportunity to play against strong opponents.

Higher ranked countries can also demand a higher match appearance fee than lower ranked countries.

Some coaches may even have a rankings goal built into their contract, meaning their job can theoretically be lost (or retained) based on FIFA Rankings.

All of these points show that the calculations used to determine the rankings must be fair and should attempt to reflect reality as closely as possible.

I see four major problems with the rankings that need to be fixed.

a) For each nation, the total of their points accumulated throughout the year is divided by the number of matches they have played. However, where a country plays fewer than five matches, the total points are divided by five. This means that if a country only plays once in a year, the points gained would be divided by five, meaning that country loses 80% of the points it has gained. I understand the concept that national teams should be encouraged to play matches. However, there are certain regions in the world where nations find it particularly difficult to play five matches.

In particular, the eleven nations that belong to the Oceania Football Confederation rarely play five matches in a calendar year. By downloading the list of full internationals played from 2010-14 from the FIFA website it was easy to see the negative affect on the Oceania nations.

Analysis of Nations Playing Fewer than Five Full Internationals, by Confederation, 2010-14

A quick glance shows that almost all UEFA nations played at least five matches every year during the period 2010-14. The only exception was Faroe Islands, which played four matches in 2012 and 2014, thus losing 20% of any ranking points won.

Similarly, of the CONMEBOL nations, only Bolivia in 2010 failed to play at least five matches.

By contrast, 2011 was the only year that more than half of the Oceania nations played at least five matches. Mostly these matches were played in the South Pacific Games in New Caledonia, and are officially classified as friendlies, the lowest ranking of the match categories. Even New Zealand, which was the only Oceania nation that played at least five matches in 2010, as a result of qualifying for the World Cup Finals, and also in 2014, only played three full internationals in 2011.

Oceania faces the major problem of a very small land area located in a huge area of ocean. Even distances between neighbouring nations can be large. There are no buses, trains or ferries. Every away match requires an expensive flight, for nations already lacking funding.

While nations belonging to other Confederations play an extensive series of World Cup and Nations Cup qualifying matches, often the Oceania teams are limited to a few qualifying matches for the Oceania Nations Cup, and because this tournament evolves into World Cup Qualifying, having failed to finish in the top four, they are excluded from the World Cup and don't play any more matches.

Because of its location, it is a difficult and expensive exercise for New Zealand to arrange friendly matches, especially at home. Because New Zealand's players are spread throughout the world, in Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and now South Africa too, whatever location they play their matches requires a huge logistical effort and financial cost.

As a result, while the national teams of Vanuatu, Fiji or Papua New Guinea are by no means world beaters, they are probably actually much better than their respective FIFA rankings suggest.

I would like to see a way that the minimum number of matches calculation can be adjusted for nations that find it difficult to play matches a s a result of their isolation. Alternatively some development funding should be made available for these nations to play more matches.

b) In a league system three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. This is a fair and equitable system, because each participant in the league plays every other participant an equal number of times. Where teams are level on points, goal difference is generally used to rank the teams.

However, the FIFA Rankings are not a league system. It is impossible for every nation to play every other nation. If countries could somehow play one match a week, it would still take four years for each team to play every other team once.

Therefore, the ranking system needs to be capable of comparing the results of teams that play completely different opponents. It is for this reason I think that, for losing teams, the strength of the opponents and the losing margin need to be taken into account.

Consider these two hypothetical results in World Cup matches:

Germany 4 Panama 3 after extra time.
Tahiti 6 Panama 0.

In the current FIFA rankings calculations, Panama would receive the same number of ranking points (zero) for their narrow extra time loss to Germany as they would for their thrashing at the hands of Tahiti. It is immediately apparent that this cannot be right. A team that loses 4-3 to Germany is clearly much stronger than a team loses 6-0 to Tahiti. In a league system it is fair enough that both losses earn zero points, but in a ranking system where every team plays different opponents, the strength of those opponents and the margin of victory should be taken into consideration. I do not know what calculation SHOULD be used, but I am sure there is someone out there who can do for the FIFA Rankings what Messrs Duckworth and Lewis did for rain-affected one-day cricket matches.

c) The location of matches is not taken into account.

An away win gained by Venezuela against Bolivia at altitude in La Paz is surely worth more than a home win against the same opponents in Caracas.

An away win earned by Canada against Mexico in the heat, humidity, noise and altitude of the Azteca Stadium is surely worth more than a home win on a cold February evening in Toronto.

d) And now to the most egregious injustice of all: the Confederation Coefficient. This is an artificial number based on the number of victories achieved at recent World Cup Finals tournaments by countries from each Confederation. The theory is that Confederations that achieve more victories at World Cup Finals tournaments are stronger than Confederations that achieve fewer wins, and therefore wins against countries from stronger Confederations should be worth more ranking points.

It is absolutely unjust. It is discriminatory. It smacks of colonialism. It is a concept favoured by those who imagine that UEFA and CONMEBOL nations are much stronger per se than nations from the other Confederations. These people appear to base their opinions of the four 'weaker' Confederations on the performances of El Salvador 1982, Zaire 1974 and Haiti 1974, tournaments played thirty of forty years ago.

Let's imagine some scenarios.

i) Two hypothetical World Cup Finals matches:

Chile 2 Uruguay 1.
Costa Rica 3 Uruguay 1.

Uruguay are currently ranked 10 in the FIFA Rankings.
World Cup Finals matches are given an Importance Value of 4.
The Confederation Coefficient is 1.0 for CONMEBOL and 0.85 for CONCACAF.

Using the current formula, Uruguay would receive zero points for both games, because they lost both.

For winning teams, the current formula is Match X Importance X Opposing Team X Confederation Coefficient.

Chile would receive 3 (Match) X 4 (Importance) X 190 (Opposing Team, based on 200 minus the rank of the opponents) X 1 Confederation (because both teams are from CONMEBOL) = 2280 points.

For achieving the same outcome (actually slightly better because they have a larger winning margin), you might expect Costa Rica would receive the same amount of points. But no.

Costa Rica would receive 3 (Match) X 4 (Importance) X 190 (Opposing Team, based on 200 minus the rank of the opponents) X 0.925 Confederation (the average of 1.0 for CONMEBOL and 0.85 for CONCACAF) = 2109 points.

So Costa Rica would receive 171 fewer points than Chile for beating the same team. This is obviously unjustifiable.

ii) Two hypothetical friendly matches:

Romania 1 Austria 0
Algeria 1 Austria 0

Current rankings are 15 (Romania), 18 (Algeria) and 23 (Austria).

Romania would receive 3 (Match) X 1 (Importance) X 177 (Opposing Team) X 0.99 (Confederation) = 525.69

Algeria would receive 3 (Match) X 1 (Importance) X 177 (Opposing Team) X 0.92 (Confederation) = 488.52.

Algeria are in effect punished because UEFA nations won more World Cup Finals matches than CAF nations did, even though Algeria actually won one match in the 2014 Finals, tied another, progressed to the second round and only lost in extra time to eventual champions Germany, whereas Romania didn't even qualify for the 2014 World Cup Finals, much less win a game.

iii) Two hypothetical friendly matches:

Tajikistan 2 San Marino 0
Liechtenstein 2 San Marino 0

Current rankings are: 135 (Tajikistan), 132 (Liechtenstein), 179 (San Marino)

Tajikistan would receive 3 (Match) X 1 (Importance) X 50 (Opposing Team Minimum) X 0.92 (Confederation) = 138.0

Liechtenstein would receive 3 (Match) X 1 (Importance) X 50 (Opposing Team Minimum) X 0.99 (Confederation) = 148.5.

Why should Tajikistan receive fewer points than Liechtenstein for achieving the same outcome? How are wins in World Cup Finals matches relevant to lower ranked countries that will probably never qualify for the World Cup?

If you still think the Confederation Coefficient is fair, consider the fact that sometimes nations change which Confederation they are affiliated to.

In 2002, Kazakhstan left the AFC and joined UEFA.
In 2006, Australia left the OFC and joined the AFC.

Imagine if Guyana, Suriname, Panama or Mexico decided to leave CONCACAF and joined CONMEBOL. Each win or draw they achieved would suddenly be worth 8.85% more, not because they are suddenly a better team, but simply by way of being affiliated to a Confederation with a better Coefficient.

This makes absolutely no sense.

Why do countries from the CAF, AFC, OFC and CONCACAF tolerate this obvious injustice? It is based on a form of colonial thinking that believes that somehow achievements by Europeans are worth more than the same achievement by Africans, Asians, Pacific Islanders or Central Americans.

What if FIFA World Cup Finals match points were awarded in a similar way. If Italy received 0.995 points for drawing with Paraguay, but New Zealand only received 0.925 points for the same result?

If FIFA wants to stamp out discrimination, eliminating the Confederation Coefficient might be an excellent place to start.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Africa is Not A Country. So Why Would It Vote As One?

From time to time we hear, in response to ignorant comments made by various westerners who are either geographically challenged or lacking in their understanding of the African continent's wide diversity, the quite reasonable rejoinder that Africa is not a country.

The culprits have been numerous, among them reportedly former American Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and current US Vice-President Joe Biden.

And of those who do understand that Africa consists of over 50 distinct countries, many are apparently of the perception that the entire population lives in mud huts while dodging lions, elephants, giraffes and zebras as they go about their daily, ongoing struggle against malaria, ebola and famine.

I cannot recall how many times I read that June is winter in Africa in the comments section on various World Cup 2010 articles on the internet.

For decades we were told every four years by football pundits that Africans lack discipline.

The truth is, of course, that as the second largest in the world, the African continent contains incredible diversity, not only geographically and meteorologically, but also culturally, linguistically, religiously, gastronomically, in fact in regard to just about every adverb you may wish to name. In this it is just like every other continent.

It has a mix of large, medium-sized and small countries (e.g. Algeria, Burkina Faso, Djibouti), intensively populated and sparsely populated countries (e.g. Nigeria, Mauritania), landlocked, coastal and island countries (e.g. Chad, Mozambique, Seychelles), Arabic-speaking, French-speaking and English-speaking countries (e.g. Tunisia, Cote d'Ivoire, Namibia), among hundreds of other languages, dictatorships and democracies (e.g. Zimbabwe, Botswana) and countries that have been very successful at football, moderately successful at football, and generally unsuccessful at football (e.g. Cameroon, Togo, Eritrea).

This is what makes it all the more surprising to me that in matters of football politics, there is a feeling that the CAF members need to vote as a bloc. It is hard to see how in a confederation the size of Africa, what is the right thing for one country is automatically the right thing for another country. Is what is best for Senegal, Morocco or South Africa necessarily what's best for Mauritius, Sierra Leone or Lesotho? Surely each country has different needs and aspirations. Would not the Seychelles have more in common in football terms with the Maldives, or even Fiji or Barbados, than with Egypt, DR Congo or Mali?

I understand that the continent as a whole was delighted and proud when South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup Finals.

I understand that many of the national football leaders have been the happy recipients of FIFA 'development' money or plum postings on various FIFA committees that endow prestige upon the recipients, along with the small matter of US$500 per diems.

But can the various national leaders not be trusted to figure out themselves who or what they want to vote for? What is to say that even more funding and hosting rights cannot come to Africa under another FIFA President than was achieved under Sepp Blatter? Simataa Simataa, a former president of the Zambian FA, certainly saw the downside of the way Blatter won the CAF vote.

It was in 2002 that Lennart Johansson was expected to win the FIFA Presidency, but lost partly because, "He made a mistake to think Africa would vote as one," George Weah of Liberia, the 1995 world soccer player of the year and his country's ambassador for sports, said of Johansson. "There are a lot of different peoples, different cultures."

I wonder what changed.

Each of the leaders of FIFA's 209 members has risen to a position of great power and respect, but also responsibility. It is their duty to use their vote wisely, fo the good of both their own country and the game internationally. I don't understand why they would allow themselves to be told how to cast their votes by a single individual. This is the mentality that resulted in Jack Warner having unchecked power in CONCACAF.

Although I have used Africa is my example, I could equally have used another Confederation such as Asia, CONCACAF or Oceania. Just substitute Jordan, Iran, Tajikistan, Bhutan, Japan, Cambodia and Guam as the list, or the USA, Suriname, Guatemala, Haiti and Montserrat, or New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Tahiti.

It was bad enough when 13 votes secured the hosting of the World Cup Finals. Now that the hosting rights will be decided by the entire FIFA Congress rather than just the Exco members, if voters defer to Confederations and vote as blocs, potentially two or three people's votes will be enough to win the bid. What a sorry state of affairs that would be.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Some Questions for Michel Platini

Michel Platini has confirmed what I have long feared and put himself forward as a candidate for FIFA President at the upcoming election. To me he has always come across as someone who enjoys the trappings of his position. He appears to like the limelight, the stadium box seats, handing out the medals at Euros and Champions League finals, basically everything associated with the game at the very highest echelons.

I wonder what his credentials are in regard to other aspects of the game. Here are some questions I would like him to answer.

1. You have been a member of the FIFA Executive Committee since 2007, during a time in which, as we have known for a long time, corruption has been rampant in the upper levels of the organisation. What steps have you personally taken to identify or prevent FIFA corruption? When did you suddenly become a 'reform' candidate?
2. Why were you a long-time supporter of Sepp Blatter, even though he presided over a corrupt organisation? Why did you refuse to stand against him in 2011 when asked by Mohammad Bin Hammam. Was it because you supported Sepp Blatter or because you were afraid you would lose the election, face and potentially your chance to become FIFA President as some later date?
3. Why did you vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup Finals? Were you unaware that Qatar is very hot in the summer? Why did you then start pushing for a winter World Cup that would cause huge disruption to the European leagues and competitions that you were supposed to represent as President of UEFA? What role did your meetings with French President Nikolas Sarkozy play in your vote for Qatar?
4. You have released a generic candidacy announcement full of the usual platitudes about reform and the type of organisation FIFA should be. When can we expect to see a detailed manifesto?

In particular, what are your thoughts on the following issues?

5. You opposed the introduction of goal-line technology, instead suggesting that fifth and sixth officials should be used. In the light of Ukraine's disallowed goal against England in the 2012 Euros, have you changed your mind?
6. You have called for a 40-team World Cup Finals with eight groups of five teams, suggesting that it will only add three days to the tournament. How would that work given that it will require two extra rounds in the group stages and eight teams would be disadvantaged by having byes on the last playing day for each group?
7. Do you agree with Gianni Infantino that because European nations have won the last three World Cups, Europe deserves an extra World Cup Finals place? If so, how is the performance of the top two or three European teams relevant to whether Europe should have a 13th or 14th representative? Wouldn't it be more logical and objective to look at the performance of the lower ranked European qualifiers to determine whether an additional spot is merited? What should be the make-up of the Finals of all the FIFA tournaments by Confederation?
8. You have been a major force in the introduction of Financial Fair Play. How well has that reduced inequalities, given that a few big European clubs such as Manchester City and Paris St Germain continue to pay exorbitant amounts in transfer fees for some of the world's best players?
9. You have also suggested that the imposition of salary caps may be needed. In the light of this, would you be willing to tell us what your salary is, both as UEFA President and as a member of the FIFA Exco?
10. Given that you support the FIFA membership application of Kosovo, where do you stand on the issue of admitting Gibraltar to FIFA, given that neither has full recognition as a nation from all FIFA members, and recognising that every other territory on the United Nations List of Non_Self-Governing Territories that has applied for FIFA membership has been accepted?
11. As UEFA President, what policies have you introduced to combat matchfixing, doping and discrimination, and how successful have those policies been?
12. How important are the FIFA Rankings and what changes would you advocate to ensure they are an accurate reflection of the relative strength of national football teams?
13. What are your thoughts about international player availability and teams being deducted points after winning matches on the field? How could instances of this be prevented from happening?
14. What laws of the game would you like to see introduced, modified or removed?
15. How much development money should be made available to each FIFA member? How should this funding be distributed? What criteria should be used to determine which projects and member nations should be funded?
16. What should be football's responsibility for ensuring the welfare of its players, coaches, referees, etc. during and upon the completion of their careers? Is it acceptable that many participants go unpaid or end up homeless? What should FIFA do about this?
17. What are the biggest issues facing the members of the Oceania Football Confederation? What will you do to alleviate these issues?
18. With regard to women's football, what will you do to increase or improve tournaments, equality, prize money, development and participation? How many women's matches have you attended since becoming UEFA President in 2007?
19. What is your background in data visualisation? How should FIFA make available and present useful data on the website?
20. How should World Cup hosting rights be determined? What are the most important factors in ensuring a fair and transparent method of choosing the hosts? Which factors are critical in ensuring the selected hosts are suitable?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

An Update on my Proposed Combined Asia/Oceania World Cup Qualifying Format

One of the reasons that the David Chung-led OFC continues to support Sepp Blatter is because they appear to think he will support them in gaining an automatic OFC place in the World Cup Finals. I happen to believe that President Blatter won't actually do anything concrete to make this happen, particularly as a fifth term in office would surely be his last (wouldn't it?) and he would no longer be in need of any votes, but more importantly, I think that the OFC nations are misguided in believing that this is what they actually want.

Let's think this through.

Currently, the four lowest-ranked OFC teams play a small round robin tournament in the first round of OFC Qualifying. The winners progress to the next round, along with the remaining seven OFC members. In the last edition, this doubled as the Oceania Nations Cup where some of the teams played a frankly ludicrous five matches in nine days in the excessive heat and humidity of Honiara.

The top four teams progressed not only to the Nations Cup semi-finals, the tournament eventually being won by Tahiti, but also to the third round of World Cup Qualifying. A six match home and away mini-league was played, in which New Zealand comfortably came out on top, only to lose to Mexico in the Intercontinental play-offs.

So the upshot was:

i) three minnow teams played three matches against fellow minnows (Tonga, American Samoa and Cook Islands) and then had no other matches to look forward to in the next four years except the South Pacific Games.

ii) one minnow team (Samoa) played three matches against the above three minnow teams, and then three matches against stronger opponents (Tahiti, New Caledonia, Vanuatu) and were then eliminated, and then had no other matches to look forward to in the next four years except the South Pacific Games.

iii) three medium strength teams (Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea) played three matches against teams varying in strength from Samoa to New Zealand and Tahiti, were eliminated, and then had no other matches to look forward to in the next four years except the South Pacific Games.

iv) the four strongest teams (New Zealand, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti) played three matches against teams varying in strength from Samoa to New Zealand and Tahiti, progressed to the semi-finals assuring them of two more matches in the Nations Cup plus six matches in the third round of World Cup Qualifying. Tahiti also went to the Confederations Cup, and New Zealand were soundly beaten by Mexico over two legs in the intercontinental play-off. And then, the South Pacific Games for three of these, and for New Zealand.... nothing meaningful.

Giving an automatic World Cup Finals spot to Oceania wouldn't change much. It would result in two fewer intercontinental play-off games and a guaranteed three World Cup Finals for one team, so potentially in total one more match but also potentially two fewer matches.

Such a format would do little to improve the outcomes for any of the Oceania nations.

It is also extremely hard to justify what would in effect be an automatic spot for New Zealand, a team usually ranked outside the top 100 (I know Tahiti won the last Oceania Nations Cup but I would argue that was the result of a perfect storm of circumstances all coming together at once).

Why not combine OFC qualifying with AFC qualifying? I believe it would be a win-win for both confederations.

My current favourite format is as follows:

Phase 1: 57 nations

OCEANIA (11 members)

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

ASIA (46 members)

14 nations with highest ranking receive bye into Phase 2
Remaining 32 nations play round-robin in eight groups of four teams
Top two from each group qualify for Phase 2

Phase 2: 36 nations as follows:

1 Highest ranked Oceania nation
5 Qualifiers from Oceania Phase 1
14 Highest ranked Asian nations
16 Qualifiers from Asian Phase 1

Round-robin played in six groups of six teams
Each group includes five AFC teams and 1 OFC team
Top two from each group progress to Phase 3

Phase 3: 12 nations (winners and runners-up from Phase 2 groups)

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

Imagine if this format were used for World Cup Qualifying. Now in addition to all the preliminary games against their Oceania brethren, which would in effect act as warm-up matches, six Oceania nations would play a minimum of ten matches against quality Asian opposition, greatly enhancing their prospects to gain invaluable experience and play meaningful matches against stronger teams than they are used to.

Let's just recall that it is very common for the Oceania nations to not even play the five international matches a year that are the minimum to maximise any FIFA Rankings points won. Oceania stands out from all the other Confederations in this regard.

If they are good enough to progress to Phase 3, they would enjoy another ten matches against strong opposition.

Sure, for one Oceania nation, the chance of qualifying for the World Cup Finals would be diminished, albeit not greatly, given the current play-off system that could see them playing CONMEBOL, CONCACAF or strong AFC opposition, but for six teams this format would be hugely beneficial from a development perspective, and presumably would also provide opportunities for vastly improved broadcasting revenues.

Here's the table of the data for the last five years.

This shows that in four of the last five calendar years, the vast majority of Oceania nations haven't even played five meaningful matches. No other Confederation comes close to matching these depressing numbers.

The combined AFC-OFC format would be a win for Asia too, because currently in reality only four of the 4.5 places available to AFC teams are filled, but this system would usually allow five AFC teams to qualify.

I should note that I would only use this combined system for the men's World Cup. Women's tournaments, age-group tournaments, Beach and Futsal World Cups and the Club World Cup would continue to be run as they currently are, with separate qualifying competitions for AFC and OFC.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the costs of sending all these teams across such a large area would be horrendous, and secondly, I believe the OFC has won its Finals spot on merit in all of these other tournaments.

On the subject of costs, there would be additional travel expenses for teams that reach the second phase. Asia is already the biggest area geographically, and adding a potential trip to Tahiti from Lebanon or Jordan would make it even bigger. I envisage that development or other money could go towards defraying some of these costs, and in addition, as already alluded to, increased broadcasting revenues may also help defray some of these additional expenses for at least the Oceania nations involved. Indeed every FIFA member just received $300,000 officially to help defray the costs of competing in FIFA national team tournaments, so there is obviously plenty of money available.

I did a test draw to see how the groupings may look in Phase 2 using this format. I like what I see.

Teams are listed in the order of the Pots they would have been placed in, based on FIFA Rankings. For this draw New Zealand was placed in Pot 4, New Caledonia in Pot 5 and the remaining four Oceania nations in Pot 6.

This entire idea isn't actually that radical. I clearly remember the 1982 World Cup Qualifying format which saw New Zealand qualify after first winning the Oceania Group (which included not only Australia and Fiji but also Indonesia and Chinese Taipei) and then playing China, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the final round, eventually qualifying after a one-off play-off against China played in Singapore after the two teams had finished second equal in the group.

Thinking back to 1974, Australia qualified after seeing off New Zealand, Indonesia and Iraq in Subgroup D and then Iran and finally South Korea in the later rounds.

The Asia-Oceania concept officially ended in 1986, although the Oceania group actually consisted of two Asian, but unwelcome in Asia, nations (Israel and Chinese Taipei) in addition to Australia and New Zealand.