Friday, January 9, 2015

The Debate On Football - My Contribution

THE DEBATE ON FOOTBALL

I agree with Jerome Champagne that there is a need for debate on football, but while I have seen much criticism of FIFA, the FIFA Exco and the FIFA President, Sepp Blatter (most of it highly deserved in my opinion), I have seen very little in the way of constructive proposals.

Below I outline my thoughts on what changes FIFA should look to make over the coming ten years. In effect, it is the programme I would attempt to carry out if I were FIFA President. At times I offer criticisms of the current President as a means to illustrate what changes are needed.

I have deliberately steered away from the topic of fixing inequalities because in my opinion this is an unsolvable problem. The United States has slowly been torn apart discussing this very issue over the past twenty years, and opinions are more polarised now than they have ever been.

I write these opinions as a previous grass roots and high-level amateur player in New Zealand, former coach of men's, women's, competitive and recreational teams in New Zealand and the United States, ex programme editor, committee member, director of a girls' recreational program, and currently qualified and active referee of high school level matches. And most importantly of all, as someone who loves the game.

Governance is the key to everything. Without positive changes to make the organization transparent and accountable, FIFA will continue to be dysfunctional. However, I also outline changes I would like to see in regard to international football, the game in general and development programmes aimed at improving the lives of people throughout the world who are part of football’s global family.


GOVERNANCE

1. A commitment to Transparency and Accountability

FIFA is supposed to be an organization that governs world football for the betterment of the world football community (players, coaches, adminstrators, referees, fans, etc.). Rightly or wrongly, there is an overwhelming impression that instead, FIFA is an organization that governs world football for the betterment of its own leadership.

At various times through his presidency, Sepp Blatter has informed the world that there is no ethics problem, that the members of the Exco are honourable and honest, that he personally had no knowledge of the ISL scandal, that there is no crisis, that now that FIFA has a two-chambered ethics committee, everything is ok, and that while FIFA has been in crisis, he has led it out of the stormy seas into safe harbor.

Yet what we have seen is numerous members of the Exco either being suspended or being forced to resign. The reports of confirmed financial impropriety by senior Exco figures (Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer, Mohammad bin Hammam), confirmation that illegal bribe payments were made by ISL to other Exco members (most notably Joao Havelange, Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz), two confirmed instances of Exco members illegally asking for money favours in exchange for votes for World Cup hosting (Reynald Temarii, Amos Adamu), a lifetime ban on Vernon Manilal Fernando for reasons not clarified, confirmation that Sepp Blatter was aware of at least one illegal ISL bribe to Joao Havelange, plus the knowledge that more Exco members are under investigation as a result of Michael Garcia’s ethics investigation, hardly squares with Sepp Blatter’s claims outlined in the previous paragraph.

The introduction of a move toward transparency and the birth of the new Ethics Committees was, according to Sepp Blatter, going to eliminate ongoing problems. Instead, to the outsider, things are now as bad as they have ever been.

Alexandra Wrage of TRACE International made scathing remarks about FIFA's leadership and its unwillingness to work for true transparency. Michael Garcia resigned after first, his expensive and painstakingly researched ethics report was not released, but instead ‘summarised’ in a shortened version that Garcia then claimed did not reflect the findings he had made in his own report; and then second was told his appeal was rejected on spurious procedural grounds.

Furthermore, two of the whistle-blowers who provided evidence for the Garcia report, on which at least part of the report was based, were then discredited and outed, while bids that refused to answer questions or did not provide evidence were given a free ride.

In addition, there are numerous rumours and conjecture of other impropriety in regard to the bidding for the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. In a way it is these unsubstantiated claims that help make the case that claims of lack of transparency are justified. Even in the unlikely event that there is no substance behind these claims, they can only survive and grow in a process that has no transparency.

None of this provides any support to Sepp Blatter’s claims that things are improving as the result of his ‘reforms’.

Here are some specific changes I would like to see.

a) There should be no more secret ballots or decisions made behind closed doors. Voting records for every Exco decision made should be freely available on the FIFA website within one week of the vote taking place.

The football family has the right to know what their representatives are voting for. The ONLY exception should be that the vote to elect the FIFA President must always be a secret ballot, to avoid the risk that voters will be punished by the winner for voting for an opponent.

b) The Presidential and Exco members’ salaries, per diems, bonuses and benefits should be clearly displayed on the FIFA website.

This should be standard practice. The FIFA President and Exco members are supposed to be serving the football community. Is it too much to ask that they tell us how much we are paying them to do so?

In addition, the ticket numbers of all free tickets provided to FIFA Exco members  and national associations should be included on the website. This would allow tickets being sold on the black market to be traced.

c) The current financial reports seem to be designed to obfuscate and meet the absolute minimum requirements. Instead, detailed annual financial reports that clearly show where money was spent should be clearly displayed on the FIFA website. Donations, event costs, funding for GOAL Programmes, etc. should all be separated out with clear reference as to who received the funds.

Again, the football public have the right to know how FIFA is spending football's money.

d) FIFA press conferences and important votes and meetings should be streamed live online.

This would allow members of the worldwide football community to keep in touch with FIFA's activities and important announcements. It should be a win-win. Members of the international press corps would still attend the press conferences so that they can ask questions.

e) All competition rules should be clearly announced prior to the competition commencing. This would include seeding rules for any play-offs and draws for groups.

There should be no more of this nonsense where FIFA makes a late decision on seeding rules to ensure certain teams have a higher chance of qualifying. The six Confederations would be required to have finalised, published rules for the entire format of their qualification process for all FIFA tournaments. This would include what should happen if any team is expelled or withdrawn from the competition prior to completing its match commitments.

f) Voting to determine World Cup (and other competition) hosting rights should be based on a predetermined scoring rubric that takes into account the technical bid, human rights, labour laws, climate, infrastructure, etc. Scores would be given for each aspect of the bid, so that interested persons could see how the winning bid was chosen.

This is absolutely imperative. For too long potential hosting nations have spent vast amounts of money and resources on their bids, only to be unsuccessful because the individuals making the decision seemingly decide on a whim who to vote for, without basing their decision on any set of criteria. This has been the Exco's modus operandi as far back as I remember. There have been many allegations of impropriety going back long before the votes for the 2018 and 22022 hosting rights were held. Even if the decisions are completely above board, the lack of a transparent mechanism will always lead to doubts and claims of unethical and illegal behaviour.

g) All consultancy, management and construction projects should be offered for tender and a short list of potential candidates should be drawn up. A clear scoring rubric should be in place to allow the best candidate to be selected for each job. The days of the contract being offered to the company headed by the President's nephew need to end. This is not sound management - it's nepotism!


2, FIFA's Relationship to Football

Sepp Blatter likes to say from time to time that football needs leadership, attempting to imply that this statement is equivalent to the statement that FIFA needs HIS leadership. In this he is guilty of a serious misapprehension .

FIFA is not the same as football. The game of football was played for many decades before FIFA was formed. Originally the various public schools in England all played to their own rules, but eventually it was realised that if teams were going to be able to play against each other, a common set of codified rules would be needed. After a few false starts, this was duly accomplished on 26 October 1863, long before the concept of FIFA was ever imagined.

The Football Association in England was formed in 1863, thanks partly to the legendary Charles William Alcock, and it was he who was the driving force within eight years for the FA Cup competition to begin; a competition that continues to this day. And then on 30 November 1872, the first international match, between England and Scotland, was played, with Alcock again the man who was largely responsible for making it happen.

Within eight years, Scotland, Wales and Ireland had all formed their own football associations and by 1887 the Football League was formed; the forerunner to every league competition across the world. It took another seventeen years before seven European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) came together to form FIFA.

Even as FIFA has grown and slowly taken over many sectors of football, thanks largely to the introduction of the World Cup in 1930, there have still been many areas of football that have flourished without any FIFA involvement.

This picture depicts women playing football in 1863!




A North versus South women's game was played in England on March 23rd, 1895. It took another 96 years before FIFA staged a women's World Cup. In the interim, women's football was organised and played throughout the world with no involvement from FIFA whatsoever.

In fact, my sister was the main instigator for the formation of the second women's team in Nelson, New Zealand, inviting her high school friends at Nayland College to join her after watching an exhibition match between Nelson United and Shamrock at Rutherford Park in 1977. Within two years the first Nelson Women's League had been formed with two teams from Nelson College for Girls and a team from Sealords Fisheries also joining. I used to referee some of these early matches when I was 13 years old.

There are plenty of other examples of football thriving without any input from FIFA. Across the globe, local councils, YMCA's, church groups and local community sports clubs have set up leagues. I recall that in a small town called Takaka, in the isolated Golden Bay region in the far northwest of New Zealand's South Island, weekly football for juniors in the Seventies consisted of seeing how many players showed up and then dividing them into four roughly equal teams. The weekly football report in the paper would report the scores along the lines of, "the red team beat the green team 4-1 and the blue team beat the white team 6-3." It was to be a number of years before a proper Golden Bay club was formed and its teams entered the Nelson Football Association's winter leagues.

What about football in its purest form? Since 1984, every Friday evening from April to October, a group of men (and more recently women) has met at Linglestown Middle School in Lower Paxton, a suburb of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to play pick-up football. Some basic rules were devised, the game is self-refereed, and the game ends not by the blowing of a full-time whistle but by the consensus of the players that it's time to stop. Some of those original players are now in their fifties or sixties but still show up to play every week. New players join on a regular basis, some of them active participants in the local Over 30's or Over 40's leagues, others just looking for the chance to play the game they love once a week. There must be thousands of such longstanding pick-up matches being played throughout the world. If FIFA were to disappear tomorrow, these weekly games would still go on.

But football without FIFA is not limited to small towns and pick-up games and holiday programmes. In the United States, all high school soccer matches and competitions are played under the auspices of the National Federation for High Schools, not the United States Soccer Federation. This governing body has its own rules' committee and rule book. While it follows the basics of the world game, there are numerous modifications.

For example, a throw-in that does not enter the field of play is not retaken but instead is awarded to the opposition. When the referee stops play due to an injury, if one team had clear possession at the time the game was stopped, that team restarts play by taking an indirect free-kick.

In NFHS rules, a player receiving a yellow card must leave the field of play and is replaced by a substitute. In Pennsylvania, the player who received the card must wait five minutes before being allowed to return to the game at the next substitution opportunity. As a result, the NFHS requires its own set of referees who aware of the differences in the laws of the game. Some of these referees also referee USSF games. Others only referee high school games.

Each state's high school sports association is aligned to the NFHS and runs its own district and state play-off competitions. This is not a small undertaking, especially in states that are large geographically. And all of this is done without any input from FIFA. Instead the entire system works in tandem with the FIFA-affiliated USSF-administered leagues.

Globally there are governing bodies that are not affiliated to FIFA. Not so long ago, Paul Watson, former coach of Pohnpei, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia, and author of the excellent book Up Pohnpei, tweeted that he had on occasion asked FIFA for assistance and never got anything in return. Independent countries such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and Palau also play football but are not FIFA-affiliated.

And what of Gibraltar? The Gibraltar Football Association was formed in 1895 and has administered football in the territory ever since. Its relatively recent attempts to join FIFA were actively rebuffed, denied as the result of a rule that seemed to have been written with the express purpose of denying Gibraltar from joining. The ironic announcement that Gibraltar had been denied for political reasons (i.e. it is not an independent nation) was made by President Blatter during the very same press conference that he gave as a reason for not becoming involved in a political-style debate with other prospective presidential candidates (notably Jerome Champagne), that, "We are not in politics. We are in sport."

Gibraltar is one of seventeen entries on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and the only one that has requested FIFA membership and been denied. The list includes eleven territories that are currently members of FIFA, five that have never requested membership, and Gibraltar. In addition, there are seven former members of the list that are FIFA members despite not being independent nations (Cook Islands, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, etc.). Two other FIFA members, Palestine and the Faroe Islands, are not recognised as fully independent nations. Meanwhile, Gibraltar is a member of the worldwide governing bodies for cricket, hockey, track and field, etc.

As can be seen from the examples above, football existed before FIFA existed, and football has continued to exist without FIFA involvement. FIFA would not exist without football, but no doubt football would continue to exist without FIFA. Indeed the organisation ConIFA recently organised a very successful World Cup for unaffiliated nations, territories and ethnic regions that do not belong to FIFA. If FIFA didn't exist, there would be little time lost before another body stepped up to fill the void.

At the last World Cup we saw a few FIFA banners that proclaimed Football Is For All, with the initials of this motto being FIFA. I agree with this phrase. Football is indeed for all, but unfortunately FIFA has actively excluded many. Why not allow those who want to join to join?


3. Leadership

All of the above shows that football has no shortage of leadership. The problem for FIFA is that the positive leadership shown by so many in locations throughout the world, has not been matched in FIFA.

In any large organisation, one of the most important duties of the leader is to set the culture. On a regular and ongoing basis the desired culture needs to be reiterated to the employees. The culture specified by the leader should set the tone for the entire organisation. If the leader has done an effective job, this will be reflected in the positive attitudes and actions of the employees. Likewise, a failure to provide essential leadership on culture will be reflected in the negative attitudes and actions of the employees.

In the case of FIFA, we have seen scandal after scandal, ethical violations, Exco members forced to resign, financial irregularities, bribes, embezzlement, and a complete lack of transparency and accountability, while the current President mumbles excuses, denies there is any problem, dismisses the scandals as being in the past, and makes empty statements suggesting that thanks to his initiatives, from now on everything will be OK.

All of this reflects very badly not only on FIFA but also specifically on President Blatter. It certainly calls into question his ability to be an effective leader.

In addition, there are huge question marks about President Blatter's leadership style. There is the suggestion that he is authoritarian and dictatorial, doesn't brook any opinion that differs from his own, and uses a carrot and stick approach to get what he wants. The concept of democratic government is apparently alien to FIFA's culture.

In a modern organisation, leadership should be about facilitating cooperation and encouraging the good ideas of everyone to progress, rather than stifling any ideas that don't match the leader's. FIFA is supposed to be for the good of the game, not for the good of the President or the for the good of the Exco.

The President doesn't need to be someone who has played at the highest level. Indeed the idea that to be an effective FIFA President one has to have captained their country in the World Cup is as ridiculous as the idea that to captain one's country in the World Cup one needs to have been the leader of an international sports organisation,

The President just needs to be someone with a background in the game, preferably in a number of roles, common sense, integrity, high ethical standards and a desire for transparency, accountability and fairness.


4. Term Limits

The President and Exco members should be limited to two four year terms in office. The only exception would be in the unlikely situation where no qualified candidate stands for a vacant position, in which case the incumbent would be permitted to stand for a third term.

This would ensure that FIFA remained a vibrant organisation, without allowing any one President to become entrenched. With no chance to stay in the job longer than eight, or rarely, twelve years, Presidents could focus on doing their job well rather than attempting to retain their job.

With term limits introduced there should be no need for age limits which could be considered discriminatory.


5. Role of Employees

How happy are the employees? What is the level of employee satisfaction? Employees need their opinions and skills valued. Are FIFA's employees proud of the organisation they work for? Do they understand the culture of FIFA? The leader of the organisation needs to repeat the desired organisational culture over and over to the employees.

What about the committees? Do they have purely advisory roles or do they have executive powers? What should their roles be? Are there too few? Are there too many? How are people appointed to the committees? Is the staffing level at FIFA correct?


6. Matchfixing, Doping, Corruption and Discrimination (Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, etc)

These four evils need to be eliminated from the game, and as such, this must be a major thrust in the governance of FIFA. This will require working in tandem with international bodies and private interested companies (bookmakers, for example). In particular, the following changes need to be considered.

a) An online whistle-blower system should be introduced, that will allow the whistle-blower to remain anonymous. This system would cover all four of the problems covered in this section.

b) Where evidence is found that members of the football family are guilty of breaching the rules, severe penalties must be enacted. Ranges of penalties for each type of offense should be predetermined, available to all to view (this is part of the drive for transparency and accountability) and serious enough to act as a deterrent.

c) It is vital that the President clearly articulates that none of these ills will be tolerated. The President should set a good example, and there should be no wavering on any of these points. The current President has on occasions been guilty of seeming to tolerate or even condone discrimination, such as suggestions that racism can be tolerated in a game and a handshake at the end of the game will make the problem go away, or suggestions that women footballers should wear tighter shorts, or comments that gay World Cup spectators should refrain from having sex while they are in Qatar, or inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of women Exco members. Neither should the President deny that any of these problems exists in football. They all do.

d) To help combat these problems before they start, an education programme should be enacted. All members of the football family involved at the professional level (players, coaches, club owners, referees, FIFA executives, etc.) should complete the programme within six months of becoming involved in football.This programme would include information on the effects of racism, how matchfixing is arranged (Declan Hill's excellent book The Fix does an excellent job of explaining this), what doping does to the body, etc.

e) One of the main problems that leads to matchfixing is that some players are not paid by their clubs or national associations, or fear that they will not receive their agreed compensation. In FIFA competitions, it may be worth considering having FIFA pay the players directly according to contracts agreed between the players and national associations. This would ensure that players would receive the compensation they are entitled to, thereby reducing the risk that they will be open to the idea of matchfixing.


INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL

7. FIFA Rankings

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 that 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 based 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.


8. World Cup Finals Allocation of Teams by Confederation

32 countries qualify for the World Cup Finals. The allocation of these countries by Confederation should be based on the idea that quality is important, but so is global representation.

The concept of what is fair is very difficult. There are many possible arguments, such as:

a) The allocation by Confederation should be based on the FIFA Rankings

Taking the average rankings of the top teams in each Confederation, this would currently result in the following allocation:

UEFA 22 (average rank of these teams is 18.27)
CONMEBOL 7 (average rank 16.29)
CONCACAF 2 (average rank 18.00)
CAF 1 (average rank (18.00)
AFC 0
OFC 0

Clearly this breakdown would be unacceptable to those who believe the World Cup Finals should reflect the global spread of the game and allow nations from throughout the world the opportunity to play on the biggest stage of them all.

b) The allocation by Confederation should be based on the number of members each Confederation has.

This would result in the following allocation:

UEFA 8
CONMEBOL 2
CONCACAF 5
CAF 8
AFC 7
OFC 2

Those who believe quality is important might reasonably question why CONMEBOL only receives two places, the same as OFC.

c) The populations of the Confederations should be the prime factor.

To the best of my calculations, this would result in the following allocation:

UEFA 4
CONMEBOL 2
CONCACAF 2
CAF 5
AFC 19
OFC 0

This method results in over half the finalists coming from Asia.

So what is fair? It is impossible to say. People will justify whichever method supports their own preferred outcome. It's pure confirmation bias; looking only for evidence that supports the results you are looking to achieve.

The final allocation must obviously rest somewhere between the extremes outlined above. It should reflect the global spread of the game while still maintaining a reasonable standard of quality,

d) I believe the allocation of teams by Confederation should be as follows:

UEFA 12
CONMEBOL 5
CAF 5
AFC/OFC 5
CONCACAF 5

Whichever country hosts the tournament would use one of its Confederation's allotted places.

This would result in a loss of two places for UEFA, with those two spots being given to CONCACAF (1.5) and CONMEBOL (0.5).

I believe this is reasonable. It would still allow UEFA more than twice as many places as any other Confederation receives, thus respecting historical precedent and the perceived strength of the UEFA nations. Two European teams would miss out on playing in the World Cup Finals, but UEFA's expanded Euro tournament would more than make up for that, offering eight more countries the opportunity to play in a major tournament.

Africa has had five qualifiers for a few cycles now. I personally believe the African teams are better than their results have indicated, but until they achieve the results to match their undoubted potential, they cannot expect to receive any more places.

CONCACAF teams have performed really well in recent World Cups. Mexico, the USA and Costa Rica all progressed to the second round in 2014, combining for five wins, three draws and just a single loss in the first round. Costa Rica made it to the quarter finals and were only eliminated on penalties. Honduras, El Salvador, Canada, Panama, Guatemala, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and even Haiti, Cuba, Guyana and Antigua & Barbuda are either already strong teams or have the potential to be so. I believe the time is right for five CONCACAF teams in the Finals.

Asia and Oceania would retain their existing 4.5 and 0.5 spots, but their qualifying competitions would be combined from the second round stage, ensuring that five teams from these Confederations qualify for the World Cup Finals. In the past three tournaments, Asia has had four each time, and Oceania missed out last time when New Zealand lost to Mexico in a play-off.

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 he that President Blatter won't actually do anything concrete to make this happen, particularly as a fifth term in office would surely be bis 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.

Giving an automatic 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 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 five or two groups of six, depending on configuration of Phase 2
Winners and runners-up in each group qualify for World Cup Finals
If the World Cup is being hosted in Asia, those are your four qualifying teams, with the hosts being the fifth qualifier. If the World Cup Finals are being hosted outside Asia, 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.

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.

It 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.


9. 2018 and 2022 World Cup Hosting

The votes have already been held. Russia will host the 2018 World Cup Finals and Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup Finals. But the waters have been muddied by the Garcia Report into possible ethics violations in the bidding processes. Michael Garcia himself has stated that the 42-page 'opinion' by Hans-Joachim Eckert that there were no violations serious enough to necessitate a revote, was itself factually inaccurate. Does this mean that there were violations serious enough for a revote to take place? We will have to wait and see how this all plays out.

a) Upon publication of the Garcia Ethics Report, if there is insufficient evidence to suggest that impropriety took place in the votes for either/both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Hosting elections, continue preparations for the two tournaments as planned.

b) Recognize that the bidding documents required that the tournaments be held in June and July “in principle” (meaning those are the only acceptable months), and as a result, require the two tournaments to be held in June/July which is what the bidding nations consented to. This will alleviate problems trying to change the international calendar and avoid potential lawsuits from other bidding nations and sponsors and media companies.

c) The bidding nations should be legally expected to be able to fulfill the commitments they made in their bidding documents. If it is determined that either Russia or Qatar is unable to host according to their bidding documents, for whatever reason, including security, player safety, spectator safety, inability to complete infrastructure projects to the required level, or any other reason, immediately vote for a replacement host with the vote to be carried out under the existing FIFA rules. I would note that Qatar is still saying it could host the Finals in summer.

d) The ongoing evidence of construction worker deaths in Qatar as highlighted in reports in, among other publications, The Guardian, must be completely unacceptable to FIFA. It is not OK for the FIFA President to say FIFA is not responsible. The construction work is being carried out specifically for the purpose of hosting the FIFA World Cup and whether FIFA likes it or not, FIFA is associated to not only these deaths, but also the questionable labour laws under which the construction workers are employed, including unacceptably long hours, unacceptable living conditions, contracts not being honoured and passports being confiscated to prevent the workers leaving. If these problems are not fixed by a deadline given by FIFA to Qatar, and that deadline needs to be soon (within a month or two), the tournament should be moved somewhere else.

No sporting event is more important than the lives of the people who are helping to make it happen. I understand that construction, like all industries, can be a dangerous industry, but there are certain safety precautions that should be used that clearly are not in effect. Deaths and serious injuries should be rare and the exception, not common, acceptable and the rule.

I also note the irony that FIFA would consider moving the competition to the winter due to concern about player and spectator safety. Apparently FIFA feels that playing or watching ninety minutes of football in the heat of the Qatar summer might be dangerous. However, FIFA does not seem to think that working twelve hour days on construction sites in the heat of the Qatar summer, day after day, week after week, month after month might be dangerous to the health of the construction workers. What a terrible indictment on the attitudes and double standards of the FIFA leadership.

e) If If the Garcia Ethics Report indicates that either successful bid used illegal or unethical methods that contravene FIFA laws or the FIFA ethics code, FIFA should immediately vote for a replacement host with the vote to be carried out under whatever rules are currently in effect. This needs to happen as soon as possible to ensure the new hosts have ample time to properly prepare.


10. International Player Eligibility

There are two areas of concern here.

Firstly, I am at times uncomfortable with the idea of players emigrating and then changing nationality purely for the purpose of playing international football. Do I know this is happening? No, but I suspect that it is, and there is certainly the opportunity for this to happen. It certainly occurs in other spots, as the make-up of the national handball team of Qatar will attest. I contrast this to the perfectly acceptable situation of players who have dual nationality through birth, players who emigrated for purposes other than football, and players who emigrated to play club football, but then discovered a love for their new home and decided to become a permanent resident. How to distinguish between these different situations in the real world? I know not.

Secondly, it is always the source of great annoyance to me when a team wins a match, only for it to be discovered they used an ineligible player resulting in a 3-0 loss. This happened quite a lot in the last African World Cup Qualifying matches, with Cape Verde Islands, for example, losing vital points which cost the nation a place in the final round of qualifying.

I would advocate that a new, online player eligibility website should be developed, somewhat similar to the one created by the (English) Football Association. Some of its features would be:

a) It would be accessible to anyone, including the public, with special permissions for representatives of each national association (coaches, presidents, etc.) to prevent the problem of ineligible players taking part in international matches and the results subsequently being overturned. FIFA would maintain the website and update it as needed.

b) When a player is ineligible to play a match due to suspension resulting from a red card or the accumulation of yellow cards, or for other reasons such as the use of illegal substances, racism or other off-field misdemeanour, the player in question would be listed on the website, along with the relevant details, including which matches the player cannot be involved in.

c) When a player is ineligible to play for his/her country due to not meeting the citizenship or residency requirements, the relevant details would also be listed on the website.

d) Time frames for requesting eligibility for players born outside the country they wish to represent would be established, to allow FIFA reasonable time to investigate the authenticity of the claim.

e) Time frames would also be established to ensure that national teams are given a reasonable amount of notice prior to the next game in which players are ineligible.

f) An online appeals process would also be developed using a prescribed format aimed at ensuring all relevant details and information are included in appeals. Time frames would be established to ensure FIFA deals with all suspensions and appeals equally for all countries.

g) The new system would also generate automatic e-mails and faxes to affected national associations to maximize its effectiveness and ensure that every opportunity is provided to affected countries to be aware that players are ineligible.

By having this system available online, officials from national associations would not need to be physically in their office to become aware of ineligible players or newly invoked suspensions. The situation where a player receives a long suspension and by the time his national association is aware of it, it is too late to appeal, as happened with the New Zealand goalkeeper Glen Moss in 2010, would be far less likely to occur.


11.  Women's Football

Many of the initiatives already discussed would affect women's football as well as men's, youth, junior and amateur football. However, there should be additional initiatives put in place to further grow and develop the women's game.

a) Introduce a Women's Beach Soccer World Cup and Women's Futsal World Cup. Why do these only exist for men?

b) Put additional funding into training and programmes for women coaches, players, referees and administrators.

c) Ensure that women's World Cups are played with the same playing conditions as men's tournaments. For example, grass fields should be used.


THE GAME

12. Clarification of Laws of the Game

It is important to remember that FIFA is responsible not only for matches played at the top level, but also at the lower professional, amateur, grass roots, youth and junior levels. My experience as a registered and active referee throughout the past sixteen years has brought to light a number of laws of the game that are not well understood, especially by participants at the lower levels, but also at times by those involved at the highest levels.

a) Interpretations need to be more consistent between referees, both within countries and across the globe. Initiatives to increase consistency should be ongoing.

b) Referees should not be barred from explaining decisions they have made. Often they make the right decisions and it would be helpful if they were allowed to explain their reasoning. Other times they may miss an incident and a simple "I didn't see the incident" would clarify why they took no action. I would not mandate that referees must explain their decisions, but by the same token I would not prohibit a well structured post-match press conference that adhered to agreed rules of conduct.

c) In particular, the following areas are not well understood and need to be addressed:
i. Handling: The distinction between deliberate/hands in unnatural position/a player making himself or herself big versus unintentional/unavoidable/purely accidental.
ii. Foul Recognition: What is the level/nature of contact required to reasonably believe that a foul has occurred, and a recognition that the player going down may have been the one who actually initiated the contact.
iii. Stoppage time: It is currently laughable in its inconsistency. Let's have some sensible guidelines so the amount of additional time is somewhat transparent. How much time should be added on for lengthy goal celebrations, substitutions, injuries or deliberate delays of the game?
iv. Offside: What is meant by interfering with play? What is meant by gaining an advantage? What is meant by interfering with an opponent? When does a new phase of play begin?
v. Consistency of Cards: Sometimes certain fouls are punished with yellow cards, while similar fouls just result in a free-kick. A foul that would normally result in a yellow card may not be punished if the offender already has a yellow card. Fouls early in the match may not be punished with a card while the same foul later on sees the offender punished. A player may commit six fouls with no card, while another receives a yellow card for persistent infringement after two or three fouls. It is understood that cards are a management tool for referees, but increased consistency should still be encouraged. 
vi. Denying a Goal or an Obvious Goalscoring Opportunity: There is huge inconsistency in interpretation between countries and referees. In England, many people believe, "If he's the last man he has to go." In the United States the four D's are used (Direction of play, number of Defenders, Distance from the ball, Distance from the goal). It's time for consistency and common sense. In addition, what should be the punishment for this offence? Should it be a yellow card, time in a sin bin, a red card, a red card plus a suspension? Does it make any difference if a goal is scored from a resulting penalty? What if the offence occurred outside  the penalty area? Should the intent of the player committing the offence be taken into consideration?
vii. Encroachment at penalty-kicks. It happens constantly, but is rarely punished. Should it only apply to players who actually touch the ball after they have encroached?


13. Embrace Technology in Refereeing

Technology is already used in a number of sports, such as tennis, rugby union, cricket and American football and has proved its worth many times over in ensuring that an incorrect original decision has been overturned.

The introduction of Goal Line Technology, still opposed by Michel Platini, and originally opposed by Sepp Blatter until he suddenly embraced it, has had a positive effect on a number of occasions. Are there any other situations where technology can be used to enhance the officiating of a game?

a) Where video technology is available, its use should be allowed to determine if a goal has been scored legally (e.g. was it offside?) or whether a penalty decision was correct. It should only overturn referee decisions that were clearly wrong, not trivial, hard to see mistakes that require multiple replays. The time taken to view a replay may well prove to be less than time currently taken up by players arguing with referees.

b) Retroactive punishment should be meted out to players who have clearly got away with serious foul play or diving, with preset ranges of punishments for guilty players.

c) On the flip side, players who have unfairly been awarded red OR yellow cards should be exonerated if the evidence shows they were treated unjustly.

d) The technology would not be forced on associations, but would be permissible for those nations that wanted to use it.


14. Spectators

Without fans and spectators, there is no professional football. Spectator concerns are therefore a very important consideration. Spectators should expect safe stadiums, efficient entry and exit from stadiums, comfortable viewing conditions, clean and hygienic restrooms, reasonably priced food and beverages and reasonably priced tickets.

Along with these rights, spectators have responsibilities. They should refrain from activities that adversely affect the enjoyment of other participants.

a) Laser pointers should be banned from all matches. Any spectator found guilty of possessing a laser pointer at a match should receive a lifetime ban from attending football matches. This rule would be amended to include any future similar device that can be used to create a similar distraction to players.

b) Chants and banners of a racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise discriminatory nature must not be permitted at matches.


DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMMES

Setting up development programmes such as the GOAL Programme, Football For Hope, Performance, Win With Africa In Africa, etc. is one of the very good FIFA initiatives that has occurred under Sepp Blatter's presidency.

There are cynics who suggest the goals of these programmes were less than philanthropic; that they are nothing more than an attempt to curry favour with the heads of national associations when it comes to the four yearly election cycle. Personally I choose to give the President the benefit of the doubt.


15. Funding Levels

The FIFA website lists 698 projects approved in the last twelve years at a total funding commitment of $307,361,843 from the GOAL Programme and an additional $49,008,884 from the Financial Assistance Programme. It is my opinion that considering the huge financial reserves available to FIFA, nowhere near enough funding is made available through these development programmes.

FIFA reported Reserves of $1.28 billion dollars as of the end of 2010, so even at a fairly low rate of 3% the amount of interest received annually would be $38.4 million. Considering FIFA spent 180 million Swiss Francs on the construction of the new FIFA museum and also wasted 19 million pounds sterling on the self-aggrandizing box office flop United Passions, it could be argued that the investment in Development activities has been disappointingly low by comparison. Bahrain, which has the highest combined GOAL Project/FAP Funding commitment at $4,387,700, is receiving a little over 23% of what was squandered on United Passions.

It certainly calls into question why any national associations would want to vote for Sepp Blatter based purely on development funding. Arguably a new President would ensure that a significantly increased amount of funding would be available.


16. Project Process

While the development programmes should be continued, I am concerned that, as with many development programmes worldwide, funding should not be wasted. Project identification best practices and cost-benefit analysis should be an important part of the entire programme, long before projects are begun.

As well as the cost of carrying out the project, the ongoing costs of maintenance must also be identified. There is no point creating new facilities if there is no money left over to ensure the facilities remain usable. White elephants are of no practical use to anyone.

In addition,my experience working in New Zealand's Official Development Assistance Programme from 1987-91 reminds me that it is important to carry out proper post-implementation review at some point after projects are completed, to ensure that projects are achieving their goals and do NOT become white elephants and also as a learning tool for future projects.

It is not clear on the FIFA website how much work is being done before projects begin and after projects end to ensure that existing, new and future projects are as successful as possible.


17. Possible Joint Funding with Other Development Agencies


It may make sense at times for FIFA to work with development assistance experts from the Development Assistance Committee and also tap into the professional experience of government-funded development programmes from around the world (e.g. Norway, New Zealand, etc.) to improve the quality and delivery of projects.


18. Types of Projects

The vast majority of players, coaches, administrators, referees and volunteers are involved at levels of the football pyramid far below the elite level and therefore more develop funding must be channeled into projects to support grass roots level football. These can be related to either improving grounds and facilities or providing education and training programmes.


19. Safety Net for Former Professionals

FIFA should consider initiating a new program to provide a safety net for former professionals, including referees, in developing countries who have fallen on hard times (financially, training, health etc.). We often hear about the ‘football family’ and we need to look after family members who entertained us for years, often receiving minimal salaries, and have now been discarded.

This programme could include insurance, assistance with employment and educational aspects. The introduction of a safety net may also play a part in helping to combat match-fixing.

In particular I think of the plight of former African players I have read about, for example in Ghana and Nigeria, and I am saddened that the game forgets about them once it no longer has a use for them.





Steve Grey
Harrisburg, PA

January 9, 2015.













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