Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Oceania Football Confederation Must Come Clean On Champions League Draw Debacle

I'm generally a fan of the Oceania Football Confederation.

For the most part, they do a good job running and promoting the game with limited resources and incredibly difficult logistics in an area of the world that is generally forgotten by the rest of the footballing community.

Of all the Confederation websites, I find the OFC's is the one where I feel most confident that I will find the information I am seeking on any given day. There are links to numerous interesting publications and reports going back many years. And I am always grateful for the coverage of Confederation tournaments provided by OFC TV.

It saddens me then, to have to write this blog post, but in the interests of transparency and accountability, I feel someone has to draw attention to the absolute fiasco that was the OFC Champions League draw that occurred yesterday in Auckland.

To recap, the draw involved placing sixteen teams in four groups of four. The teams (two each from New Zealand, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, plus two qualifiers from a preliminary competition involving the champions of American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga) were originally seeded into four pots, and one team from each pot was to be drawn into each of the four groups. The one caveat was no group could contain two teams from the same country.

The draw was made live on the OFC's youtube channel. I was unable to watch live but managed to tune in and watch a rerun of the draw shortly after it was completed. What unfolded left me stunned.

All went to plan in the beginning as OFC Media officer Jacqueline Tran Van and OFC Competitions manager Michael Song carried out the draw. Each time a team was drawn the audience was reminded that two teams from the same country could not be drawn in the same group.

After the first ten teams had been placed in groups, this was the situation:

Group A: AS Magenta (New Caledonia), Hekari United (Papua New Guinea)
Group B: Team Wellington (New Zealand), Champions to be determined (Fiji), Hienghène Sport (New Caledonia)
Group C: Auckland City (New Zealand), Champions to be determined (Vanuatu), AS Central Sport (Tahiti)
Group D: AS Tefana (Tahiti), Champions to be determined (Solomon Islands).

The next team be drawn was the to be determined runners-up from Fiji. Once again, Jacqueline Van Tran made a point of saying that they copuld not be drawn in the same group as the other team from Fiji. Thus she opined that they could be drawn in either Group A or Group D.

That was her first fatal mistake.

What she failed to take into consideration was that the remaining Pot 3 team, Lae City Dwellers from Papua New Guinea, could not be placed in Group A because their fellow countrymen, Hekari United, were already in that group. Therefore, the Fijian runners-up had to be placed in Group A and Lae City Dwellers in Group D. Unfortunately, this fairly simple deduction was overlooked by both Ms Tran Van and Mr Song. And unluckily for both, fate decided to intervene. The Fijian runners-up were drawn into Group D, meaning the fourth Pot 3 team, Lae City Dwellers, were placed in Group A, the only remaining Group without a Pot 3 team, without so much as a second glance.

At this point there were two Papua New Guinea clubs drawn together in Pot A. Here's a screen shot I took from the video. Incidentally the red line at the bottom shows what percentage of the hour-long plus video had elapsed.

No-one at the draw noticed.

The draw continued, but suddenly the audio soundtrack changed to music and the voice of Ms Tran Van could no longer be heard. This continued for approximately fourteen minutes, during which time two of the Pot 4 teams were drawn and placed into groups. Unfortunately I don't have any screenshots but I am positive that the Preliminary Qualifying Group winner was drawn in Group C with Auckland City, the Vanuatu champions and AS Central Sport. The other team drawn was the Solomon Islands runners-up who must therefore have been placed in Group A or Group B. I'm reasonably sure it was the latter.

And then after a little over fourteen minutes of music during which time just two Pot 4 teams were drawn and placed, the audio returned and a somewhat sheepish Ms Tran Van said something about the perils of making a live draw and that they were going to redraw Pot 3.

I have two points to make about this.

Firstly, the problem wasn't caused by making a live draw. I'm sure it looked just as bad delayed as it did live. What caused this monumental cock-up was a failure to plan properly and a lack of oversight.

Secondly, there was no need to redo the Pot 3 draw. The first two teams had been drawn and placed properly, the third team from Fiji should have been placed in Group A and Lae City Dwellers should have been placed in Group D. That is how the official draw actually unfolded and that is where the teams should have been placed.

Redoing the draw was the second fatal mistake.

This time around, Hienghène Sport (New Caledonia) were again drawn into Group B. Then the Fijian runners-up were drawn into Group D. AS Central Sport (Tahiti) were the next team drawn and now lightning almost struck twice in  the same place because Ms Tran Van repeated her original mistake, stating that they could not be drawn with the other team from Tahiti so therefore they could be drawn in Group A or Group C. If they had been drawn in Group C, that would once again have left Lae City Dwellers in Group A with Hekari United. As it turned out, this time luck was on Ms Tran Van's side, AS Central Sport were drawn into Group A, and Lae City Dwellers were placed in the Group C with Auckland City and the Vanuatu champions.

What followed was a redo of Pot 4. This time the Preliminary Qualifying winners were drawn in Group B and the Solomon Islands runners-up in Group C. So neither of these teams were drawn into the same group they were originally placed in.

The final draw was thus listed as follows:

Having watched this mess unfold, I tweeted the following to the official OFC Champions League account.

I then sent out a few more tweets, including a link to the video.

Very soon after this I was advised that the video had been "taken down" and upon checking I noted that someone at the OFC had taken the decision to make the video private. On the OFC TV youtube site you can watch OFC Champions League draws from previous years, but you can now no longer watch the draw made yesterday. This tells me that at best, the OFC are embarrassed, and at worst, they are trying to hide their gross incompetence.

And that, for me, is the worst error of all.

By trying to sweep this under the rug, I can't help but feel the OFC is opening itself up to legal action.

I can't help thinking that clubs such as Auckland City and the Vanuatu champions (likely to be Amicale) would much prefer to play against the preliminary qualifying winners than against the Solomon Islands runners-up.

Perhaps the Solomon Islands runners-up would fancy Group B more than the potential minefield of Group C with Auckland City and Amicale.

And if the OFC failed to follow its official draw protocols, any of the sixteen teams would have the right to take legal action if they are unsatisfied with the final outcome of the draw.

This is not supposed to be amateur karaoke hour at the local pub. This is the biggest club competition in Oceania, with potentially a trip to the FIFA Club World Cup at stake with possible games against the 2017 UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores winners in the offing.

It's hard to imagine a similar mistake being made by UEFA, with two teams from Portugal or Russia drawn in the same group and no-one noticing for far too long. Nor would I expect a redo of the draw to take place when it was perfectly clear what the solution should have been. Imagine the ruckus and legal wrangling that would cause.

Before it's too late, the OFC needs to come clean on this. Nowhere in any of their press releases about the OFC Champions League draw did they mention the fact that they originally screwed up the process. They made the draw video private so that it can no longer be seen. No-one has taken responsibility.

At a time when the football community is crying out for transparency and accountability, the OFC have scored a pretty bad own goal here.

And that's a shame, because I stated at the beginning of this post, I think the OFC generally do a good job.


OFC have now uploaded an edited video of the draw which is less than half the length of the original video. They now admit it's edited and that they made the original mistake.

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