Archive for the ‘FIFA’ Category

Racism in Russian soccer continues to shame

The specter of a racism investigation by FIFA is becoming all too familiar

After this last international break we witnessed another incident. French players were allegedly greeted with monkey chants during their friendly 3-1 win against 2018 World Cup host Russia. The friendly was being played at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg.

This should not be happening, but, then again, this is not news

There is a part of the Russian culture that has bred racism, especially in soccer. In the news report about one incident you will find a tidbit about another. Such as the recent disciplinary proceedings by UEFA against Zenit St. Petersburg.

This incident came a week before for racist chants during a 2018 Europa League match.  The opponent was RB Leipzig who they drew with, 1-1 at the Krestovsky Stadium.

I did not have to look beyond my own memory for another example. In the moments after reading these allegations I thought back to the manifesto written by Zenit ultras. Calling for their team to get rid of “non-Europeans and sexual minorities.”

Classifying the lack of black players as an “important tradition, which emphasizes the identity of the club.”

Zenit’s former Brazilian forward, Hulk, described the racism in Russia as an every day occurrence on the pitch. The abuse would come from supporters and referees. He would strangely backtrack these statements two years later after leaving the club.

Former Arsenal player Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off for his reaction to similar abuse. The fans of Spartak Moscow racially abused the player according to his comments to the media. He would later state, poignantly, in a series of tweets, the shame in holding a World Cup in Russia.

More recently in January there was the tweet from Spartak Moscow’s verified account. Which featured a video of some black players warming up. The quote accompanying the video stated, “See how the chocolates melt in the sun.”

With every tweet and every chant comes a new reminder

The fight against racism is not over. It may never be over and patches on the side of kits have not been enough.

While UEFA may be doing its part by investigating each allegation. Until countries take ownership of the change in their cultures, we will continue to talk about bananas and coins on a pitch. Rather than the tactics and the team selections.

And while the world is appalled when reading these allegations, come June the world will be watching intensely and waiting, anxiously, for the specter to rear its ugly head once again.

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FIFA’s proposed women’s league will benefit soccer worldwide

Last week, FIFA President Gianni Infantino proposed a plan to launch a women’s global league comprised of national teams. Although no decision is expected to be made until at least June, the plan demonstrates Infantino’s commitment to promoting the growth of women’s football.

If accepted, the competition would feature the world’s top 16 women’s national teams, which would divide into four groups with winners advancing to the semifinal and final during the November 2019 window. Additionally, Infantino intends to create four smaller regional leagues to compete in a promotion and relegation system during the Spring window.

Currently, FIFA is basing women’s football development and financial growth opportunities solely on two quadrennial tournaments — the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Olympics. For obvious reasons, women’s football is highly funded from men’s competitions. If approved, the addition of the global would help the women’s game would not only gain fan support and potential sponsorships but would also stimulate the development of youth women’s football in smaller countries.

Unless you are a top five nation in women’s soccer, there aren’t many opportunities to represent your country, let alone gain experience playing FIFA matches in general. Unfortunately, there are still too many federations that don’t focus on national women’s soccer camps and friendlies. In my personal experience playing on the Colombian Women’s National Team, when the World Cup and the Olympic cycle would end, we would have to wait an absurd amount of time to have camp again. Seven hundred and forty five days to be exact. With a global women’s league, lengthy absences from FIFA matches would no longer be an issue for soccer countries still in development. It would be beneficial for both North and South American countries as their leagues mostly run from early Spring to Summer. On the flip side, UEFA and perhaps Australia’s W-League most likely would not support this concept as it does not coincide with their schedules. If this event is not in the best interest of UEFA or AFC, confederations in approval could join forces and form a similar competition.

Although there has not yet been a strategic plan set out yet, it will be interesting to see the response from FIFA members and federations. There already have been concerns that a FIFA-branded women’s league could take away from the prestige and excitement of the World Cup and Olympics. On the contrary, I firmly believe it would enhance the build-up as there would be more teams involved in competition outside of the two marquee FIFA tournaments. Presently, the two leading mini-tournaments are the Algarve Cup and She Believes Cup, both primarily intended for the top women’s national teams. Not only would the new event provide player exposure, but would also give federations and countries the opportunity to host a FIFA event.

Up for reelection next year, Infantino will need the majority votes from the 211 member nations. Part of his campaign will focus on demanding growth in the women’s game, which could either play in his favor or against. Since his time in office, Infantino has significantly emphasized the necessity and potential growth of women’s football.

Melissa Ortiz is a professional footballer and has represented the Colombia women’s national team at the Olympics and Copa America. She has also played professional soccer in NWSL and Iceland.

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The more FIFA changes, the more it stays the same

Over a span of four months, from October 2015 to January 2016, the FIFA Ethics Committee removed the three most powerful men in football – Sepp Blatter, Jerome Valcke, and Michel Platini – from office, and banned them from the game.

It was an extremely hopeful stretch in the dark history of the world’s governing body. There was, at that time, legitimate hope that FIFA might be rid of the corruption that was its defining characteristic during Blatter’s seventeen-year reign.

That hope feels very far away right now.

On Tuesday, FIFA – under the leadership of new, US-backed president Gianni Infantino – decimated the Ethics Committee that was so instrumental in toppling the previous regime by firing all but two of the committee’s members.

It was the kind of brazen, self-preserving move that was commonplace under Blatter. According to The Guardian, hundreds of ethics committee investigations will now be stalled indefinitely.

The departing prosecutor, Cornel Borbély, said in a press conference on Wednesday in Bahrain that “This is a huge setback. The reform process has at least stepped backwards for several years.”

The decision was especially damning because, if anything, the ethics committee as it was constructed was a shy police force.

The body failed to move against FIFA’s top officials until after the US Department of Justice started making headway in 2015, and refused to release the findings of a high-profile report on FIFA corruption, especially as it related to the Qatar World Cup bid, by its former top investigator Michael J. Garcia.

The only takeaway here is simple: Infantino, along with FIFA’s top officials, do not want any semblance of an independent committee investigating their dealings.

Infantino was investigated but ultimately not charged by the ethics committee last year when the Panama Papers implicated him in a corruption scandal involving UEFA’s TV rights deals.

Borbély and outgoing judge Hans-Joachim Eckert said in a joint statement that the decision to gut their committee was “clearly politically motivated.”

FIFA has put forward replacements for the dismissed committee members, but it’s awfully difficult to imagine that those new appointees will have the independent authority they would ostensibly need to do their jobs effectively.

The likes of Borbély and Eckert weren’t the only ones to lose their jobs at FIFA’s annual congress this week. Miguel Maduro, who chaired the governance committee, was also sent packing.

Why? Maduro, last March, refused to allow Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko to run again for the FIFA Council because FIFA bars its officials from active political engagement.

Mutko, one of the highest-ranking officials in the government of Vladimir Putin, was clearly in violation of that rule. But considering Russia’s power and status as the next World Cup host, Maduro’s decision was still a strong one. He paid the price.

The faces have changed, but FIFA’s modus operandi has not. The rules do not matter. No one is allowed to cross those at the top, no matter how corrupt they may be.

FIFA is not an appreciably different organization from what it was when Blatter and his cronies were running the show.

Infantino hasn’t yet – so far as we know – bought elections or sold World Cups, and he doesn’t suffer from Blatter’s senility, but he does not appear at all interested in cleaning FIFA up. The actions of the last week would suggest that he wants to do business as it has always been done.

For Sunil Gulati and US Soccer, whose support of Infantino in the second round of last year’s FIFA Presidential Election was integral in helping the European score an upset victory, that should sting.

Of course, FIFA handing the 2026 World Cup to the US, Mexico, and Canada should help keep Gulati in line.

It’s not just in the ethical arena where FIFA has failed to progress in the Infantino era. Important and long-overdue reforms to increase the power and visibility of women in FIFA have also, as Grant Wahl put it on Wednesday, have become a farce.

As of last year, FIFA requires that each continent have a woman fill a council seat. But the elections for those council seats are decided by federation presidents, and all but two of those presidents are men.

That’s how you get the results Australia’s Moya Dodd, who Wahl called “the most influential woman in FIFA in recent years” losing her seat to a Bangladeshi candidate who didn’t know which country won the last World Cup.

That candidate, who first guessed that Japan had won the tournament, defeated Dodd by a 27-17 margin. Strong women appear as unwelcome at FIFA as they ever have been.

To date, Infantino’s landmark accomplishment was expanding the men’s World Cup from 32 to 48 teams – a lucrative move designed to boost the non-European federations that, as a bloc, hold considerable power within FIFA.

Those countries will have more bids, more money, and more reason to support the existing power structure. Problem is, World Cup expansion will destroy the tournament as we know it.

Qualifying, currently considered cause for a national holiday in smaller countries, will become bloodless. The format of the tournament will become clunky; it’s early stages lopsided, mediocre, and full of bad teams and competitive mismatches.

Considering that the men’s World Cup is FIFA and the sporting world’s crown jewel, ruining it seems like a bad thing for the federation’s president to do.

When Infantino was elected two February’s ago, he announced in his victory speech that “FIFA has gone through sad times, times of crisis. Those times are over. We will restore the image of FIFA.”

So far, he and those around him have done no such thing – and, considering the events of the last week, there is no reason to believe they ever will. FIFA is no different today than it ever has been.

The post The more FIFA changes, the more it stays the same appeared first on World Soccer Talk.

The more FIFA changes, the more it stays the same

Over a span of four months, from October 2015 to January 2016, the FIFA Ethics Committee removed the three most powerful men in football – Sepp Blatter, Jerome Valcke, and Michel Platini – from office, and banned them from the game.

It was an extremely hopeful stretch in the dark history of the world’s governing body. There was, at that time, legitimate hope that FIFA might be rid of the corruption that was its defining characteristic during Blatter’s seventeen-year reign.

That hope feels very far away right now.

On Tuesday, FIFA – under the leadership of new, US-backed president Gianni Infantino – decimated the Ethics Committee that was so instrumental in toppling the previous regime by firing all but two of the committee’s members.

It was the kind of brazen, self-preserving move that was commonplace under Blatter. According to The Guardian, hundreds of ethics committee investigations will now be stalled indefinitely.

The departing prosecutor, Cornel Borbély, said in a press conference on Wednesday in Bahrain that “This is a huge setback. The reform process has at least stepped backwards for several years.”

The decision was especially damning because, if anything, the ethics committee as it was constructed was a shy police force.

The body failed to move against FIFA’s top officials until after the US Department of Justice started making headway in 2015, and refused to release the findings of a high-profile report on FIFA corruption, especially as it related to the Qatar World Cup bid, by its former top investigator Michael J. Garcia.

The only takeaway here is simple: Infantino, along with FIFA’s top officials, do not want any semblance of an independent committee investigating their dealings.

Infantino was investigated but ultimately not charged by the ethics committee last year when the Panama Papers implicated him in a corruption scandal involving UEFA’s TV rights deals.

Borbély and outgoing judge Hans-Joachim Eckert said in a joint statement that the decision to gut their committee was “clearly politically motivated.”

FIFA has put forward replacements for the dismissed committee members, but it’s awfully difficult to imagine that those new appointees will have the independent authority they would ostensibly need to do their jobs effectively.

The likes of Borbély and Eckert weren’t the only ones to lose their jobs at FIFA’s annual congress this week. Miguel Maduro, who chaired the governance committee, was also sent packing.

Why? Maduro, last March, refused to allow Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko to run again for the FIFA Council because FIFA bars its officials from active political engagement.

Mutko, one of the highest-ranking officials in the government of Vladimir Putin, was clearly in violation of that rule. But considering Russia’s power and status as the next World Cup host, Maduro’s decision was still a strong one. He paid the price.

The faces have changed, but FIFA’s modus operandi has not. The rules do not matter. No one is allowed to cross those at the top, no matter how corrupt they may be.

FIFA is not an appreciably different organization from what it was when Blatter and his cronies were running the show.

Infantino hasn’t yet – so far as we know – bought elections or sold World Cups, and he doesn’t suffer from Blatter’s senility, but he does not appear at all interested in cleaning FIFA up. The actions of the last week would suggest that he wants to do business as it has always been done.

For Sunil Gulati and US Soccer, whose support of Infantino in the second round of last year’s FIFA Presidential Election was integral in helping the European score an upset victory, that should sting.

Of course, FIFA handing the 2026 World Cup to the US, Mexico, and Canada should help keep Gulati in line.

It’s not just in the ethical arena where FIFA has failed to progress in the Infantino era. Important and long-overdue reforms to increase the power and visibility of women in FIFA have also, as Grant Wahl put it on Wednesday, have become a farce.

As of last year, FIFA requires that each continent have a woman fill a council seat. But the elections for those council seats are decided by federation presidents, and all but two of those presidents are men.

That’s how you get the results Australia’s Moya Dodd, who Wahl called “the most influential woman in FIFA in recent years” losing her seat to a Bangladeshi candidate who didn’t know which country won the last World Cup.

That candidate, who first guessed that Japan had won the tournament, defeated Dodd by a 27-17 margin. Strong women appear as unwelcome at FIFA as they ever have been.

To date, Infantino’s landmark accomplishment was expanding the men’s World Cup from 32 to 48 teams – a lucrative move designed to boost the non-European federations that, as a bloc, hold considerable power within FIFA.

Those countries will have more bids, more money, and more reason to support the existing power structure. Problem is, World Cup expansion will destroy the tournament as we know it.

Qualifying, currently considered cause for a national holiday in smaller countries, will become bloodless. The format of the tournament will become clunky; it’s early stages lopsided, mediocre, and full of bad teams and competitive mismatches.

Considering that the men’s World Cup is FIFA and the sporting world’s crown jewel, ruining it seems like a bad thing for the federation’s president to do.

When Infantino was elected two February’s ago, he announced in his victory speech that “FIFA has gone through sad times, times of crisis. Those times are over. We will restore the image of FIFA.”

So far, he and those around him have done no such thing – and, considering the events of the last week, there is no reason to believe they ever will. FIFA is no different today than it ever has been.

The post The more FIFA changes, the more it stays the same appeared first on World Soccer Talk.

World Cup will suffer for FIFA’s misguided expansion

Photo credit: AFP.

When the small Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago qualified for its first World Cup in November of 2005, the nation’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning declared a national holiday.

That same year, when the African country of Cote d’Ivoire qualified for its first finals, the country’s Civil War ground to a halt as its President agreed to open peace talks. The conflict ended for good shortly after the following year’s tournament ended.

For small countries, like Trinidad and Tobago, which has never returned to the sport’s showpiece event, and the Ivory Coast, which has now competed in three straight finals, that’s the power of World Cup qualification.

But with today’s news – FIFA’s unanimous decision to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams starting with the 2026 tournament – it might not be anymore.

The finals themselves will suffer. No one wants to see the United Arab Emerites play Germany, and the proposed group format – which would see two teams advance from groups of three – is a nightmare.

But a primary concern here is that a bigger World Cup will ruin qualifying. It will dilute the significance of qualification for smaller countries, but it will also, for all intents and purposes, erase the pressure of qualifying on bigger footballing nations.

SEE MORE: Andrew Jennings calls for revolution to oust Sunil Gulati from US Soccer

While the breakdown of bids per confederation is yet to be finalized, the expectation is that CONCACAF will, starting in 2026, send six or seven teams to the World Cup.

The drama of the Hexagonal? Forget about it. Starting for 2026, even if CONCACAF sent every team that qualified for the Hex to the World Cup, it’d still be short on its quota.

For bigger countries, it’s going to be nearly impossible to miss the tournament.

If 2018 were a 48-team Cup, two losses qualifying – like the two the US suffered in November – would be merely a blip, not a crisis the magnitude of which finally forced US Soccer President Sunil Gulati to fire manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

The incredible saga of Mexico’s qualification for the 2014 tournament in Brazil, sealed only when Graham Zusi scored for the US in Panama City on the final day of qualifying? Under the new format, El Tri would have skated in with room to spare.

That’s an incredible sporting loss. World Cup qualifying, as it currently happens, is one of the greatest spectacles in the sport. Going forward, it will be so diluted as to be unrecognizable.

It’s also going to hurt countries like the US on the field. Qualifiers currently account for some of the most competitive, high-stakes football the team gets during a four-year World Cup cycle.

Games in Columbus, or Mexico City, or San Pedro Sula, or San Juan aren’t going to be the same if there’s nothing truly on the line.

This will be true for nations all across the world, and it’s especially a shame when you consider that qualifiers are the highest-profile games that national teams play on their own soil and not in host countries.

Many of the great World Cup moments over the years have come before the knockout stages in the finals. The bar should be high to make it to a World Cup. It should be even higher to advance from the World Cup group stage.

Furthermore, the drama in a tournament like the World Cup is derived in large part from how small each team’s margin for error is. This update does not adhere to that truth.

Expansion, in itself, is not always – and often isn’t – a bad thing. The expansion that took the World Cup from 24 to 32 teams ahead of the 1998 tournament in France was a great success.

But where the format for 32 teams was straightforward and logical, the proposed format for 48 teams is awkward at best. The idea of adding penalty shootouts to the end of group stage matches is a joke.

FIFA, as usual, has not covered itself in glory. The governing body’s own research confirms that adding sixteen more teams to the tournament will negatively impact the quality of play. It’s pushing ahead with its plan nevertheless.

It is also likely no coincidence that the expansion announcement comes so soon after a Presidential election in which Gianni Infantino scored an upset victory by promising to increase revenues and make the World Cup more accessible to smaller nations.

When Infantino won, the general expectation was that he’d in turn increase the size of the World Cup, and in turn, the size of the financial pie. The World Cup already accounts for 80% of FIFA’s revenue, and the expansion is expected to net an extra $1 billion in 2026.

This is how politics have always worked at FIFA, and it’s certainly a boon for Infantino politically. But, considering the recent past, it’s not exactly easy to believe that all the new money will find its way into the proper coffers.

The expansion of the World Cup – which, in a purely sporting sense, was as close to perfect as any tournament in the world – is purely a money-grab.

There is no other way to look at it – and no other reason why anyone who suffered through an expanded Euro 2016 in which the champion, Portugal, didn’t win a single group game, would support World Cup expansion.

Money rules. Especially at FIFA. And, as a result, the crown jewel of the sports world is likely to suffer immensely.

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