Archive | February, 2011

FIFA: masters of shadiness

25 Feb

I wrote this short paper for my Socio-Cultural Dimension in Sport class because we had to write about sports and politics.  After all the shizz that went down with the World Cup voting, I just had to write about FIFA (even though I had to refrain from ranting too much about the World Cup voting politics).  After the research I did for this paper, I realized FIFA was even shadier than I thought (which is quite a feat).  Enjoy and let me know what you think…

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, known commonly as FIFA, is the world governing body for soccer. Article three of the organization’s own standards statutes state “FIFA is neutral in matters of politics and religion.”  When charged with running the world’s most popular game, that seems like a pipe dream and has proven as such. FIFA has long played a part in world politics, whether it wants to or not.  There are examples from history about FIFA’s involvement (or non-involvement) in political situations around the globe such as the role of Argentina’s military junta bribing its way to World Cup hosting duties in or the suspension of the Togo national team after a bus attack at the African Cup of Nations.

FIFA has power and authority over 207 member countries and the rules of the game; however the organization is not exactly renowned for its competence. If FIFA were the government of a nation-state and organization president Sepp Blatter was in charge, it would be like Sarah Palin had taken over – completely terrifying.  David Goldblatt, author of The Ball is Round states, “Many things in the world are badly governed. There are many elites who are incompetent, self-serving, self-important and arrogantly blasé about their evident limitations.  None of them can begin to compare with the circus masquerading as the global governance of football.”

Despite being in charge of the world’s most popular sport, FIFA is a notoriously secretive organization.  While it is easy as pie to go online and find the salary of the President of the United States, a Google search for ‘Sepp Blatter salary’ yields only estimated figures.  There is no accountability to the nations, clubs or players under the FIFA umbrella.  Earlier this decade, $60 million from Brazil’s Globo for TV rights was diverted to secret accounts and over $316 million in sponsorship money had simply gone missing.

Even the process of awarding the multi-million dollar crown jewel World Cup is carried out in extreme secrecy. FIFA’s 24 member executive committee votes in secret on the host country and what they say goes. Much like the process of securing Olympic hosting duties, this process has turned increasingly political.  Countries rely on prominent political figures to speak for their bid.  For example, when the U.S. was bidding to host the 2022 World Cup, former President Bill Clinton was highly involved.  England sent Prime Minister David Cameron to the official vote in a final attempt to sway voters to the England bid for 2018.

Prominent politicians play only a tiny role in the process though as there are alliances formed between voting members and promises (and quite possibly bribes) made behind closed doors that have nothing to do with soccer. Call me crazy, but that sounds kind of like Congress. 

After FIFA awarded the bids for the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar, respectively, the rumours of bribes and oil money promises ran rampant (and still are too).  Despite the organization’s insistence on staying out of politics, after the hosts were announced, the secretary-general Jérôme Valcke told reporters, “It’s a political decision to open up onto the world. It was the same thing with hosts South Africa.”

Like I stated before, it is near impossible for FIFA to stay completely out of politics.  The line between soccer and politics is a blurry one and Valcke’s comment only verifies that.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is trying to create and protect a legacy of expanding the game to new places around the ground, thus, the awarding of the World Cup to places like South Africa and Qatar.  Despite the appeal of sending the world’s biggest sporting event to the far corners of the globe, FIFA fails to recognize the economic implications of such a decision.  When the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, all the stadiums used were already in place as either NFL or college fields.  There was not the need to build brand new stadiums which helped keep costs to a minimum. 

For the 2010 World Cup, South Africa spent over $1 billion to build and renovate 10 stadiums around the country.  Several of these stadiums now sit empty as they are not the correct size or dimensions for either cricket or rugby, two of the most popular sports in South Africa.  Green Point Stadium, for example, costs over $6 million just to maintain.  While some of the stadiums are able to be used for the South African soccer leagues, several are in areas such as Rustenburg, Polokwane and Nelspruit, where there are no major sports teams located nearby. There was a communication breakdown between the country’s soccer, rugby and cricket authorities as the needs of the cricket and rugby teams were not given much thought prior to the stadiums being built.  While there was an initial economic boom immediately after the World Cup, it has not been sustained.  FIFA’s priority was on bringing the World Cup to South Africa and the organization did not think that hosting the tournament could actually end up having a negative impact on the country.  There is no focus on the sustainability of the soccer culture and stadiums in South Africa; FIFA basically washed its hands of the issues once the World Cup final ended July 11.

FIFA is the “elite that faces no opposition, little scrutiny and is bound by no single legal jurisdiction” according to Goldblatt.  FIFA holds significant political influence, particularly when it comes to the World Cup, and in turn is influenced, whether rightly or wrongly, by the politics of the day.

Barcelona proves to be human after all

17 Feb

Of course, the big news out of the first set of games in the knockout round of the Champions League is Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat of the mighty Barcelona.  The win is being hailed as “famous”, but seriously, it’s not like Barcelona’s team is immortal.  Yeah, they clearly represent the best the game has to offer right now, but let’s not forget that there is still a second leg to be played…in Spain.  Arsenal’s first half left much to be desired, but to their credit, they turned it for an excellent second half.  Robin Van Persie equalized from a ridiculously tight angle (which I’m sure Victor Valdes hates himself for) and Andrei Arshavin scored the winner only minutes later.  The second leg should be quite enticing as Arsenal will be full of confidence after this win and Barcelona is, well, Barcelona.

It was a good day for that other club from London as well as Tottenham claimed a 1-0 away win over AC Milan on Tuesday.  Two-meter Peter Crouch scored the winner after a lovely ball from Aaron Lennon.  Spurs definitely look like they belong in this competition and took advantage of a clear chance for the lone goal of the game. The result was slightly overshadowed by some madness from Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso.  During the game, he shoved Tottenham assistant Joe Jordan by the throat, which should have warranted a card of some variety in itself.  After the game, Gattuso headbutted Joe Jordan, who to his credit, stood his ground, and tried to fight the man. What the hell? The man was like a rabid dog.  He now faces misconduct (ya think?) charges from UEFA.

Of course, there were matches involving sides not from England as well.  Shakhtar Donetsk used three first half goals to defeat Roma in Italy.  Roma’s got its work cut out if it wants to advance.  A second half strike from Raul gave Schalke a crucial away goal in a 1-1 tie with Valencia.

The first legs of the last four games will be next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Time for friendlies

9 Feb

It’s that wonderful time again…that’s right, it’s time for meaningless international friendlies. Woo. The U.S. was supposed to play Egypt in Cairo today, but the game was cancelled last week amongst the political turmoil happening over there.  While it would have been a good match for the U.S., it was clearly the correct decision to cancel.  There’s more important things to worry about than football sometimes (shocking as that may be). 

One of the day’s best matchups should be Lionel Messi’s Argentina vs. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.  The duo shares top spot on the La Liga leaderboard with 24 goals each.  Will either of them play enough to really make an impact?  We shall have to wait and see.  Meanwhile, Frankie Lampard will captain England against Denmark as both Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard are missing out with injuries (don’t worry LFC fans, Stevie G will be back for the weekend’s game).

The nice thing about this international date is that it is only a midweek thing, which means we will be back to the fun of league matches this weekend – none of this two weeks without real games crap.

Carra returns as Liverpool does the double over Chelsea

7 Feb

Liverpool’s clash with Chelsea would’ve been a big game regardless, but the transfer of Fernando Torres from Merseyside to London made it that much more intense. Here’s my thoughts and observations on the game and the excellent 1-0 result for the Reds.

  • After the astounding amount of goals and ridiculous games on Saturday, it would have been hard for Sunday’s game to match the craziness.  The super-hyped match was not particularly exciting, especially in the first half.
  • Fact: Fernando Torres looks bad in blue. Although I must admit, it wasn’t as disturbing as I thought it would be to see him line up for the opposition.  Weird, yes, but disturbing, no.  His craptastic day was nice to watch though.
  • Welcome back, Jamie Carragher, we missed you.  Carra might not be the youngest guy out there, but his leadership and smart tackling made the difference yesterday.  His tackle on Torres’ shot was beyond clutch as he helped the Reds earn their fourth straight clean sheet.  Having Carra back in the lineup will make a difference as Liverpool continues to build momentum.
  • Kenny Dalglish’s 3-5-2 stymied Chelsea and Carlo Ancelotti.  Chelsea’s forwards (Torres, Drogba, Anelka) could not do anything to penerate Liverpool’s back three of Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger.  Liverpool was also able to dominate in the midfield, thanks to the strong midfield diamond of Lucas, Maxi, Gerrard and Meireles. Lucas is quickly becoming a vital part of Liverpool’s success.  He’s starting to play with more confidence and makes fewer bad mistakes than he did even a season ago.
  • Maxi Rodriguez did not have the best of games for Liverpool.  He came close to making Torres an instant hero for Chelsea after gifting the striker a poorly placed pass only 90 seconds into the match.  Thankfully, Torres fired well over.  Rodriguez also missed a sitter late in the first half after a cross found him unmarked at the back post.  I already had my hands raised in celebration…but then he somehow managed to hit the crossbar from two yards out.
  • Thankfully, Raul Meireles ensured that Maxi’s miss did not cost Liverpool with his fourth goal in five games.  Meireles has come to life for the Reds as of late.  Meireles played more like an attacking mid yesterday, forming an integral part of the diamond that kept the Chelsea midfield in check.  He was all over the place, tracking back to make tackles and sprinting forward to provide an option at goal.  On his goal, you can see that he started his run from about 30 yards out and comes streaking towards the far post unmarked.
  • Chelsea was actually more effective going forward after Torres came off the field.  The change allowed Anelka to push up further and created more space.  Ancelotti has a difficult task ahead in trying to integrate Torres into the game plan.  The removal of the totally ineffective Spaniard was greeted with raucous cheers (and jeers) from the Liverpool fans and the Reds scored four minutes later.
  • Luis Suarez did not see the field for Liverpool, despite scoring a goal in his debut Wednesday.  To be honest, the Reds were clicking without him and once they scored, there was no need to bring on another striker.  It’s a good move by Dalglish though as Suarez is still adjusting to the team and how they play and Dalglish saw no reason to upset the balance.  I’ll bet that Suarez will see the field against Wigan at the weekend.
  • I loved Daniel Agger’s elbow to Torres’ face.  Cheap? Of course.  Did it deserve a card? Probably. Worth it? Definitely.
  • With the win, Liverpool moves up to sixth place, only six points out of fourth.  (Chelsea and Tottenham both have 44 points, but Chelsea is fourth on goal difference.)  There are still 12 games left in the season and the resurgence under Kenny Dalglish has fans (including myself) thinking that Champions League might not be such a pipe dream after all.
  • The arrival of Kenny Dalglish has clearly reenergized and revived a floundering, passionless side. Liverpool is playing with fight and passion and playing possession football. What a concept.  I loved what Dalglish said after the win, “It’s four games now and we’ve played different systems and got no goals against. That’s not down to any system – it’s down to them and their great pride and work and fantastic respect for this football club.”

YNWA.

We’ve got a new #9 (and #7)

1 Feb

It’s official, the Fernando Torres era is over at Liverpool. The striker is now a Chelsea man. (Ugh, that sentence was harder to write than I thought.) While a stellar player while on form, Torres has contributed his fair share to Liverpool’s woes this season with lackluster and less than inspirational performances. You want to go right when things are starting to look up? Fine, your loss. Let’s move on, shall we?

With Torres gone, Liverpool replaced him with not one, but two, strikers. (Woo!) New No. 7 Luis Suarez (yeah, the same one who batted away the shot off the goal line in the Uruguay-Ghana game) and No. 9 Andy Carroll will look to partner up top for the Reds. Carroll is still out for a couple weeks with an injury, but should be back to health soon. They are both young and talented and I think they both have the potential to do good things (aka score goals).

Of course, the Torres transfer just made this weekend’s clash with Chelsea that much more juicy. I, for one, can’t wait.

More details and thoughts on the new duo to come later!