Tuesday, June 29, 2010

FIFA's Hypocrisy

I guess it was a only a matter of time before you heard this rant of mine. I was only waiting for a good opportunity to bring it up and in light of recent developments in France, this is a perfect time.

It revolves around football's relationship with governments - or rather their attempt to distance themselves from it. As I'm sure you all followed the disgraceful exit of France from the tournament, you no doubt heard that President Sarkozy asked for a review of French football and was even planning to meet with Thierry Henry to discuss the Nicolas Anelka fiasco. Not surprisingly, big bad FIFA intervened the other day and has warned the French government of interfering with football affairs with the risk of being thrown out of future tournaments.

FIFA's stance is quite simple - government and football are separate, independent entities. Article 13.1.(g) of FIFA's laws explains that national federations are obliged "to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties." The laws go on to dictate that third parties, "include politicians, governments, states, media, etc." As the governing body for world football, these laws pertain to the continental confederations as well.

Since football and politics go hand in hand in every single country on this planet (except the United States of course), these types of laws are necessary to prevent interference from the highest levels. They were enforced in 2008 against Iraq. Greece, too, suffered in 2006.  Even Iran faced a suspension. While I applaud FIFA for having these statutes in place, it's not enough. At the end of the day, FIFA (and the WTA for a time) backs off the BIGGEST issues around. Oh the hypocrisy...

Euro 2012 Qualifying Draw: Held on February 7th in Warsaw, UEFA (Europe's governing football body)selected the 9 6-team qualifying groups to compete for entry into the 2012 tournament to be held in Poland and Ukraine. Prior to the draw however, UEFA took it upon themselves to publicly fix the draw. Due to political issues, Armenia and Azerbaijan could not be drawn against each other nor could Georgia and Russia. Sooo wait a minute. Let's say Armenia and Azerbaijan were drawn in the same group. And then the Armenian government said it wouldn't play in Azerbaijan - well then from what we know wouldn't that result in a suspension???? Of course not. UEFA are cowards.

Which brings me to the issue at hand - Israel. As you can no doubt see here, Israel is geographically part of the Middle East and greater Asia. For years Israel competed in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) - qualifying for the 1970 World Cup and winning the Asian Cup in 1964. They came in 3rd place at the next Asian Cup which was held in Iran. Then, of course, war broke out in 1973. Emerging victorious yet again, Israel would eventually send a team to compete in the 1974 Asian games in Tehran. However, this is where things started to unwind. Kuwait - and every other Arab state in the tournament - refused to take the field against the Israelis. Rather than dock Kuwait points or suspend them from the tournament, Israel was booted by the AFC not simply from the Asian Cup but from the entire confederation.

As a result Israel was forced to, and please excuse the obvious metaphor, wander the footballing wilderness. For a time in the 1980s they competed in Oceania with the likes of Fiji and New Zealand. They were also given a chance to qualify for tournaments via Europe. Then in 1994, UEFA granted Israel full membership into Europe.

Fairytale ending? Not quite. It's time for a change. It's time for Israel to return to where it belongs in Asia. We are only talking a couple games a year - if that. If Kuwait or UAE or Bahrain or Iran won't agree to play Israel in a qualifying game for any tournament, then THROW THEIR ASSES OUT OF THE COMPETITION!! I mentioned above that Iran was suspended at one point - that's because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put his own man in charge of the national football federation. Well if that same Holocaust-denying idiot would be the man to put his fist down to say Iran won't play Israel, then issue another suspension! Dock points! Forfeit games!

If a country can't guarantee the safety of the Israeli national team, then FIFA must step in. Why, after clamping down for years against government interference, does FIFA do nothing about this?

Just think about the repercussions of throwing Iran (4 WC appearances including '98 and 06') or Saudi Arabia (4 WC appearances - '94, '98, '02, '06) or Qatar (bidding to host a World Cup) out of competitions because of refusal to play Israel.  You really think the public wouldn't mind? I promise you they would take to the streets.

In the meantime though, we're left with a fool's hope. Until Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, grows a sac and makes some serious decisions (not least of which is allowing video replay), Israel will be left to fight it out with the big boys of Europe and miss endless opporunities of success in Asia. Why can't Blatter step in and make a decree? He's Swiss. Go figure...

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