Tag Archives: Fifa

Fifa hopes a bigger Club World Cup will help to grow the Chinese game

On October 24th, Fifa president Gianni Infantino confirmed that China will host an expanded Club World Cup competition in 2021.

The number of participants will rise from seven to 24, including eight European clubs and six from South America. North, Central America and the Caribbean region, Africa, and Asia each will have three clubs, with one from Oceania. It will be played every four years from 2021.

Infantino described the new tournament as “the first real and true [Club] World Cup where the best clubs will compete”.

It will be the first time that China has hosted the event, and the second time it has been reformed.

The tournament was first contested in 2000 as the FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil and featured the winners of the Uefa Champions League and the Copa Libertadores.

Since 2005, the competition has been held annually and includes seven teams: the winners of that year’s AFC Champions League (Asia), CAF Champions League (Africa), CONCACAF Champions League (North America), Copa Libertadores (South America), OFC Champions League (Oceania) and UEFA Champions League (Europe), along with the host country’s champions.

By enlarging the event, Fifa wants to make it the second-most important global football tournament after the World Cup itself. It estimates it could generate more than £862m in revenue.


At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there were seven major Chinese sponsors, despite China once again not reaching the finals

According to Fifa’s 2018 financial report, 83% of the aggregate revenue of $6.4bn (£4.9bn) in the 2015-2018 cycle was created by the 2018 World Cup.

By expanding the scale and influence of the Club World Cup, football’s world governing body is aiming to further boost its money-making ability. But why has China been selected as the host of the 2021 edition?

Co-operation between Fifa and China used to mainly be focused on the business level because of the poor quality of the men’s Chinese national team. Chinese enterprises have invested massively in Fifa in recent years. At the 2018 World Cup, there were seven major Chinese sponsors, despite China once again not reaching the finals.

It might be the only country in the world that can stage international events regardless of the cost

The success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the upcoming 2022 Beijing & Zhangjiakou Winter Olympics, prove China’s ability to host and organise huge international sports competitions well.

It might be the only country in the world that can hold international events regardless of the cost. This factor surely motivated Fifa to agree China as the inaugural host the reformed Club World Cup.

In August, Chen Xuyuan was elected as the new president of the Chinese Football Association (CFA). One of his goals is to bid to become World Cup hosts, but this ambition has never previously received large support even in China.

China’s desire to host major football tournaments is usually linked by outsiders to its ambitions to develop its domestic game, but this analysis is flawed. While hosting big events may facilitate the construction of more modern stadia and infrastructure in Chinese cities, the development of Chinese football on the pitch depends more on implementing the correct policies and strategic long-term planning.

Tensions

After witnessing the disappointing performance of their men’s national team and the CFA’s controversial policies for a long time, hosting the 2021 tournament will give Chinese fans the chance to watch top foreign players in action and perhaps sow the seeds of support for a Chinese World Cup bid further down the line.

There are some other potential benefits to China. After so many tensions on the international stage in recent years, staging an influential football tournament will allow China to present itself in a way which tackles the stereotypes that shape its global image.

Part of this diplomatic mission, in conjunction with Fifa, will be to ‘sell’ the Club World Cup, particularly in Europe, where opposition to an expanded competition has been loudly voiced by the top domestic leagues.

Each participating club will receive at least £15m, with the winners banking £93m

Money may yet persuade those clubs to change their minds. The European Club Association announced in March that its members would boycott the expanded tournament, but the prize fund has now been confirmed.

Each participating club will receive at least £15m, with the winners banking £93m. That larger amount is still slightly less than the bottom-placed Premier League club will earn in a season from TV revenue and prize money, but it may cause some European Leagues, who enviously eye English football’s wealth, to break ranks.

If it does, Infantino and Fifa’s Chinese stakeholders could well get the prestigious tournament they hope the Club World Cup will be in 2021.

Vladimir Putin posters

Doping claims won’t go away as Russia prepares to host World Cup

Russian sport right now has a struggle for power. A struggle between  legitimate sport and sport controlled by President Putin.

With a Russian-hosted World Cup in June, recent news of further Russian controversies should have FIFA doing more.

Firstly, let’s look at the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Russia’s premier ice hockey league. The team Vladimir Putin supports, SKA St Petersburg, are reportedly winning Russia’s Premier Ice Hockey League by default.

This can be paired with claims by a whistle-blower that Russia has already doped at a previous football World Cup. A Russian-hosted World Cup this summer, much like in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, could present a much greater threat to the legitimacy of the tournament.

Putin will be desperate for at least a knockout phase performance from Russia’s footballers in an election year, despite their current lowly world ranking of 61st.

Putin’s team win gold

At this year’s Winter Games, a team of Russians competing as ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ won ice hockey gold in Pyeongchang. The OAR tag had to be used because of Russia’s ongoing doping suspension from the Olympics, with only clean individual athletes allowed to take part.

It just so happens that many of those gold medal-winning OAR players also play for SKA St Petersburg.

Russian sports writer Slava Malamud posted a thread on Twitter that went viral within the North American ice hockey community.

Malamud expressed his distaste for the state of Russian domestic hockey and Putin’s grip on the league.

“SKA is allowed to ignore the salary cap, its payroll is six times that of an average team, it has dibs on every star who considers the KHL. Most of its players are rabid Putin supporters who took part in his campaign rally last week. I repeat: SKA must win. It’s not an option.”

The KHL league has offered an official explanation that for many within the Russian sporting media that doesn’t exactly allay suspicions, claims Malamud.

‘Everyone in Russia knows what’s going on. The fans, the officials, the media’

It goes like this: ‘Allowing all the best players to concentrate in one team has created unique chemistry that transitioned seamlessly to the Olympic squad. Making the KHL season easy for them has safeguarded against injuries and bad morale. This is why we won the gold.’

“Everyone in Russia knows what’s going on. The fans, the officials, the media. It’s out in the open. And the people who have made it happen (all KHL bosses are Putin’s close friends) have already announced that the system has proven effective and should continue.”

Given what Malamud says, it would appear that Putin remains unconcerned by any sanctions or investigations that continue within the international governing bodies of sport.

Flying too close to the sun

Even more timely is the recent victory of Icarus at the Oscars. Directed by Bryan Fogel, the documentary inadvertently charted the fall from grace of the head of Russia’s anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov. The film also covers his subsequent flight to the United States, where he testified under a newly-assumed name and identity.

Though it may not sound like fun having Putin and his special agents allegedly hunting you down, Rodchenkov has been the lucky one so far.

Two former colleagues died in mysterious circumstances following the revelations of the fleeing Russian.

In Icarus Bryan Fogel met the murky world of Russian doping  Photo: @bannabaynard

Although ice hockey and hootball are not directly connected, they are inexplicably connected by Rodchenkov.

The former Russian lab director who now has taken asylum in the US, claimed he was ordered to apply the same kind of doping craft to all Russian sport.

Vitaliy Mutko, who was Russian sport minister during Sochi, was promoted to deputy prime minister after he and Putin were implicated by Rodchenkov.

Just a couple of weeks ago Rodchenkov told Associated Press: “Russian footballers were immune from doping-control actions or sanctions.”

He also told AP that while Mutko was president of the Russian Football Union he was ordered to provide “protection for Russian footballers.”

Rodchenkov claimed: “He [Mutko] told me directly to ‘avoid any scandal by hiding positive results’ and ‘doping would be handled internally,’ meaning that those doping irresponsibly or without protocols could be disciplined or reported.”

Give ’em enough dope

Rodchenkov moved to the US two years ago and the state-sponsored doping began to be uncovered in 2014. Yet, only in the past few months has FIFA reportedly attempted to gather evidence from his claims.

‘Two former colleagues of Rodchenkov died in mysterious circumstances’

Though Mutko was subsequently banned from the Olympics due to his involvement in Sochi, he is yet to face any footballing sanctions. With Mutko recently departing from his roles as head of Russia’s Football Federation and the World Cup organising committee, it will be interesting to see how FIFA responds.

There are 34 historical cases of doping identified by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which are said to include members of the 2014 Russian World Cup squad.

It has been a sluggish investigation by FIFA. You would have assumed that the federation, recently embroiled in corruption itself, would be making larger efforts to resolve such a situation.

Gianni Infantino and his media team tried to pre-empt criticism with a comment: “If there was a big issue regarding Russian players who would be doped, we would by now already know it.”

However from the evidence gathered, it appears many may have known for some time.

The chances of this being a deliberate delay could be high given the World Cup time-frame. Saudia Arabia kick off against the hosts at the beginning of June and any delay could be disastrous.

Timid response

FIFA responded to these allegations in a bizarre question and answer session in which they both asked and answered their own questions.

“There has not been any delay in our investigation,” stated FIFA. “Since the very first moment, FIFA has undertaken comprehensive action to determine whether football players were involved.

“We have been regularly informing and exchanging information with WADA about our progress and they have agreed to our approach. It is obviously in FIFA’s interest that the investigations are finalised as soon as possible.”

When asked about Infantino’s comment on Russian players, Rodchenkov told  Associated Press: “This is more burying heads in the sand.”

A slap on the wrist by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and a turbulent investigation from FIFA ahead; there is still yet to be a proper and effective response to all of Russia’s sporting misdemeanours.

@SlavaMalamud on Twitter for more on Russian Ice Hockey

Vladimir Putin posters photo by Antjeverena via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A united Ireland team? ‘It’s not going to happen anytime soon’

The luck of the Irish seemed to vanish this week for Ireland’s national football teams, north and south of the border.

Northern Ireland harshly missed out on a spot in the World Cup as a gallant second leg display in Basel wasn’t enough to overhaul Switzerland’s controversial 1-0 first-leg win at Windsor Park.

Irish Football Association flagRef Ovidiu Hategan gave the Swiss a penalty for handball, even though the ball clearly struck Corry Evans’ back, which Ricardo Rodriguez converted.

The Republic collapsed as a Christian Eriksen-inspired Denmark tore Martin O’Neil’s men apart in a 5-1 drubbing in Dublin.

Many may wonder what might have been, especially if the teams could have joined forces and took the best of both to push them over the line to qualification. 

It appears people in Ireland would be more than happy to see that happen. Research conducted by RTE’s Claire Byrne Show, with the help of Amarach Research, found that 73% of those surveyed would be in favour of a united all-Ireland team.

The survey asked 1,000 Irish adults, with only 18% objecting to it and 9% who were undecided.It’s not a new debate, it’s an age old one, with Sinn Fein – Northern Ireland’s second political party – calling it for it to happen only last year.

The two nations played as one under the Irish FA, based in Belfast, until 1921. Political turmoil at the time tore the two nations apart and set the path for the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) to base themselves in Dublin and govern football in the south.

Merge

Ex-Irish Post sports editor Jamie Casey says he would be in favour of the all-Ireland team. Born in Armagh just north of the border, Casey supports the Republic over the Ulstermen. As he puts it, it’s not for religious reasons, but because the country he identifies the most with is Ireland, not Northern Ireland.

But whilst he wants a united team, he believes it’s a long way off. ‘’I’m in favour of it, the problem is that it’s not going to happen anytime soon,’’ he says.

“The two governing bodies would have to become one and I can’t see either of the CEOs willing to give up their posts. There’s also the issue that their domestic leagues would have to merge before FIFA would agree to an all-Irish team, but I’m certainly on the side of yes.’’

‘’I’m in favour of it. The problem is that it’s not going to happen anytime soon’’

Casey, now editor of Bet.Unibet.co.uk, touches on an important point. The League of Ireland and the Northern Irish Football League Premiership would probably, as Jamie says, have to come together as one before Fifa would allow such a team to happen.

The problem is both leagues play at different times of the year. In Northern Ireland they play a traditional season from August to May, whereas south of the border they play a summer season from February to October.

That has allowed teams like Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers flourish and both have played in the Europa League. Both leagues have good teams with proud histories, such as the aforementioned teams and Linfield and Glentoran in Northern Ireland. Teams may be unwilling to give that up and that could be a stumbling block.

Swayed

But whilst Casey realises it could be a barrier, he believes it could well happen. ‘’Northern Ireland may well look at how well teams down south have done and look to adapt,’’ he said. ‘’The first step to a united team is to merge – be on a par with one another. It’s easy to get from Belfast to Dublin with the motorway, so I think it’s doable.’’

Football Association of Ireland crestDespite his support of the Republic being for non-religious and political reasons, he agrees that some players may have been put off playing for Northern Ireland.

Derry-born James McClean and Shane Duffy both play for the Republic instead of their native Northern Ireland. Casey believes they may have been swayed by their Catholic upbringing, but thinks that will change and that could lead to a united team.

‘’Duffy and McClean would have grown up where supporting Northern Ireland was a no go, because the generations above them tell them to support the Republic,’’ he says.

‘’The Northern Irish supporters groups had a lot of sectarian chants and loads of British stuff wherever they went. But they’ve worked hard to improve their image, are well behaved now and they’ve made it more appealing.

“For the kids now it’s no issue – and we may well see Catholics playing for Ulster. Northern Ireland will grow from it and such players will make them stronger, and that could lead to an Ireland team.’’

‘Hate-filled fools’?

In many sports Ireland play as one, including rugby where the team represents the four provinces of Ireland: Connacht, Ulster, Munster and Leinster, and so 1921’s political split played no problem.

They sing three national anthems: God Save The Queen for Ulster, Amhrán na bhFiann for the Republic and Ireland’s Call that was introduced in 2008 as an all-Irish song. ‘’The national anthems are a problem,’’ Casey concedes. ‘’Both are proud of their own, so whilst it would be good for the nation, it’s another hurdle.’’

In 2006 Irish journalist Paul Doyle claimed it wouldn’t happen because the Irish football fraternity were ‘hate filled fools’ – something that Casey rejects now. ‘’I don’t think it’s true anymore – the Euros proved that,’’ he said. ‘’At away games they always get a good reaction and are welcomed. It may have been true then, but Northern Ireland fans have a good reputation. They have celebrity fans like Rory McIlroy and Carl Frampton and that appeals to others.

‘’Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland fans drank together in France and were praised. The Republic supporters even sung ‘Stand up for the Ulstermen’ in respect of Green and White Army fan Darren Rodgers wh0 tragically died whilst out there. They’ve moved on from the hatred.’’

One major event that may lead to an all-Ireland team was last year’s EU referendum, when the UK voted to leave the European Union. But 56% of those living in Northern Ireland wanted to stay. There has since been renewed talk of Ireland becoming one nation again.

‘’Another referendum in Northern Ireland isn’t out of the question,’’ he said. ‘’There’s been a surge in Irish passport applications since then, and it’s put people more in touch of their Irish heritage. That obviously helps the case.

‘’But it’s a long way off and there are many obstacles in the way. Both nations have to be in favour of an all Ireland and it’s going to be well over 10 years before anything happens at all. It’ll be very political, and I don’t think it will happen.’’

Banter

Both teams have tasted their own successes. Whether it be Jack Charlton’s Ireland team in the early 1990s, or Michael O’Neill’s Northern Irish side that reached Euro 2016. Their pride could have a factor, too.

Our Wee Country banner‘’Northern Ireland fans are passionate about their ‘wee country’. They made a name for themselves at the Euros, and the Republic did great, too. Both sides won’t want to undo their hard work,” Casey added.

It’s clear it’s going to take a long time. Whether it’s political, league situations, logistics or both countries proud stances. Either way both are hurting now, having missed on on a place in Russia. But, as Casey says, at least there’s some banter between the two at the moment.

‘’There’s a healthy debate to which side is better,’’ he jokes. ‘’Northern Ireland had a great qualifying campaign and were unfortunate. Republic squeezed through. It was there’s to take and they only really performed in Wales. Ulster were great, the Republic fans probably knew it was coming.

‘’There’s some banter about the better side – Northern Ireland are probably the better team right now!’’

Fifa blocking ‘political’ poppies is madness

By a quirk of the fixture list, Armistice Day on Friday, November 11th, sees England host Scotland in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley. 

Two British national teams who, of course, will want to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Traditionally, Remembrance Sunday weekend sees football clubs across the UK, their, fans, players and staff, coming together to show their respects.

Fifa, however, would rather England and Scotland didn’t make too much fuss when they renew international football’s oldest rivalry.

“Nothing is more powerful than the yearly tribute shown by thousands of people grouped together at a football match”

Football’s world governing body has remained defiant on refusing permission for poppies to be worn on players’ shirts, with president Gianni Infantino describing it as  “political” gesture.

Rare chance

For as long as I can remember, wearing the poppy has been something we can be proud of, and supporting one of the worthiest causes out there each year is something us football fans look forward to.

Nothing is more powerful than the annual tribute of a minute’s silence at stadia up and down the country.

“The Three Lions’ clash with Scotland for many has been seen as a rare chance to unite in tribute to the war dead at a home international.”

So for Fifa to step in and tell the Football Association and Scottish FA that their players cannot mark the anniversary of WWI ending – especially in a fixture between two of the home nations – is ludicrous.

The Three Lions’ clash with Scotland for many has been seen as a rare chance to unite in tribute to the war dead at a home international.

Personally, I don’t see how a poppy has any political, religious or commercial connotations? It’s a charity, a worthy cause and a mark of respect to those men and women who’ve passed away fighting for their country.

It about casualties from all sides, so really it shouldn’t be upsetting anybody. I can understand Fifa’s stance on political statements but this simply isn’t the case here.

Blocked

You would’ve thought a bit of common sense and flexibility on the part of Fifa would allow the wearing of poppies. But then again this is an organisation that’s notoriously inflexible.

poppy armbands
In 2011, Fifa allowed England to wear poppy armbands in a friendly against Spain

Not to mention corrupt. With all the bad press Fifa has had in recent years, you’d think it would be keen to win friends, not antagonise two of its oldest members.

Both Wales and Northern Ireland have also been blocked from allowing their players to wear poppies on their kits against Serbia and Azerbaijan respectively.

If England go ahead and flout the ban, the FA would likely face a fine but other sanctions could also be in store, with a points deduction possible.

However the FA have been urged to take Fifa on over the issue by Falklands veteran Simon Weston.

Tributes

Speaking to The Sun newspaper, he told the FA and SFA to “swallow any potential fine” rather than sacrifice the commemoration.

The 55-year old said: “The FAs of both ­Scotland and England should stand up and be counted.

“Both those countries took part in both World Wars and should take the lead. They should pay any fine Fifa give them. This is not a political gesture.”

The FA is currently in talks with Fifa over how they can add their own tributes to the day, which will see commemorations across Britain.The FA’s statement

Support

An FA statement read: “We are working closely with the Royal British Legion once again this year to honour and remember the sacrifices made by those serving in the armed forces.

theo walcott boots
Theo Walcott dons a poppy on his boots in 2011

“In recent weeks, the FA has led Remembrance discussions with Fifa to allow the England team to show its support for the poppy appeal during the World Cup qualifier with Scotland.”

Previously, in 2011, Fifa eventually backed down after threatening to ban the England team from wearing poppies in a friendly against Spain, allowing them to display the symbol on black armbands.

Many players wore the poppy on their boots to show their support.

David Cameron, prime minister at the time, also wrote to Fifa to urge the governing body to reconsider its stance. Hopefully, Theresa May will follow suit.

The British Legion’s red poppy has become a powerful symbol to remember servicemen and women killed in conflict.

In light of many negative opinions of the governing body in recent years, letting our national sides pay their respects is the least Infantino could do.

Tarnished lustre of the Ballon d’Or

The usual names adorn this year’s Ballon d’Or shortlist.

A salad of supremely gifted attacking players from Europe’s top leagues, with regulars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in contention.

The ceremony is on January 9th, but can anybody really say that they are looking forward to it?

Every year, the event receives a big billing from pundits, players and fans. It almost seems like an excuse to glamorise and draw even more attention to the sport. Attention which, by and large, doesn’t focus on the collective beauty of football, but rather on its individualistic and commercial value.

“Behind every significant footballer is a web of capitalist structures, from PR spokespeople to advertising companies”

Arsene Wenger rightly condemned the accolade last year for its tendency to “encourage selfishness”.

The award unashamedly prides itself on earmarking individual excellence. It appears to ignore the sport’s intrinsic collective spirit. The Ballon d’Or demands that great players think solely about themselves, their achievements and how they improve a team, rather than how their talent is extracted and nourished by team-mates.

This development is depressingly symbolic of contemporary western society. Thanks to neo-liberal capitalism and the withering away of our formerly Christian values, the emergence of ‘selfism’ has been ushered in to replace historical collectivist preferences.

This societal change is reflected in the continuing prominence of the Ballon d’Or. Football has not been able, or sought, to shelter itself from these changes.

Capitalist structures

Take the ever-growing commercialisation of sport. How fervent do we imagine Puma, Nike or Adidas’s interests are in the shortlisting and eventual winner of the Ballon d’Or?

When Adidas awarded Messi with the Golden Ball at the last World Cup, he looked like he had been handed a dead baby. He knew he didn’t deserve the honour, but Adidas were very keen on their baby soaking up the plaudits. The merit was shared between the player and the brand.

“The Ballon dOr is also consistent in its disregard for certain kinds of players”

Behind every significant footballer is a web of capitalist structures, from PR spokespeople to advertising companies.

The appeal radiated by the Ballon dOr, therefore, is now shared by the corporate visionaries who help to promote and brand ‘world footballers’.

This cannot be considered a healthy presentation of our sport.

Sure, the world of promotion hasn’t escaped team structures either: the major clubs receive huge financial incentives to display sponsors on their shirts and stadia. But at least it’s a celebration of team, unity and partnership, rather than a spotlight on an individual.

Disproportionate acclaim

The Ballon dOr is also consistent in its disregard for certain kinds of players.

Players of bloated goal tallies or attacking flair – as opposed to dominating centrebacks and title-winning goalkeepers – are in receipt of disproportionate acclaim.

“The household names will be back once more, posturing in their finery and bathing themselves in glory”

This should make football fans think about why the defensive side of the game, or the art of not scoring, is so often overlooked and underappreciated.

In the history of the Ballon dOr, only three winners were defenders: Franz Beckenbauer in both 1972 and 1976, Mathias Sammer in 1996 and Fabio Cannavaro ten years later, after leading Italy to World Cup glory.

The story of goalkeepers is even more dire. Only Lev Yashin, a Soviet great, managed to win the Ballon d’Or (back in 1963) from between the sticks, and we seem a long way from presenting the award to a goalkeeper once more.

Bias

It is easy to associate the goalscorers and headline-grabbers as being the game’s greats, but too often we overlook those who do the dirty work.

The holding players, the ferocious fullbacks and centrebacks who lead both on and off the pitch are worthy of mention. The Ballon dOr, though, isn’t so interested in them.

Perhaps those at the heart of selection and nomination have an ideological bias that they cannot seem to work past, or perhaps the art of defending has indeed been forgotten.

Either way, the Ballon dOr will return to our screens in just a couple of months’ time.

The household names will be back once more, posturing in their finery and bathing themselves in glory that cannot be attributed entirely to them.

How anybody can stomach it is beyond me.

Feature image courtesy of Carlos Torres via Flikr Creative Commons.