Tag Archives: 2018 World Cup

Why international football is becoming a nuisance

This is a fortnight where the most boring event of the football season takes place the international break. The two words “international” and “break” are the most depressing combination of words – apart from “Donald” and “Trump” and “Vince” and “Russo” – that the English language can produce. The Premier League season has just got started we’re getting used to the new players and managers we’ve had the Champions League draw – and no we go to sleep for a fortnight. International breaks are so boring. And I’ve got a plan to get rid of them and I’ll get to that later.

If the boredom that the international break was the only problem international football causes that would be bad enough. But it is now causing another abomination that started last night. Namely the  Checkatrade Trophy (what a terrible name!). But that is not the Trophy’s only problem. The competition used to be for League 1 and 2 (3rd and 4th tier) clubs and gave them their most realistic chance of a Wembley Cup Final appearance*. The Football League (FL) in their infinite (lack of) wisdom decided to include Academy teams of Premier League (PL) clubs. But the plan has not gone well to put it mildly. First of all Liverpool, Arsenal,the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham wanted nothing to do with it meaning that Academies from Championship (second tier) sides were put in to make up the numbers. Secondly the fans of lower division clubs did not approve of the idea (to put it mildly). Last night the hashtag B team Boycott was trending on Twitter and attendances were tiny – 392 at Fleetwood, 461 at Wimbledon and 585 at Accrington for example. And to show how seriously clubs took it Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth – who is aged 43 and retired three years ago – named himself as substitute for his club’s game against Northampton and came on. Exeter manager Paul Tisdale named himself as an unused substitute and three teams had 15 year olds in their squads one of whom – Luton – had to ask permission of Connor Tomlinson’s headmaster to let him play (in my opinion the headmaster should have refused. As I wrote in a previous post “Hey football! Leave Them Kids Alone!” 15 year olds should not be at professional clubs anyway).

So if the fans don’t want this tournament in this format and the clubs are so disinterested they are filling their squads with 43 year old managers and schoolchildren why on earth does it exist in its current form? This is where international football is to blame. The practice of top division Academy/B teams has been borrowed from Spain where B teams of top division clubs play in the lower divisions. They can go as far as the second tier but cannot be promoted to the top division even if they finish in the promotion spots (which Atletico Madrid’s B team did in 1998-99). Now because Spain won three international trophies in a row between 2008 and 2012 the English authorities have got into their heads that Spain are doing something right so they want to copy Spain thinking it will improve the England team. Conveniently forgetting that before 2008 Spain had won nothing for 44 years and even botched their own World Cup in 1982. Secondly the authorities don’t realise that most football fans -at whatever level of the game – prefer their own clubs to the national team. I don’t think fans should be forced to see their team play Premier League Academy teams or go through yawn inducing breaks or lose their top players just to prop up a form of the game that is inferior to club football-as Euro 2016 proved – and is discriminatory because your chances of winning at international level depends on a lottery of birth which is not fair.

In my ideal world men’s international football would cease to exist. But since we are not in an ideal world we should allow the clubs to play on Saturday, the national team on Wednesday and the clubs on the next Saturday. And there is an easy solution. The European qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup consists of nine six team groups. The group winners qualify while the eight best runners up go into four playoffs for four more places. Why not have thirteen groups of four teams with the winners qualifying?  It would mean countries playing six qualifiers instead of ten (or twelve in the case of play offs.) It would simplify the qualifying process as only group winners would qualify. With fewer games then you could play them midweek or in the summer – as was done in Britain until the Qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup – you could get rid of yawn inducing international breaks. 

Getting rid of the Checkatrade Trophy in its current form and the international break might not please the FA and FIFA – who have a vested interest in international football as it maintains their power – but most football fans prefer club football and they should not have to put up with the Checkatrade Trophy in its current form or boring international breaks on the (unlikely) chance it helps a team they don’t give a toss about be able to beat Iceland in a last sixteen game in a future international tournament. 

*However fourth teir team Bradford City did get to the League Cup Final in 2013. 

**Originally there were seven groups of six and two groups of five but Gibraltar and Kosovo were added to the tournament after the draw was made. Ludicrous. They joined FIFA too late and should not be allowed to take part – especially Gibraltar which is not even an independent country and will only get hammered anyway.

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Serena Williams and the punishment of victims

It is not every day that an elite sports person returns to an annual event after a 14 year absence. So unsurprisingly the return of World Number 1 Serena Williams to Indian Wells for the first time since 2001 is a big story.

The background is this. At the 2001 event Serena’s sister Venus defeated Elena Dementieva of Russia to set up a Semi-Final with Serena. After the match Dementieva  was asked who she thought would win the match between the sisters. She said “I think Richard (the sisters’ father) will decide who’s going to win tomorrow”.  I’ve mentioned Dementieva’s remark as I think it had a big part in what happened next.

As it turned out the semi-final never took place as Venus pulled out with a knee injury. The trouble was that the tournament only announced it to the crowd minutes before the match was due to start – although the family said they had told officials hours before. The crowd understandably did not like this and rumours suggested they did not want to play each other. It has to be remembered that at the time the press were claiming the sisters’ matches were fixed (which is where Dementieva’s remark comes into the story).

But there was no excuse for what happened next. When Serena came out for the Final against Kim Clijsters she and her father were greeted by a chorus of boos. In fact during the match fans cheered Serena’s errors. her father responded by raising a clenched fist – the black power symbol – and saying it was “the worst act of prejudice I’ve seen since they killed Marin Luther King”. That might have been taking it too far but the behaviour was racist. How often does an American get booed when playing a foreigner? To show how it affected Serena a chapter in her autobiography was called “the Fiery Darts of Indian Wells” and in it she wrote:

The ugliness was raining down on me hard. I didn’t know what to do. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before…But I looked up and all I could see was a sea of rich people – mostly older, mostly white – standing and booing lustily like some kind of genteel lynch mob.

Neither Serena or Venus have played Indian Wells since until Serena’s come back this year (Venus is still boycotting the  event ).

But the point I want to make is that no one got punished for this shameful episode. The spectators were not nor was the tournament or Dementieva for her remarks which sparked the whole thing off. The only people that were punished were the victims. In 2009 Indian Wells became a Premier Mandatory event on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour. That means a player has to take part. If she does not it still counts towards her ranking and she gets zero points. So in effect the Williams’ sisters boycott has hindered their ranking. The WTA should be ashamed of themselves for punishing the victims of racism. Whoever came up with the idea of making Indian Wells a Premier Mandatory event should be sacked if they are still in the WTA’s employ. I suspect whoever that person is it is highly likely it is a male and I would be 99 per cent certain the person was white.

Sadly this is not the only example of the punishment of victims in sport. In Russia the chairman of their FAs disciplinary committee Arthur Grigoyants has banned black players who react to racist abuse by gesturing to the racists. He has even said that if they do that they are “so-called, in inverted commas, victims”. Which only proves that Russia is a so called, in inverted commas, civilised country that shouldn’t be hosting an egg and spoon race never mind the 2018 football World Cup.

Not that we in the UK can gloat. When footballer Anton Ferdinand was a victim of racist abuse by John Terry a lot of people attacked him for refusing to shake Terry’s hand before the next game his team played against Terry’s team. Why should he if he didn’t want to? Surely each victim should be able to respond in the way they want and the rules of arrogant sport be forced to accommodate the victim’s wishes. I suspect most people who wanted him to shake Terry’s hand were white.

The point is that we white men have no right to comment on the actions of victims of racism and sexism because we have no experience of racism and sexism ourselves. We do not know what it is like to be called “nigger” and have bananas thrown at us. We do not know what it is like to be shouted at whistled at or groped in the streets like a lot of women do. So how are we qualified to comment on the reaction of the victims themselves? We aren’t. Some can forgive. Some can forget. Some can forgive but not forget. And some can do neither. It is their right.

So it is not our business to comment on Serena’s decision to return to Indian Wells. We must respect both her decision to return to the event and the fact she has chosen to boycott in the past. We must also respect Venus’ decision to continue her boycott. And we MUST not punish the vicitms of discrimination for their reaction. Only the victims of discrimination know what it feels like. Only the victims of discrimination know what its like to suffer. We must respect their wishes.

FIFA is so arrogant it even ignores its own rules

We all know FIFA is racist, sexist, homophobic, arrogant and has contempt for the law. It is a bit of a shock to discover they don’t even have respect for their own rules but a new story confirms this.
The excellent British magazine World Soccer (although judging by its content it should be called World Men’sSoccer but that is a different story)has an interesting article in its September issue (pages 36-38) that shows UEFA and FIFA are ignoring their own rules. it will surprise no one to learn it is to do with the 2018 World Cup hosts Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Earlier this year Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution upholding the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea, and that Russia’s annexation “has no validity”. This did not have anything to do with football until July when three Crimean teams were moved from the Ukrainian League and entered into the Russian League instead. The three teams were from Simferopol, Sevastopol and Yalta. The point being that UEFA rules do not allow teams from one country to play in another country’s League at all, while FIFA rules allow it if both the FAs agree* – which considering Ukraine (and the UN) consider Crimea as still part of Ukraine is not going to happen. The punishment for breaking this rule should be suspension of the federation concerned. In other words Russia should be thrown out of the Euro 2016 qualifiers and Russian clubs should be banned from the Champions League and the Europa League. Russia should even be threatened with losing the right to host the 2018 World Cup.
So what tough punishment have Russia been hit with for stealing three of another country’s football teams? None. Zilch. Sweet FA. UEFA say they will wait until they get advice from the UN. But the UN resolution on Crimea (see above) shows their point of view. FIFA won’t do anything until UEFA does. A cynic might say the football authorities want to cosy up to Putin rather than move the 2018 World Cup to a democracy. FIFA general secretary Jerone Valcke gave himself away by saying “less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup”. As for UEFA the fact that the Champions League is sponsored by a Russian gas giant – Gazprom – has nothing to do with them not wanting Russian clubs banned from the Champions League. And if you believe that you believe in the tooth fairy.
All this proves is that until governments force football to obey the law FIFA – and football – will do what it wants. Its one thing getting an exemption from a law you don’t like – like the UK’s 1975 Sex Discrimination Act – it is quite another to ignore your own rules to suit one country while expecting everyone else to obey them. In my opinion the English FA – and every FA in the world – should just ignore any FIFA rule they don’t like. After all if FIFA let Russia off they need to let every one else off. But that is what dictators do – and Sepp Blatter is one – they change the rules to suit themselves. The governments of the world must order their FAs to leave FIFA – thus consigning Blatter’s arrogant two-faced dictatorship – that doesn’t even enforce its own laws – into oblivion.
*Which is how Cardiff City and Swansea City – both Welsh clubs – can play in the English League to quote one example.