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Interesting times ahead

Unprecedented test for FIFA These must be truly interesting times for world football. The world governing football body, FIFA, is neck deep in the unfolding…

Unprecedented test for FIFA

These must be truly interesting times for world football. The world governing football body, FIFA, is neck deep in the unfolding drama in the World Cup. With each passing day and almost each match the international body has had to deal with very delicate technical and political issues that could have grave implications for the game.

There is the issue of the Jabulani, the ball that has drawn varied reactions from footballers, particularly goalkeepers. So far, particularly during the early part of the on-going championship, it has been a nightmare for goalkeepers. They complain that it is too light and that it bends and swerves through the air when struck hard from a distance.  The logical question is:  why introduce a new type of ball for every World Cup when there is nothing wrong with the previous ball that players have been used to? Of course, the answer is simple: it is all about business. Sports manufacturers like Adidas and Nike pay huge sums of money to FIFA to be a major sponsor of the greatest and most followed sports event in the world. The marketing opportunities for the products of such a sponsor is monumental to say the least, and every opportunity is exploited for maximum returns on investment. Thats why the Jabulani was designed, approved by FIFA and introduced shortly before the 2010 World Cup. For the next four years it will be the ball of choice for football all over the world! Between FIFA and the manufacturers the gains will be monumental. No matter what, therefore, the Jabulani has come to stay!   

There is the second issue of technology and refereeing. Should FIFA introduce technology in deciding balls that have crossed the goal line, or even players that stray into offside positions during crucial matches? The argument for its introduction has been reinforced by several incidents that have taken place during recent matches, several of which have determined the eventual fate of teams. So grave have been the consequences of such decisions by referees that the FIFA President, Mr. Sepp Blatter, has had to apologise to the world for all the poor and wrong decisions of the referees, and has promised that FIFA would re-visit the issue of the use of some kind of technology in the future.

A third issue is the use of the Vuvuzela, the noise-making blow pipe that has enlivened as well as irritated spectators during matches here.  So loud is the instrument that it has rendered impotent the singing choruses of supporters during matches that inspire teams to greater performance.

Another matter is that of Nigeria’s withdrawal from all international football competitions for two years to enable the country reorganise its football organisation following the poor showing of the Super Eagles and the greater need to align the people’s aspirations with their teams achievements. administration.  How will FIFA deal with such an issue? It is definitely not a  case of interference. It is the right of any sovereign nation to participate or not in a any competition. To declare that there is interference a case must be established. In examining the matter of interference and in reading through the documents at my disposal, I discover a very interesting slant to it all. I shall present my thoughts to FIFA at an appropriate time soon.  But here is a brief to wet the appetite.

Government cannot interfere in what it owns and funds

Let me quote from a document of FIFA to the Nigeria Football Federation in November 2009:  ‘According to the FIFA Statutes, the NFF is obliged to manage its affairs independently and ensure that its own affairs are not influenced by any third parties’.

On the surface this is a very simple and very clear directive. The NFF, is a public organisation of an associative nature involving a collection of clubs and other members, all involved in the activities of association football. In several countries around the world that directive is easy to follow. In America for example private football clubs, owned by various persons, communities or organisations come together to form a national football association or federation. Government has no business with them as their ownership and funding are entirely private sector. There are no third parties in these developed cultures, like their governments, that influence or interfere in their activities.

Nigeria – a case study for FIFA

What about the case of Nigeria, most African countries and, indeed, some other third world countries outside Africa? These countries do not belong to the First World. They are also not communist. Their economies are in the developing category. Their economies are largely driven by their governments. In Nigeria, potentially the richest of the developing countries in the world, the biggest industry is still government and football development is in the country’s social activity agenda, funded exclusively and almost entirely by government. The reality is that the level of economic activity and development in the country makes it difficult and almost impossible, for now, for football development to be driven by the private sector. In most of the 36 States of the country only Lagos, Rivers and Delta have any potential for sustaining their football programmes outside the funding of government. So, whereas Nigeria is neither a First World country nor a communist country, it lies somewhere in between with funding mostly provided by government and a sprinkling of support from the private sector. Its relationship, therefore, with FIFA must be unique, based on a basic understanding of their peculiar situation.  FIFA understands this perfectly and has applied this without creating a special clause for it in its statutes.

FIFA must face this reality in the light of developments in Africa that may spiral into crisis if not handled with care.

Almost all clubs in Nigeria are owned by local government or State governments or their agencies. Although many are incorporated as limited liability companies their ownership is still government. Their funding comes from government. As result, State Football Associations are headed by government-appointed/elected chairmen.  These football associations constitute the single largest constituency in the country’s membership of the Nigeria Football Federation. As a result every Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association/Federation since Independence has been an appointee of government. The outgoing President of the Federation is a director  in the Federal Capital Territory, a pure civil servant. All the members of the executive committee of the NFF are appointees of the State governments whose chairmanship they head.

The Federation itself is given life of existence by an Act of the National Assembly as a B category parastatal of the Federal Government with annual budgetary allocations that take care of its running and expenses for competitions and other activities. It also generates revenue from sponsorship but this is only a compliment of the primary funder.

In practical terms, government is the primary party in Nigerian football. It cannot therefore be referred to as a third party! When it gets involved in activities of the national federation therefore it should not be considered as a third-party influence. What this means is that FIFA’s principle of independence and interference must be given a different interpretation and understanding in the case of several African countries.  

Africa must take a cue from the Ghana

In the weeks to come we shall be critically examining what went wrong with African teams particularly in the wake of expectations that this would be their World Cup and that possibly one of them will win it. For now though we can take it that the vision to take African football to the zenith of world football is hampered and limited by the present strategy that sets out only to discover talented players and to send them to clubs in Europe, the home front completely forgotten and neglected. So far, although it has impacted significantly and has advanced African football up to a point, the effect of this strategy is that football development generated that way has reached a plateau as revealed by the experience in South Africa when all but one of the six African representatives have been knocked out in the first round.

No African team should expect to win the World Cup if this strategy as adopted is maintained without recourse to what happens in the domestic game. A home development strategy must also be in place to ensure a more solid foundation with the subsequent exportation abroad serving only as a compliment to polish the raw material. The domestic strategy will ensure better technical, psychological and tactical development of the African player before they leave home. There must be established a very good programme that will ensure a  continuos process of production of players of quality. In short, domestic football should be better structured to become, as is done in Brazil and Argentina, a continuous breeding ground for gifted footballers. That is what has given these countries the edge. Ghana has shown the way once again.

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