The exciting world of Football

In the recent past accusations have again surfaced about corruption in the hallowed halls of FIFA, the world governing body for Football. While many have had much to say thus far on the issue the reality is that it should come as no surprise to any of us. Football has really had a chequered and colourful developmental pathway and there is little chance of any of this changing in the near future.

The Havelange era
During the reign of Joao Havelange as President of FIFA there was already much talk of corruption. One author penned a book that highlighted five leaders of international sports organisations whom he deemed less than admirable in the way in which they conducted the business of their respective sports. Some seem to think that this is what prompted the publication of a book that featured the work of Juan Antonio Samaranch, then President of the International Olympic Committee.
FIFA experienced some measure of difficulty as well when it appeared as though Havelange may well have wanted to stay on as FIFA President for life. He nonetheless managed to weather the storm of accusations about FIFA during his tenure.
Blatter’s punch
Sepp Blatter was a long serving General Secretary of FIFA before rising to the top sport, replacing his former boss, Havelange. Having served as the General Secretary under Havelange some seemed to think that he may well have been tainted with the same accusations levelled at the organisation at the time.
The elections campaign for the presidency had its own challenges with Isaac Hayatou of Cameroun mounting what many thought was a serious challenge. At the time the leader of European Football may well have wanted to see the back of Blatter and end what some thought was an era to be forgotten.
Hoping to garner at least the African vote and that of African descendants across the sea in the Caribbean, Hayatou mounted his challenge only to find that he was virtually abandoned in his quest for leadership of the world’s most powerful sporting body after the IOC.
It was not just the defeat of Hayatou that was disturbing. Most disturbing was the way in which the voting went. Many raised concerns about the seeming abandonment of one of their own by the African federations, to say nothing of the Caribbean grouping.
Money like water
Blatter’s strategy of providing $1m USD every four years between World Cups ushered in a new phase in the way FIFA does business and may well have cemented his hold on the leadership of the organisation.
For many of the Football Federations in the Caribbean the annual FIFA grant of $250,000 USD meant that they were receiving more money than they had ever seen in their existence. Some simply did not know what to do and expended it without due respect for the rudiments of accountability. Some Caribbean federations quickly ran afoul of FIFA. Here at home when Leacock was voted into office there were major challenges in providing FIFA with appropriate accounts for the monies received and expended by the previous administration.
Blatter has also been credited with introducing the ‘Goal Project’. This allows each member federation to determine what major infrastructural project it would undertake. Of course the project must first gain FIFA approval.
Some suggest that in this the year of elections in FIFA there may well be other forms of assistance on offer.
However one must admit that even as the money has been flowing to member federations the number of competitions in which each must become involved has also significantly increased leaving federations under tremendous pressure to find adequate resources to satisfy their commitments in any given year.
World Cup bids & more
In the Blatter era concerns were raised about the way in which World Cups were offered.
The ease with which South Africa got the right to host the Football World Cup 2010 raised many eyebrows in the sport’s fraternity. Some may have been asking themselves whether this was a form of payback for something in the past. Many questions remain unanswered to this day.
The more recent decision to allocate the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar respectively has left the international sports media buffs having a field day across the globe. Russia won from co-bidders, Spain-Portugal and Holland-Belgium and England, while for its part Qatar emerged ahead of South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States.
Lord Triesman of England has been very vocal and has levelled accusations against four FIFA officials that has sparked intense controversy within the Football fraternity. He has offered to make all pertinent information available to FIFA.
Last year FIFA had to take action against two of its executive members leaving the organisation as badly tattered as had occurred with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the time of the Salt Lake City scandal.
Blatter, for his part, has been quick to inform the world that he has been working to clean up FIFA. One wonders whether that is a form of tacit acknowledgement that all is certainly not well within the organisation.
Precisely what so ails the organisation that Blatter finds himself having to make this kind of response to Triesman’s accusations must send shock waves across the international sporting community.
Of course many would wish Blatter to be more specific and also require that he indicate what measures he is prepared to put in place to return the organisation to the public’s confidence.
The immense revenue to be derived from hosting the FIFA World Cup is deemed by many to be enough to warrant pursuing any course of action necessary to guarantee winning the bid. This, more than anything else is the critical issue – how much are countries willing to undertake to win the bid.
Many are concerned, albeit after the fact, that Qatar may be too hot to have the World Cup in the summer months as is the norm.
It is nonetheless rather interesting that an international federation would, given the current global financial situation allocate the World Cup to a country that would have to build some 20 new stadia to meet the requirements of FIFA. It matters not that they may later donate them to countries in need across the world.
The local scenario
Football in St Vincent and the Grenadines has not been without its challenges. Always embroiled in one form of politics or another the sport has nonetheless remained at the top of local sports with the largest participation and following by a very long way.
Pre 1992
In the years preceding the preparations for the FIFA World Cup of 1994 Football in St Vincent and the Grenadine shad already peaked in the period 1979-81. The country had always been blessed with immense sporting talent, inclusive of Football and hence the success of the team in the Caribbean Football Union’s competition came as no surprise. There was just so many outstanding players on the national team at the same time that the historic defeat of Surinam in their own backyard sent ripples across the Caribbean and indeed the world of Football. St Vincent and the Grenadines’ remarkable achievement had lifted the global sporting image of this small nation. Size was no longer to be perceived as an issue determining the sporting spirit and capacity of a people.
Interestingly, much credit was at the time given to the management of the sport of Football in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The politics of sport being what it is the country’s fortunes in the sport wavered for some time especially since the Football Federation was unable to convince FIFA that it had met the requirements of membership of this institution until the late 1980s. When membership came there was an outpouring of support from players, former and current at the time to such an extent that we witnessed the return and inclusion on the national team of individuals who were outstanding in the past and still capable as well as others who had long since passed their prime.
The team that engage din this country’s first participation in World Cup Preliminaries nonetheless got past the first round under the presidency of Basil ‘Bung’ Cato, renowned for his characteristic chant – Soccer! The game of the people!
The team easily got past the first round but stuttered badly in the second and is perhaps unfortunately remembered for the routing received at the hands of Mexico in the high altitude of Mexico City in high daytime – 11 – 0.
The team did not make it past the second round.
Post 1992
In the post 1992 period the Vincentian team continued to get past the first round of the FIFA World Cup Preliminaries. One team even finished second in the Caribbean Nations Cup in the Cayman Islands, in the process qualifying for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the USA.
Considerable effort was put into developing the game at the senior and junior level in St Vincent and the Grenadines. One coach after another has been installed and contract terminated with some measure of frequency and without the public ever being brought into the confidence of the sport’s leadership in this regard.
Today there is evidence of declining interest in Football by spectators who are always an important guide to the state of the sport.
The recent employment of a full-time Executive Office in Ian Hypolite may well take some time to impact the overall development of the sport in this country.
The revamping of the Schools Games Committee by the Ministry of Education now facilitates the local federation’s at the leadership of the planning and implementation of a programme at the school level to complement the broader community-based Grassroots Programme. The challenge is to ensure that the quality of the game at the Primary and Secondary school levels is significantly improved.
Additionally the Goal Project has started and one would hope that this is adequately matched by marked advances in the struggle to institute a club structure in the sport in the nation. Failure to achieve this simultaneously would leave the infrastructural development as much of a white elephant as the expanded Arnos Vale facility – a legacy of Cricket World Cup 2007.
The world of Football has never really been a quiet one where things fall neatly into place. Instead it has always been filled with intrigue and challenges.
The leadership here at home must find ways of evading the dangerous ground of corruption, graft and politics if it is to service the needs of the nation’s youth.