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Saturday, June 27, 2015

2015 NATWEST ISLAND GAMES - FALKLAND ISLANDS: REALISTIC BUT HOPEFUL

The Falkland Islands are one of the most far-flung members of the Island Games Association, situated some 8000 miles from the association's base in the Isle of Man, but it doesn't stop the archipelago sending a team to every tournament, something they have been doing since 1991, and they have undertaken yet another arduous journey of around a day's duration, following a day's delay, to reach Jersey in order to participate in this year's competition, which begins tomorrow (28/06/15).

Being so isolated from most of the rest of the world, and with Argentina basically refusing to have anything to do with the islands and their people because of the country's claim to the islands, leading to much ado and expense whenever Falklanders wish to venture abroad, the Island Games tournament is the only competitive outlet for the nation's footballers. A team representing the Falklands first competed in the Island Games in 2001, and since then have been ever-present (apart from the 2007 tournament), and achieved their first-ever victory in 2005 when they defeated Saaremaa (Estonia) in the Shetlands by 2 goals to 1.

Football has been played on the islands for a lot longer than the casual observer would think; records show that the game was first played there towards the end of the 19th Century, and Stanley FC, the only club currently operating in the Falklands, was founded back in 1916. For most of the time since then, Stanley FC, which now - to some extent, at least - doubles as the Falkland Islands national side, has only played friendlies against soldiers stationed on the islands, Royal Navy teams or teams representing other visiting vessels.

The islands did have a fully-functioning league system, together with a cup competition, for a number of years until 2013 when it ceased due to the only pitch in Stanley being deemed unfit for purpose (Chandlery FC won the championship in 2012-13, the last season in which it was played). Progress as far as football in the Falkland Islands is concerned has also been hampered due to the increase in popularity of various other sports, such as cricket. 

Not only that, but the fact that the Falkland Islands Football League is not a member of any international organisation limits the opportunities footballers from the islands get to play against international opposition. This differs from the experience of the islands' cricketers; the Falkland Islands Cricket Association have been an affiliate member of ICC Americas since 2007 and have been competing in the ICC Americas Championship since 2010.

That isn't to say that the FIFL has been moribund over the last couple of years; not a bit of it. They have been busy holding 7-a-side league and cup competitions, with the FIDF (Falkland Islands Defence Force) coming out on top in the league, which began in November last year andfinished in early February, on goal difference from Malvina. Sealed PR finished third, whilst Falkland Holidays finished the season with the wooden spoon. 

In the cup competition, Malvina, who had defeated Sealed PR over two legs in the semi-final, got their revenge on FIDF (who received a walkover after Falkland Holidays withdrew), beating them 3:2 in the final, which was held on 13/03/15.

The FIFL have also been keeping a close eye on the younger generation of Falkland Islanders, holding training sessions and also sending a contingent of under-12 players last November to the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas to compete in a Unifying Continents at the South of the World Cup tournament. Two teams competed on behalf of the islands and, although neither won the tournament, both teams performed well, giving the FIFL hope for the future and something to work with now.

Back to the present now, and Michael Betts, former chairman of the FIFL and current player/coach of the Falkland Islands team who will be competing in Jersey, explained the current situation on the islands at length.

"I think football in the islands is at a crossroads.  It is still the most popular sport in the islands, but it is competing with more and more sports in the islands, which have less requirements for time, resources, equipment, facilities and still offer international competitions.  

"The Football Club is trying to become more strategic and involved in football at all levels and ages in the islands.  In the past we neglected players from the ages of 4-16 and this has had a big knock-on effect with the senior team as most are now over the age of 30.  We are addressing this issue and the under-12s' trip to Chile is the start of trying to look to the future.  We intend to have a trip to Chile every 2 years.

"Our next issue is coaching and equipment.  In the past we relied on volunteers trying their best with whatever equipment we had.  Now we are aiming to send those volunteers away to get their coaching badges and we are looking to have closer ties with the English FA and with the Falkland Islands Government to see if we can benefit from more support.  We are still in the early stages, but we are optimistic we can develop official relationships.

"However, no matter what we do with the above, the largest barrier in the islands that prevents us from developing football is the lack of adequate facilities.  We have a pitch that is maintained on a tiny budget and a small indoor sports hall that leaks when it rains.  Both are not equipped to handle the demands of football in the islands and it is stifling the sport’s development.  I am on a working group that involves Government and the Falkland Islands Overseas Games Association which is tasked into investigating how to best develop an all-weather artificial turf sports field.  I believe this is the solution, but the Football Club needs to ensure that the dimensions and turf type and length are what football needs.

"Overall all though, the future is bright but we are working to make sure football can develop to its full potential.  Especially with the number of kids coming through now.  In 5-10 years’ time, we will have a very exciting team."

For now, though, Betts and his team are concentrating on the forthcoming NatWest Island Games tournament, and they face some stiff competition against two former winners of the tournament, the Isle of Wight and the Shetland Islands. They were also drawn with the Norwegian island of Hitra, the neighbouring island to Frøya whom the Falklands defeated twice in Bermuda two years ago; victory against Hitra may be the best chance of a win for the Falklands team. The Norwegians will be the Falkland Islands' first opponents at the games in an late-afternoon match at St. John's FC on 28/6/15.

The Falkland Islands side busied themselves with playing friendlies against teams from the British Army and RAF until the winter weather set in during March. The games mostly took place at Mount Pleasant but two were also held in Stanley. Results in the series of friendlies have greatly encouraged Betts ahead of the team's trip to the Channel Islands, but he has kept his feet firmly on the ground with a healthy mix of hope and realism.

"The team hasn’t really discussed aims for this tournament and I think this is due to the age and inexperience of the squad.  We have six new players going to their first Island Games and one going to their Island Games as a footballer.  There is an understanding that we won’t perform as well as we did in Bermuda, mainly because there were only four teams in that competition and there is such a strong group of teams going to Jersey.  The hope is that we compete against Hitra and give them a tough game.  We are hoping to win, but it is so difficult to say as we know very little about them.  But we know the Isle of Wight and Shetlands will be incredibly strong teams and we face a real challenge to stay in the game.

"Preparations have gone well, but it hasn’t been without its challenges.  We have had injuries to key players and we have had to bed in a lot of new players, who aren’t used to the strains and pressures of preparing for an Island Games.  It also has been very difficult in the last couple of months as it has been winter here.  The lack of light and the snowy conditions has forced us to train indoors, which is not ideal.  We are the only team coming from winter to play in these games, and I think that affects our preparations.  But on the positive side, we are fit and very committed and we will step up our game when we are in Jersey."

Betts picked out Island Games débutants Sam Toolan and Aiden Morris plus the more experienced Kyle Biggs and Josh Peck as players to watch. Sixteen year-old Toolan is regarded by Betts as being "by far the quickest player in the team and likes to take players on.  He has a terrific shot as well."

Fellow newcomer Morris (21) is, in Betts' words, "a hard-working, attacking player who likes to create.  He will mainly be deployed on the left-side of midfield, but as a right-footed player he will like to drift infield."

Biggs represented the islands at the last NatWest Island Games tournament in Bermuda (and also at the 2011 tournament in the Isle of Wight) and will captain the team in Jersey. Betts: "He is our most important player and leader.  He will be expected to play every minute of every match, as he did in Bermuda."

Peck also played in both tournaments for the Falkland Islands, and Betts had this to say about him: "Josh is our attacking full-back.  He likes to get forward and try and get into the box.  He is a very athletic player who can keep running up and down the left-side of the pitch all day."

As Michael Betts mentioned, there have inevitably been injuries and withdrawals in the run-up to the Island Games; defender Josh Clayton had to withdraw in early April, whilst fellow defender Javier Sotomayor picked up an injury at the beginning of June. Clayton and Sotomayor have been replaced by Lucas Biggs and veteran Bill Chater, who has played for the Falklands in five Island Games tournaments, and has also represented the islands at the Games in athletics.

A win against either the Isle of Wight or the Shetland Islands for the Falklands team seems unlikely, but one can never tell, of course. Victory against Hitra, whose club side Hitra FK plays in the fifth level of Norwegian football and are currently in fourth place after nine games, and a tilt at winning the Small Nations trophy for the third time in a row, might be a more attainable target for Betts' side. 

The team only landed in Jersey less than 30 hours before the game against Hitra, but the trip didn't just begin early yesterday morning for the Falklands squad; the team and Falklands football in general have endured an arduous journey of sorts over the course of the last two years. Let's hope for something positive for them at journey's end. 


FALKLAND ISLANDS SQUAD

GOALKEEPERS: 1 Ben HOYLES; 13 Ross PETERS

DEFENDERS: 2 Josh PECK; 3 Luke CLARKE; 5 Kyle BIGGS (CAPTAIN); 14 Zaza "Georgie" ELBAKIDZE; 16 Bill CHATER; 20 Doug CLARKE

MIDFIELDERS: 4 Shupi CHIPUNZA; 6 Dan BIGGS; 7 Stevie ALDRIDGE (VICE-CAPTAIN); 8 Michael BETTS; 11 Andrés BALLADARES; 12 Paul ZELLER; 15 Lucas BIGGS; 17 Sam TOOLAN

FORWARDS: 9 Rafa SOTOMAYOR; 10 Aiden MORRIS; 18 Alejandro SANTANA; 19 Declan BONNER

MANAGER: Zaza "Georgie" ELBAKIDZE

ASSISTANT MANAGER: Luke CLARKE

COACH: Michael BETTS

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many and sincere thanks are due to Michael Betts for his kindness in assisting with the above article. Some of the information contained above was obtained from the Falkland Islands Football League's Facebook page; for those who wish to know more about football on the islands, here's the link:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Falkland-Islands-Football/174283022621680?fref=ts


The Island Games Association's website was also perused - the link follows here:

http://www.iiga.org/


One or two little details were checked on Wikipedia.

Good luck to the team in Jersey, and also to the FIFL for their plans for the future.








Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 NATWEST ISLAND GAMES FIXTURE-LIST (WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT)

The start of the 2015 NatWest Island Games, hosted by Jersey, is only a couple of days away, and like the men's tournament, the women's tournament will commence on 28/6/15. In stark contrast to the 2013 version, which was held in - and won by - Bermuda, 11 teams will be competing, including Greenland and Hitra, both of which were present last time out and who will be surely tested by their hosts.

Åland, winners of the last three tournaments before that held in Bermuda, will be looking to finish top of the heap once again, though several island nations will have something to say about that in the biggest women's tournament ever held as part of the NatWest Island Games. Greenland's women have just finished a successful mini-tour of Denmark, winning both games in which they were involved, and could be capable of going one better than in 2013, when they lost to Bermuda 5:4 on penalties in the final. Others with high hopes of landing their first title - like Greenland - include the Isle of Man, Ynys Môn, the Isle of Wight and, of course, hosts Jersey.

The final is due to take place at Springfield Stadium in St. Helier on 3/7/15; please find below the entire fixture-list for the 2015 NatWest Island Games women's football tournament, with apologies for the lack of information as to the exact layout of the placing play-off matches.


GROUP A

ÅLAND, GUERNSEY, ISLE OF WIGHT, YNYS MÔN

28/06/15 12:30 Guernsey : Isle of Wight (St. John's Recreational Ground, St. John's)
28/06/15 17:30 Ynys Môn : Åland (St. Lawrence FC)
29/06/15 13:00 Isle of Wight : Ynys Môn (St. Lawrence FC)
29/06/15 17:30 Åland : Guernsey (St. Saviour)
01/07/15 13:00 Guernsey : Ynys Môn (Springfield)
01/07/15 13:00 Åland : Isle of Wight (St. John's Recreational Ground, St. John's)


GROUP B

GIBRALTAR, GOTLAND, ISLE OF MAN, WESTERN ISLES 

28/06/15 13:30 Gibraltar : Gotland (The Dell, Trinity FSC)
28/06/15 13:30 Western Isles : Isle of Man (St. Lawrence FC)
29/06/15 13:00 Isle of Man : Gibraltar (The Dell, Trinity FSC)
29/06/15 17:30 Gotland : Western Isles (St. Lawrence FC)
01/07/15 17:00 Isle of Man : Gotland (The Dell, Trinity FSC)
01/07/15 17:00 Gibraltar : Western Isles (St. John's Recreational Ground, St. John's)


GROUP C

JERSEY, GREENLAND, HITRA

28/06/15 17:00 Jersey : Greenland (Springfield) 
29/06/15 13:30 Greenland : Hitra (St. Saviour)
01/07/15 18:00 Jersey : Hitra (Springfield)


PLAY-OFF MATCHES 

02/07/15 13:00 (The Dell, Trinity FSC)
02/07/15 13:30 (St. Saviour)
02/07/15 17:30 (St. Saviour)


SEMI-FINALS

02/07/15 13:00 (Le Boulivot, Grouville)
02/07/15 13:00 (Le Couvent, St. Lawrence)


THIRD-PLACE PLAY-OFF

03/07/15 11:00 (Le Squendez, St. Brelade FC)


FINAL

03/07/15 10:30 (Springfield)


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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Andy Varnon, General Secretary of the Island Games Association, for his kind assistance with regard to the above article. Much of the above information was gleaned from the jersey2015.com website.

As ever, errors and/or omissions shall be taken care of upon notification of same.






Monday, June 15, 2015

PLENTY OF POSITIVES FOR GIBRALTAR DESPITE ANOTHER HEAVY DEFEAT

A balmy summer's night in southern Portugal was the backdrop to the Euro 2016 Group C game between Gibraltar and Germany, with the match taking place at the Estádio Algarve - half-way between Faro and Loulé - as the British colony still possesses no stadium suitable enough to host competitive international matches.

Earlier the same day (13/6/15), Poland put four goals past Georgia to go top of the group table, and would remain leaders irrespective of what happened in Portugal. Germany were expected to dispose of Gibraltar with the minimum of effort, whilst Gibraltar had conceded at least six goals in three of their previous five group games, losing them all.

However, the boys from the Rock were determined to throw the form-book out the window, and attempted to take the game to the world champions straight from the kick-off, with Liam Walker causing goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller some alarm with a shot from distance early on. 

Germany still had the better of the early exchanges, however, and a foul on D3 by G11 led to a sixth-minute penalty; Bastian Schweinsteiger's sidefooted spot-kick trundled to Jordan Perez's left, who saved easily, and the rebound was cleared for a corner. 

It was the first important save of the night for the Gibraltar goalkeeper - who had already saved  long-range efforts from the visitors - and he was to make many more in the first half. 

As Perez was concentrating on keeping Germany at bay, his team-mates were busy foraging further up the pitch, and Weidenfeller had to be at his best to stop Adam Priestly's shot after 17 minutes, and again four minutes later when he had to deal with an Aaron Payas free-kick from 20 yards out. 

In the twenty-eighth minute, Ryan Casciaro failed to control a loose ball under pressure from Andre Schurrle on the left-hand side some 25 yards from Perez's goal. Schurrle ran on and slotted the ball low to the left of Perez to open the scoring for Der Mannschaft

Two minutes later, Jake Gosling had a golden chance to equalise after Joseph Chipolina, on the end of a long ball from Liam Walker, volleyed over a cross from the left, but he shot straight at Weidenfeller from six yards out when a shot to either side of the German 'keeper would surely have found the net. 

Bellarabi and Herrmann missed chances to put Germany further in front, before Perez pulled off four saves in as many minutes as the first half approached its climax, saving first from Schurrle, then Mesut Özil in a one-on-one, before stopping the unmarked Patrick Herrmann's shot from five yards out. Jonas Hector was the fourth German to be denied just before the break, his point-blank chest-down of an effort was acrobatically scooped away by the Gibraltar custodian.

The second half kicked off some five minutes later than planned due to the discovery of a hole in the Weidenfeller's net during the half-time break, a problem which was solved thanks to the utilisation of some tie-wraps and a lighter. Gibraltar fans were hoping for a repeat of their team's tremendous performance during the previous 45 minutes, but their hopes were dashed after Germany scored twice in the first six minutes of the second half.

Max Kruse doubled the lead for Germany in the 47th minute, but Jean Carlos Garcia missed a chance to bring the deficit back to a goal a minute later. Lee Casciaro won the ball for the hosts following a 50-50 challenge in midfield, and he passed to Walker, who in turn stroked the ball across to Garcia.The Lincoln man did not really get hold of his shot from fourteen yards out, which flew over the bar.

A horrible back-pass from inside the German half by Walker reached Herrmann some ten yards outside the Gibraltar penalty-area. Herrmann laid the ball off to Iklay Gündogan who, with a skip/dummy combination and a low shot into the corner of Perez's net, made it 3:0 after 51 minutes. Karim Bellarabi's goal for the visitors three minutes later was incorrectly ruled out for a very marginal offside.
 
Lee Casciaro then almost capitalised on some indecision in the centre of the German defence, but his acrobatically inventive dink over the advancing Weidenfeller only just cleared the crossbar. In the 57th minute, Joseph Chipolina's interception was heading out for a corner when Perez inexplicably kept the ball in; Özil was first to react, and squared the ball to Bellarabi to tap in his first goal for his country and Germany's fourth on the night.

Sixty-five minutes had passed when Gündokan beat four defenders on a run into the penalty-area and then shot from the edge of the six-yard box, only to see Perez pull off yet another fine save. The Gibraltar goalie's efforts came to naught, however, as Schurrle was on hand to first dummy Perez and a defender and then stroke the ball into the empty net. 

Lee Chipolina's nifty low ball into the penalty-area on the hour found Walker in space ten yards out, but he scuffed his shot low and wide to the left of Weidenfeller's goal, much to the dismay of the 3000 Gibraltarians who had made the hop over to the Algarve to warch the match. 

Perez denied Özil as his outfield team-mates slowly but surely began to tire under increasing German pressure. Schurrle scored his third and Germany's sixth in the 70th minute after a pass from midfield cut the Gibraltar defence open and found Özil, who then squared to Schurrle for a simple tap-in.

Ryan Chipolina's timely tackle on substitute Podolski prevented a seventh goal, as did another Perez save, denying Sami Khedira, and Kyle Casciaro went close to scoring a consolation goal for the hosts with a quarter of an hour remaining. Germany were not to be denied, though, and Kruse scored his second of the night with ten minutes still to play, crisply volleying low into the net off Perez's legs.

Germany continued to create (and miss) chances, but Gibraltar's Liam Walker almost had the last word when he curled in a tricky shot from outside the penalty-area in the third minute of injury-time, an effort which Weidenfeller could only hold at the second attempt as it threatened to squirm away from him and John Sergeant was homing in on the loose ball.

Seven-nil, then to Germany at the final whistle, but although they missed several good chances, the result would surely have flattered the world champions as Gibraltar only really began to tire in the last 20 minutes or so. Remember, too, that Walker's crazy back-pass directly contributed to Germany's third goal, and Perez's error - his only one all night - in not letting the ball go out of play led to their fifth. Gibraltar deserved to get on the scoresheet - they had seven shots on target - and should have scored at least a couple of goals.

And then there was that tremendous first-half display from the team in red: they went forward at every opportunity, they defended tenaciously, and Jordan Perez had a first half that will remain a highlight of his career. He can console himself with the knowledge that he could do little about most of the seven goals he conceded in what was still a man-of-the-match performance. He was terrific on the night. 

His team-mates, to a man, did their best and deserved the standing ovation they received from their supporters at the end of the match. Apart from Perez, Liam Walker especially impressed, and Kyle and Lee Casciaro also stood out, but that is by no means a criticism of the effort put in by the rest of the team.

It would be difficult not to concur with the opinion of Dennis Beiso, GFA general secretary, when he said this the following evening: "I thought we gave a superb account of ourselves in the first half against the world champions. Our efforts, and German quality, took their toll in the second half. That said, I don't feel 7-0 was an accurate reflection of the performance and our boys deserved a goal at least. 

"Jordan Perez in goal was magnificent and I think we saw some other top class performances from the Gibraltarian players. Nonetheless, we go back to Gibraltar with our heads held high and fully confident that we are improving with every game."

There were the usual snide comments in some quarters after the match which appeared to concentrate solely on the result instead of on the actual performance of the Gibraltar team, and questioned the right of the GFA to field a team in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. 

If the Gibraltar players can improve their fitness levels a little and iron out one or two deficiencies in their play, especially in defence, they are more than capable of at least reaching the level where the Faroe Islands and (perhaps) Liechtenstein are now, shutting up many of the critics in the process. 

Gibraltar are, after all, competing in their first-ever major competition, which is a huge step up from competing in Island Games tournaments, and it is proving a huge learning-curve. But, improvement is certainly not beyond them and their performance against Germany was, for the most part, pleasing to the eye. No points, no goals, but there were plenty of positives. It is up to them to keep going, and concrete improvement will surely be just around the corner.
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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to the GFA's new general secretary Dennis Beiso for forwarding his comments; good luck to him in his new post.




Saturday, May 30, 2015

SEPP'S STILL IN THE BOX-SEAT: A PREDICTABLE END TO A MESSY WEEK AT FIFA

FIFA have not had an easy week of it, what with seven of its being arrested on corruption and bribery charges at the request of none other than the FBI, and Russian president Vladimir Putin getting his tuppence worth in about the ongoing opposition in many quarters to Russia's allocation of the 2018 World Cup Finals. The arrests were carried out the day before the beginning of FIFA's general congress in Zürich, which had the FIFA presidential election as its headline act. There was even an anonymous bomb threat at the congress venue, but a search was carried out and the venue was declared safe.

The arrests only added to the controversy surrounding the election, as much of the world's media and many football fans clamoured for the removal of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president, just as they have done for years. However, the expectation was that Blatter would be re-elected as FIFA president at the organisation's general congress, and the vote, which was held on 29/5/15, underlined this expectation.

The result, which saw Blatter collect 133 votes to 73 for his rival, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan - there were 3 abstentions - was not enough for Blatter to claim outright victory after the first round of voting. However, Prince Ali declined to move on to a second round of voting and instead decided to concede defeat.

Still, the margin of victory may have displeased Blatter somewhat as it wasn't quite the near-unanimous vindication of his rule he had hoped for. Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA, said that FIFA needed a drastic overhaul and clean-up, but added that Blatter was not the man for the job. He addressed Blatter directly, according to a report from the BBC: "This is not over. A third of delegates say they've had enough of your failure to deal with corruption.. [FIFA] needs a change of leadership and root and branch change." Dyke added that the result will have come as a "shock" to Blatter.

However, Dyke and the FA have also come under attack during the course of the season just ended. The FA have not acted to force clubs to make match-tickets cheaper for fans, especially for those following Premier League clubs. Kick-off times for televised matches do not seem to take into account the inconvenience caused for many away fans. The demand for safe standing is growing, but this has been ignored thus far by the FA. There have been complaints that Arsenal and Aston Villa have each been allocated only 25000 tickets for the FA Cup Final on 30/5/14 and that ticket prices for te match are extortionate, and even that certain banners have been banned from the final. Perhaps change is needed within the FA as well as within FIFA.

The US Attorney's Office, in the person of  US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, delivered a 47-charge indictment on 27/5/15 against 14 individuals, charging them with (in the words of the FBI's own press-release) "racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer." Seven of them were arrested at a hotel in Zürich that very morning.At the same time as the arrests were made, police officers entered the CONCACAF headquarters in Miami with a search-warrant.

The seven individuals arrested were:  Jeffrey Webb, a native of the Cayman Islands and president of the local FA, executive committee member of the CFU (Caribbean Football Union) and current CONCACAF president, who was tipped by Sepp Blatter to be a possible successor; Eduardo Li, president of the Costa Rican FA and executive committee member of CONCACAF; Julio Rocha Lopez; former footballer and current president of FENIFUT, the Nicaraguan FA;  Costas M Takkas, former secretary general of the Cayman Islands FA, attaché to Jeffrey Webb and CFO of Abakan Inc. a company dealing in metal coatings and components for the oil, gas, mining and defence industries, amongst other things; Eugenio Figueredo, FIFA vice-president, ex-Huracán Buceo player and former president of both the Uruguayan FA and CONMEBOL; Rafael Esquivel, president of the FVF, the Venezuelan FA, member of CONMEBOL's executive committee and the FIFA disciplinary commitee; and José Maria Marin, ex-president of the CBF who briefly played for São Paulo, and president of the 2014 World Cup organising committee.

Several other individuals were also indicted by the FBI on Wednesday, including an individual not exactly unknown to these pages:  our old friend Jack Warner, ex-vice-president and executive committee member of  FIFA, president of CONCACAF and the CFU, who turned himself in to the Trinidadian police upon hearing of the charges laid against him.  Nicolás Leoz, another former FIFA executive committee member, ex-president of both the Paraguayan FA and CONMEBOL, was also indicted.

Four of the defendants currently hold executive positions in the world of sports marketing: Alejandro Burzaco, CEO of Torneos (formerly known as Torneos y Competencias), a sports marketing company based in Buenos Aires; Aaron Davidson, president of Traffic Sports USA - based in Miami - which is a subsidiary of Grupo Traffic, itself based in São Paulo; and father and son team Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, owners of Full Play Group which is based in Argentina. José Margulies, a broadcasting executive and owner of Valente Corp. and Somerton Ltd., based in Brazil. Margulies was the supposed intermediary between the aforementioned four gentlemen and many of the officials mentioned above.

Chuck Blazer, whose name has also graced these pages on occasion, was the man whose testimony got the ball rolling, so to speak. Back in late 2013, he pleaded guilty to 10 counts of racketeering, tax evasion, "wire fraud", money-laundering and a failure to fill in a form detailing his foreign bank accounts. 

Two of Jack Warner's sons, Daryan and Darryl, were also arrested in 2013; José Hawilla, founder and owner of Grupo Traffic, was arrested in 2014. All three had charges made against them for money-laundering and the "structuring of financial transactions" (for example, transferring a large amount of money via many small-sized transactions in order to avoid creating specific records on bank statements; under American law, financial transactions of a value exceeding US$10000 have to be declared). Hawilla was also charged with wire fraud and racketeering. Daryan Warner was also charged with money-laundering. The three gentlemen pleaded guilty to all charges.

Around 24 hours after the arrests were made in Switzerland, Russian president Vladimir Putin, in a blatant case of double-standards not lost to those monitoring the situation in Eastern Europe, accused the US government of attempting "to spread its jurisdiction to other states" in carrying out the arrests and that, in doing so, they "illegally persecute people." Putin continued by saying that the arrests were a "clear attempt" to stop Blatter's re-election, and an attempt to wrest the 2018 World Cup away from Russia. 

Earlier that day, Swiss investigators launched their own investigation into whether, in the words of the LA Times, "inappropriate influence" was used to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the following tournament to Qatar, and will surely discover any cover-up, which will have seismic repercussions. The timing was ironic, coming on the day when Putin signed a decree proclaiming that all military deaths, in time of war or peace, will be classified as state secrets. If that wasn't enough, David Cameron performed another death-defying bandwagon-jump when he said that it was "unthinkable" that Blatter would be re-elected for a fourth time. (Now Cameron knows what many people in the UK think about his recent re-election as prime minister..) But that's enough of politics for now; this is an article about football - sort of..

Predictably enough, the media weren't long in reacting to Blatter's re-election; the British, American and Australian media all roundly condemned Blatter being voted in for a fifth term. Elsewhere, Roy Gachui, writing in Kenya's Daily Nation, said that Blatter didn't start the culture of corruption within FIFA, but merely "perfected it." He added that "mega-sponsors like Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald’s and Visa have made weak calls for the owner of world football to clean house and raise his ethical standards. This is just like animals in the jungle releasing a statement calling on the lions to eat healthy by becoming vegetarians."It could also be argued that some of FIFA's sponsors have themselves also had a rather chequered history, but that's another story.

Gachui's comments were echoed by an editorial which appeared on the Irish Times website: "Blatter’s re-election suggests that a majority of those with power within the organisation has no desire to see any..change. The tame expressions of concern from the organisation’s multinational sponsors do not provide much by way of encouragement either..Those who claim to love football must abandon the pretence that the sport can ever effectively police itself."

The Frankfurter Allgemeine's Eva Simeoni wrote that Blatter's "previous attempts at reform had not been enough by far" and that his power-structure  within FIFA had been based on "dependency, financial deals and knowledge of secrets." On the other hand, Simeoni was also of the opinion that the fact that the "majority of European football associations, including the German FA, supported a Jordanian, only shows how weak they are. No-one dared to take [Blatter] on, not even UEFA president Michel Platini." 

So, it's business as usual at FIFA, for now, at any rate. Despite Sepp Blatter's claims that FIFA is successfully tackling corruption, not enough evidence has emerged from within the organisation itself to convince those on the outside looking in. 

As it is, most of the rest of the world outside Europe voted for Blatter. Yes, there may have been backhanders, more than the occasional verbal faux pas from the diminuitive Swiss gentleman and so on, but it is hard to deny that FIFA has done much good work since Blatter became president in 1998, especially where the smaller countries are concerned. 

FIFA's lesser lights would possibly have had cause to be concerned if Prince Ali had been elected; each country, large, small or somewhere in-between, receives a grant of at least US$300000 per year from FIFA. Under FIFA's Goal programme, over 700 projects, ranging from technical centres in American Samoa and San Marino to artificial pitches in countries such as Djibouti, have been completed.

Contrast that with UEFA's approach; they were the first confederation to knock the smaller countries - its own - into a corner when they introduced the Champions League back in the early 1990s, and they have been kept there. There have been grumbles within UEFA, and louder complaints in sections of the European media, about voting rights within FIFA and the fact that votes cast by the smaller member associations have the same power as those from larger ones. 

Even erstwhile presidential candidate Michael van Praag, in an interview with Voetbal International before Christmas, found it unpalatable that a country "in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with three football pitches has the same voting rights as Germany or England." Sorry, but that's democracy for you, even within FIFA. Would the same people be pleased to wake up on the day of a general election and find that their vote only counted for half of what it did when they went to bed the night before? Disagree if you will, UEFA may well choose to leave FIFA and set up its own organisation, which would adversely affect football in the rest of the world, both financially and in a purely football sense.

The larger associations within UEFA have to realise that, although the majority of money - and the majority of debt - in the club game revolves around European club football, they are still out of step with the rest of world football. The footballing culture is different outside Europe, even the playing-season is different. Not every football fan residing outside Europe is a slave to the Champions League, La Liga or the Premier - to quote Brian Glanville, "Greed Is Good" - League, and many - also within Europe - will doubtless worry about the future for football in their own countries should an UEFA-centric candidate land the job of FIFA president at some point in the future. 

Unpalatable as it may be to those of us who want to see an end to corruption within football, in all its forms both within and without FIFA, Sepp Blatter is still the organisation's top dog, but perhaps this week's events will start a process which will ultimately show that no-one is untouchable. The FBI may only have acted because many of the offences under which the Gang of Fourteen have been charged took place on American soil and/or the transactions said to have taken place were performed using the American dollar as currency (which the media seems to have largely ignored), but it does give hope to those looking to for football to clean up its mess across the board. After all, we football fans will clutch at any straw offered to us..but we should make sure that we clutch at the right one.











Thursday, May 21, 2015

FIFA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: SO, WHAT'S IN IT FOR FOOTBALL'S MINNOWS?

At the time of writing, there is just over a week to go until the great and the good (or not-so-good) in the world of football converge on Zürich for the FIFA Presidential Election, with four gentlemen standing for the top post - whatever anybody from the NF-Board or ConIFA might say - in global football.

The current president, Sepp Blatter, contrary to hints and promises made down the years, will be standing for a fourth term. Attempting to unseat him are Michael van Praag, chairman of the KNVB (Dutch FA), Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, head of the Jordanian FA, and Luis Figo of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Portugal fame.

Of the four, only Blatter has declined to issue a manifesto, claiming that his past record speaks for itself. Pat's Football Blog wrote to all four candidates on a number of occasions, Blatter included, in an attempt to elicit their thoughts on different subjects touching on the smaller members of FIFA, and also on those countries/nations which are still outside FIFA's remit. 

Now, transparency in FIFA, goal-line technology and video technology in general were all - rather predictably - covered in the media ad nauseum, so no questions were put to the candidates as to their thoughts on these subjects. (On reflection, perhaps the question "Will you promise to do away with any thoughts of goal-line and other video technology, and instead re-humanise football by increasing the number of goal-line assistants, and also exiling to north-east Greenland each and every one of those hysterical stadium announcers who try to sex-up the pre-match "entertainment"?" should have been posed.)

The main body of the e-mail forwarded for the attention of all four candidates was as is stated below; there were, of course, one or two minor tweaks depending on the candidate, but you get the jist.

"Firstly, I would appreciate it if he would kindly inform as to [name of candidate] thoughts about combating match-fixing, racism, sexism, homophobia - in fact, all forms of bigotry - within football, and his opinions on the full inclusion of the disabled within the football community.



"I would also like to find out more with regard to his stance on football in the smaller countries within the FIFA family as it would appear that those countries in the lower echelons of FIFA are constantly being squeezed out by the bigger member associations, in both sporting and financial respects. What does he intend do to help the smaller FIFA member countries in the event that he is elected as FIFA President?



"I would also like to request his thoughts on a couple of other subjects to do with football in the smaller countries across the globe.."



"First of all, why have, in the opinion of [name of candidate], countries such as Palau, Tuvalu and the Federated States of Micronesia thus far been refused entry into the FIFA ranks? They are, after all, independent states, they possess football pitches and have the basic infrastructure needed to host international football matches - and to accommodate visiting sides. Should [name of candidate] be elected as FIFA President, would he ensure that the associations representing the aforementioned countries be admitted to FIFA under their tenure?



"Also, should [name of candidate] be elected as FIFA President, would FIFA be willing to give financial and logistical assistance to countries such as Nauru and the Marshall Islands in order for them to set up their own viable football structures?

"Under his tenure, would the rule barring football associations from countries not directly affiliated to the United Nations be lifted?

"If so, would the Gibraltar FA, already a member of UEFA, also be accepted into FIFA at long last, having also been unjustly refused entry? Would Greenland's footbally association (GBU) finally be accepted as a member country of both FIFA and UEFA after being unjustly left out in the cold for so long, and would [name of candidate] actively push for this to become a reality? It could be argued that the GBU were victims of circumstance.

"Would other associations representing non-independent nations such as the Falkland Islands and Niue also be considered for FIFA membership should [name of candidate] become president of FIFA? Would FIFA put aside funds to assist the development of football in these and other territories/dependencies?



"What would be [name of candidate] opinion about the situation of the Monaco FA? They represent an independent country and entry into FIFA (and UEFA) would certainly give them an incentive to organise football there properly, as I believe that AS Monaco are the only team currently operating within Monaco's borders. Would AS Monaco's participation in La Ligue be a hindrance, in his view, to achieving member status of both UEFA and FIFA?

"Finally, should [name of candidate] become president of FIFA, would he ensure that the Oceania Football Confederation receive a guaranteed place at all future World Cup final tournaments?"

Alas, although many an attempt was made to elicit answers to the above set of questions, the quest failed. No response was received from Luis Figo's camp or, predictably enough, the FIFA Media Office. Representatives acting on behalf of Prince Ali Al-Hussein and Michael van Praag did respond, but did not provide answers to any of the questions above; promises were made to provide responses should time allow them to do so.

Picking through the manifestos, all three candidates touched on combating match-fixing, and also discrimination of all kinds under the "racism" banner. However, apart from van Praag mentioning during his manifesto launch that the KNVB were the first football association anywhere in the world to fully integrate the LGBT community into its workings, no explicit mention was to be found anywhere as to how the candidates would tackle homophobia, much less the problems faced by disabled players and fans. 

Prince Ali and van Praag did, however, state their intentions to increase funding for women's football, with the latter calling for equal representation in the boardroom as well as an increased female presence in the changing-room.

All three candidates proposed an increase in funding for each member association from US$375000 per annum to US$1 million (van Praag) or US$2 million (Figo). Van Praag stated his intention to draw up a list of the 50 most vulnerable national associations within FIFA and to set about improving their infrastructures. Figo claimed in his manifesto that 150 national associations would benefit from an extra US$300 million set aside for infrastructure projects. Prince Ali didn't crunch numbers in his manifesto, but did state that there would be a substantial increase in funding for those associations in most need.

All three candidates included in their manifestos the requirement for development centres to be set up world-wide, with one being located within each member confederation. Said centres would be used to help hone the skills and knowledge of players, coaches and referees alike. 

This would certainly benefit the OFC member states, but the development centre would have to be located somewhere such as Fiji in order to facilitate less-arduous journeys for visitors from across Oceania and beyond. A regional hub would also be a boon for football in the Caribbean, which, like the OFC, has a large number of teams in the lower reaches of the FIFA rankings.

There was a glimmer of hope in Figo's manifesto when the following header appeared: "I want to bring back unity in world football and to work together to improve and develop the beautiful game across all territories." Did this mean that he would actively tackle the issues put to him in the aforementioned e-mail? Would he co-operate with the NF-Board and ConIFA? Er, no; he merely stated his willingness to work together with all (member) confederations and member associations.

Luis Figo called for an "open debate" on increasing the number of competing nations at future World Cups to as many as 48, whilst van Praag promised to work towards a future 40-team World Cup Finals, with each confederation gaining an extra place. Prince Ali was in favour of a "gradual extension" of the World Cup. Van Praag's proposal was the closest that any of the candidates came to confirming that, sometime during their hypothetical term in office, the OFC would receive a guaranteed place at any and all future World Cup Finals tournaments.

However, this was not explicitly mentioned in his manifesto, which, pound for pound, was actually the most impressive of the three issued by the candidates, but that, of course, is no guarantee of success. Despite a very solid manifesto, van Praag's campaign will probably be hamstrung by the fact that he is not very well-known outside European circles. Luis Figo will, perhaps fifteen years down the line, make a good candidate for the UEFA presidency, but is nowhere near ready for the rigours of that post, nor those of the FIFA presidency.

The smart money seems to be on Prince Ali taking on Sepp Blatter in a presidential second round. The Jordanian is good for a fair few votes from the Middle East; he is, after all, not only president of the Jordanian FA but also president of the West Asian Football Federation as well as a vice-president of FIFA. His campaign was supported by his home country's association, the FA, the Maltese FA, the USSF and the Belarus and Georgian football associations. 

The MFA president, Norman Darmanin Demajo, endorsed Prince Ali's campaign by saying that the Jordanian understood the needs of the smaller countries. Prince Ali recently returned the compliment, saying that Darmanin Demajo was the inspiration behind his campaign. It remains to be seen whether Prince Ali will go on to fight Sepp Blatter in a winner-takes-the-FIFA-presidency contest, and, if successful, whether he will truly fight the corner of FIFA's smallest member associations, and those who are not (yet) part of football's biggest global family.
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STOP PRESS: It now appears as though, for the time being, four have become three. As this article was being finished, it was reported that Michael van Praag has withdrawn his candidacy for FIFA's top post, and he shall be making his reasons for his decision clear at a press-conference to be held tonight (21/5/15) at Amsterdam's Hilton Hotel. Van Praag will be throwing his weight behind Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein's campaign; Prince Ali shall also be attending the press-conference. For the little that it is worth, especially now, your correspondent's vote (had he had one) would have gone to van Praag.
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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Although none of the candidates for the post of FIFA president provided direct answers to the questions posed in the above article, thanks go to Sebastiaan van der Laan (on behalf of Michael van Praag's campaign team) and Laura Church (representing Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein's campaign team) for their responses.








Monday, May 18, 2015

2015 NATWEST ISLAND GAMES FIXTURE-LIST (MEN'S TOURNAMENT)

The fixture-list for the 2015 NatWest Island Games men's tournament, to be held in Jersey in June, was released in late March, and features teams representing sixteen islands split into groups of four. The tournament kicks off on 28/6/15 with the Group A encounter between Greenland and Menorca at the Le Boulivot ground in Grouville. The two teams last met at the 2011 NatWest Island Games, which were held in the Isle of Wight; Menorca won 3 goals to 2.

Since then, Greenland finished runners-up to hosts Bermuda in 2013 after a competition consisting of just four teams - the Falkland Islands and Frøya being the others. Greenland will be hard-pressed to replicate their achievement this time around, as the other teams in their group - Åland, Menorca - who will be hosting the NatWest Island Games in 2019 - and Saaremaa finished the 2011 tournament ahead of Greenland.

Gibraltar will be sending their under-23 team to compete in Jersey, and will be up against Gotland, Guernsey and Ynys Môn (Anglesey) in Group B. The clash between the team from the Rock and the Channel Island will be intriguing; the Gibraltar FA, which is, of course, the most recent addition to UEFA's ranks, whilst Guernsey will mostly comprise of Guernsey FC, the side which appears in the Isthmian League, the eighth level of English football.

Gibraltar won the competition for the first time in 2007, and Guernsey last won it in 2003. Ynys Môn have appeared in the final on five different occasions (the last being in 2001 when they lost to Guernsey), winning only once, in 1999. Gotland have yet to reach the last four of an Island Games tournament.

The Isle of Wight, who won the competition in 2011 for the first time since 1993, will be favourites to qualify for the semi-finals from Group C, but the Shetland Islands, making their first appearance since 2009, will be fancied to finish second. However, the Falkland Islands, who finished third in Bermuda last time out, defeating Frøya 6:0 to lift the Small Islands Trophy in the process (Frøya are, like Bermuda, not competing this year), will be hoping to defeat the Norwegian island's neighbours Hitra, who are making a welcome return to the competition having last competed in 1999.

The keenly-awaited Channel Islands' derby between Jersey and Alderney at Springfield will, together with the match between the Western Isles and the Isle of Man, start the ball rolling in Group D. Alderney hosted Jersey in the semi-final of this year's Muratti Cup at the end of March but lost by five goals to nil, and it will be difficult to envisage Alderney gaining a point in what should be a very tight group. 

Sadly for neutral fans, one Channel Island which shall not be taking part in this year's tournament is Sark. Secretary and co-chairman Chris Drillot informed Pat's Football Blog that they "shall not be sending a team as [they currently] do not have enough players to make it. We are just about getting enough [players] to carry on playing friendlies." A large percentage of the players in the Sark FC team are seasonal workers and, according to Section 6 ("Conditions for Representing a Member Island") of the IGA's Operational Guidelines, are therefore disqualified from competing in the competition.  

Please find below the fixture-list for the 2015 NatWest Island Games Men's football tournament.

GROUP A

Åland, Greenland, Menorca, Saaremaa

28/06/15 12:30 Greenland : Menorca (Le Boulivot)
28/06/15 16:30 Saaremaa : Åland (Le Boulivot)
29/06/15 12:30 Åland : Greenland (Le Couffardiere)
29/06/15 16:30 Menorca : Saaremaa (Le Couffardiere)
30/06/15 15:00 Åland : Menorca (Le Couffardiere)
30/06/15 15:00 Greenland : Saaremaa (Le Boulivot)

GROUP B

Gibraltar, Gotland, Guernsey, Ynys Môn

28/06/15 13:30 Gibraltar : Gotland (Rue des Vignes)
28/06/15 17:30 Ynys Môn : Guernsey (Rue des Vignes)
29/06/15 13:30 Guernsey : Gotland (Le Squendez)
29/06/15 14:00 Gibraltar : Ynys Môn (Springfield Stadium)
30/06/15 13:00 Gotland : Ynys Môn (Rue des Vignes)
30/06/15 13:00 Gibraltar : Guernsey (Springfield Stadium)

GROUP C

Falkland Islands, Hitra, Isle of Wight, Shetland Islands

28/06/15 16:30 Falkland Islands : Hitra (St. John's Recreation Ground)
28/06/15 16:30 Shetland Islands : Isle of Wight (Le Couvent)
29/06/15 17:30 Isle of Wight : Falkland Islands (La Cache es Fresnes)
29/06/15 17:30 Hitra : Shetland Islands (Le Squendez)
30/06/15 16:30 Isle of Wight : Hitra (Le Couvent)
30/06/15 16:30 Falkland Islands : Shetland Islands (Rue des Vignes)

GROUP D

Alderney, Isle of Man, Jersey, Western Isles

28/06/15 13:00 Western Isles : Isle of Man (Le Couvent)
28/06/15 13:00 Jersey : Alderney (Springfield Stadium)
29/06/15 13:30 Isle of Man : Alderney (La Cache es Fresnes)
29/06/15 18:00 Jersey : Western Isles (Springfield Stadium)
30/06/15 18:00 Jersey : Isle of Man (Springfield Stadium)
30/06/15 18:00 Alderney : Western Isles (St. John's Recreation Ground)

PLACING (PLAY-OFF) MATCHES

02/07/15 12:00 (Le Couffardiere)
02/07/15 12:00 (La Cache es Fresnes)
02/07/15 13:30 (Les Squendez)
02/07/15 16:00 (Le Couffardiere)
02/07/15 16:00 (La Cache es Fresnes)
02/07/15 17:30 (Le Squendez)

NOTE: The exact schedule (for, e.g., the fifth-place play-off) was unknown at the time of writing.

SEMI-FINALS 

02/07/15 14:00 (Springfield Stadium)
02/07/15 18:00 (Springfield Stadium)

THIRD-PLACE PLAY-OFF 

03/07/15 12:00 (Rue des Vignes)

FINAL


03/07/15 14:00 (Springfield Stadium)

LIST OF GROUNDS/STADIA 

Springfield Stadium (St. Helier)
Rue des Vignes (St. Peter)
Le Squendez (St. Brelade)
Le Couffardiere (St. Clement)
St. John's Recreational Ground (St. John)
Le Boulivot (Grouville)
Le Couvent (St. Lawrence)
La Cache es Fresnes (St. Ouen) 

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Andy Varnon, General Secretary of the Island Games Association, for his kind assistance with regard to the above article. Much of the above information was gleaned from the jersey2015.com website. 

Other information was taken from the Island Games Association website, personal archives and the Jersey FA website. Thanks, too, to Sark FC's Chris Drillot; it is a pity that Sark will be unable to compete in Jersey this year, but good luck to him and the team for the summer season.

To peruse the Operational Guidelines of the Island Games Association, please visit the following link on the IGA website:

http://www.iiga.org/media//constitution/Operational%20Guidelines%20April%202014.pdf


As ever, errors and/or omissions shall be taken care of upon notification of same.