A bullying, selfish FIFA Confederation President pursuing his own agenda to the detriment of the development of the beautiful game? No, not Jack Warner, but AFC boss Mohamed Bin Hammam.
That, at least, is the perspective of much of New Zealand’s soccer media this week, following the AFC’s ultimatum to New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix, who play in Australia’s A-League: become a lot more Australian, or else.
The AFC has said that if Wellington don’t severely limit the number of non-Australian players in their team, the A-League will lose its two AFC Champions League spots from 2012 on (after the expiration of the A-League’s current participation deal with the AFC). This would classify players from New Zealand as foreigners on a team based in New Zealand.
The following demands were reportedly sent by the AFC to Football Federation Australia (FFA):
* Wellington Phoenix FC should be officially registered as a commercial entity in Australia under local law.
* To comply with the provisions of the Regulations, the number of foreign players (non-Australian) in Wellington Phoenix FC should be the same as in other clubs participating in the A-League. In case Wellington Phoenix qualifiy for the ACL, the 3+1 system should be implemented by the club according to the ACL Regulations.
* Otherwise, Wellington Phoenix FC should belong to the second division of the A-League, which should be newly created by the FFA.
The 3+1 rule was instituted by the AFC earlier this year, limiting teams in the AFC Champions League to a maximum of four foreign players in a game, with at least one player from an AFC member association, and the AFC are pushing its leagues to adopt it domestically. The ACL regulations mentioned limit A-League teams to a maximum of five foreign players, but for Wellington, players from New Zealand (pretty logically) are currently classified as domestic.
In a post typical of the reaction, Michael Brown of the New Zealand Herald says Bin Hammam is “bullying” Phoenix.
Despite the uproar and outcry, it’s hard not to see that the AFC have a point. After all, Wellington play in Australia’s A-League, which is a little incongruous not only because Wellington isn’t in Australia, but because New Zealand and Australia aren’t even in the same FIFA Confederation, following the latter’s move from Oceania to the AFC in 2005.
But the AFC have handled the dispute abysmally, with the news report from the Confederation on the issue removed from their website a day after publication, with no explanation provided.
A severe limitation on the number of Kiwis on Wellington, or their departure from the A-League, would be a serious blow to the development of the sport in New Zealand. Ricki Herbert is the manager of both the Wellington Phoenix and the New Zealand national team, with many core members of the team playing for him at both club and country. Perhaps a little generously, the Sydney Morning Herald calls Wellington the best-run club in the A-League:
"No Phoenix, no World Cup qualification. This is the pathway that was missing in 1981, the pathway that could take football across the Tasman to places it could only have dreamt of before property developer Terry Serepisos had his famous epiphany in a barber’s chair in early 2007 and bought a licence no one else wanted.
Serepisos is the best owner in the A-League, but now his $10 million investment is under threat. The A-League operates under the umbrella of the Asian Football Confederation, and AFC boss Mohamed Bin Hammam has never liked having a team from another confederation in his midst. For the past 18 months, he’s been white-anting the Phoenix, and now he’s finally made his move. Sooner or later, this had to come to a head.
The paper also points out that the competing World Cup bids of Australia and Qatar for 2022 could be at play here, in terms of the considerable pressure on the Australian federation to make nice with the AFC. Australia will need the support of their confederation for their bid; and many point out that a competing World Cup bid is, coincidentally or not, from Bin Hammam’s Qatar. But the fact remains that there is a legitimate issue to resolve with Wellington the only club in the world to play in the top flight of a confederation their own country is not part of.
The FFA and Wellington ought to be able to find a work-around for this, but it may require the involvement of FIFA to solve a dispute between confederations, meaning the politics will only get an awful lot messier.
phhhft, bs. while the us and canada are in the same confederation, there's no reason they can;t do a similar thing to what mls does - canadians in canada are domestic, americans in canada count as foreign.
and brought on by that gay rugby player coming out:
Britain's foremost PR advisor, Max Clifford, told The Independent on Sunday last night that he has represented two high-profile gay Premier League footballers in the past five years and has advised them to stay in the closet because football "remains in the dark ages, steeped in homophobia".
In the wake of the Wales and Lions rugby international Gareth Thomas coming out yesterday, Clifford says he cannot foresee a prominent footballer doing the same in the near future. "If he did, it would effectively be his career over, in my view," Clifford said.
"Do I think that's right? Of course not," he added. "It's a very sad state of affairs. But it's a fact that homophobia in football is as strong now as it was 10 years ago. If you'd asked me in 2000 whether I thought we'd have a famous, openly gay footballer by 2010 I would have said yes.
"You look across society and see openly gay people in music, movies, television, politics, the clergy, and it's not a problem, nor in many sports. It's not that footballers are homophobic but the fans can be vicious."
The IoS can also reveal that a Football Association anti-homophobia campaign has been stalled partly because its organisers have failed to secure big-name Premier League players to speak out against homophobia in a film that would be screened at grounds around the country.
"Unfortunately there seems to be a reluctance by some players and some clubs to speak up for gay rights," says Peter Clayton, who chairs the FA's "Homophobia in Football" working group. Clayton, 58, represents the Middlesex FA in the corridors of power and is the only openly gay FA councillor ever. He told the IoS yesterday: "It would take a very courageous Premier League footballer to come out because fans are so vociferous in football in a way they aren't in any other sport. There are also barriers to a player coming out from some clubs, firstly because the players are commercial assets and the clubs don't want those assets damaged, and secondly because a player coming out would cause disruption.
"There are gay players in the top division in English football, and some of them are out to their clubs and team-mates and nobody gives a jot. But there is a reluctance by some players and clubs to make public appeals against homophobia, perhaps through fear they would be thought of as gay themselves.
"The FA takes this issue very seriously and it's very high on the agenda. There are lots of gay footballers in Britain at grass-roots level and it's no problem. We do need to stamp out homophobia at the professional level, though, and just like anti-racism work, it will take time and education."
Thomas, 35, who plays for Cardiff Blues and is Wales' most capped player, came out in an interview with the Daily Mail. "It's tough for me being the only international rugby player prepared to break the taboo," he said. "I can't be the only one but I'm not aware of any other gay player still in the game."
Tellingly, both Thomas and Nigel Owens, the Welsh international rugby referee who came out when he was 32 in 2003, and publicly four years later, contemplated suicide before sharing their stories.
Owens, speaking to the IoS before refereeing a Heineken Cup match yesterday, said: "Why don't more players come out? It's a worry for us as individuals, whether you're involved in rugby or any sport. It's never easy being gay or accepting you're gay. Coming out isn't easy. Telling your mother isn't easy."
There has only been one openly gay man in English professional football, Justin Fashanu, who was taunted, bullied, and killed himself in 1998.
Clifford added: "I've had two high-profile Premier League football clients in the past five years who've been gay or bisexual and my advice has been not to make that public. For a top player to come out, I would envisage they'd be a hard man, with an established reputation, and perhaps a year or two at most left in the game, so if coming out brought too much hardship, it wouldn't matter so much professionally."
they've been able to kick a lot of racism out of the sport, i don't see why a homophobia campaign isn't done.