Friday, 4 November 2016

Why FIFA has got it wrong this time

Why FIFA has got it wrong this time

FIFA and the home country Member Associations of England, Scotland and Wales have reached an impasse regarding Law 4, The Player’s Equipment part 4, Other Equipment. In a nutshell the Associations want their players to wear black armbands with a red poppy emblem on them during World Cup qualifier matches to be played this month. England play Scotland at Wembley on 11th November which just happens to be Armistice Day, the commemoration of the end of the First World War. The poppy is a traditional symbol of remembrance in recognition of those who gave their lives in all conflicts.

In 2011 FIFA agreed that players could wear the same armbands. Indeed it was instrumental in deciding that this mark of respect was appropriate. The Law has not changed since then. It states that ‘Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images’. In 2011 FIFA decided that the poppy symbol did not infringe this law. Clearly they decided then that the poppy was not a political, religious or personal slogan. I would agree and I think most sensible people would.

The FIFA of 2016 is very different to the FIFA of 2011. The transformation has been remarkable and positive. It is now much more transparent, effective and inclusive. So I am perplexed and disappointed that they have taken this stance. I just don’t seem why it is necessary to even get involved. FIFA is very busy rebuilding its reputation and I am sure has more important issues to deal with.

It appears that both England and Scotland are going to defy FIFA and wear the armbands anyway, content to take any punishment that FIFA might apply – and the General Secretary has hinted that sanctions may apply. At the time of writing, Wales is yet to decide.

As we all know the world is an unstable and war-torn place right now. Football has a role to play in bringing people together and promoting harmony. This is an opportunity for FIFA to demonstrate compassion. Surely they should be endorsing and promoting the remembrance of the fallen rather than considering the imposition of draconian measures in direct contradiction of its own previous decisions?

Let’s just hope that in the end common sense prevails. Knowing a little about the ‘new’ FIFA, I am sure it will.

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO, November 2016 

17 comments:

  1. Hi Mark,
    I don't know anything about this controversy. But it seems the problem lies in that the fact that the poppy is in recognition of those who died in ALL conflicts. James McClean's words below serve as one of the examples why some people would take a stance against it and some would argue it has a political flavour. Interestingly, the article below also said FIFA did in fact rule against it in 2011, but they subsequently backed down after a public outcry. As you said, it would be interesting to see how the new FIFA react this time.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34720464
    Best
    Bob

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  2. Thanks for the comment Bob, interesting article. I remember the debate in 2011. The teams wanted to wear the poppy on their shirts but FIFA didn't like that so FIFA themselves came up with the idea of the armband as a compromise.
    Let's see what happens later this week.
    The shirt emblem seems acceptable in other sports though. I saw a picture of Andy Murray over the weekend and he was sporting a poppy on his tennis shirt.
    Regards,
    Mark

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  3. FIFA is trying its best to keep politics out of football, but it will never happen. I agree that they have gone too far in this case.

    HKFA had its taste of how FIFA deals with political issues when it fined HKFA for the behavior of the fans when they booed the Chinese national anthem in the World Cup qualifiers. HKFA may face similar sanctions again after the EAFF competition as the booing just won't go away.

    I hope you can find a solution to this. I don't think HKFA can do anything to stop the crowd from booing. Maybe we can use another song to represent Hong Kong. I noticed that Guam also has its own anthem rather than the US national anthem. There are a number of songs that are widely considered to be representative of Hong Kong. Using a song that will create more cohesion between the fans and the players will certainly improve the atmosphere of international matches. I understand that there is no legal requirement to use Chinese national anthem in sporting events. However, I'm not sure whether the selection of song is in HKFA's hands or whether it is governed by the Olympic Committee.

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  4. Hi Albert,
    You make some interesting points, some of which I will have to look into. As far as I am aware, FIFA expect the national anthems to be played at every international football match. In the case of friendly matches this requirement can be waived if both countries and the independent match commissioner agree.
    I am also certain that the booing will continue. In fact, given the current political situation in Hong Kong, I would expect it to get worse. We have tried to curtail it but, you are right, it is difficult, if not impossible to stop.
    Our Board is of the opinion that we should always play the anthem before international matches and I think that policy will remain in place.
    If the matter keeps on being reported to FIFA by match commissioners then we will keep getting punished. Eventually we will be forced to play matches behind closed doors or have points deducted. This could be very serious because our objective next year is to qualify for the finals of the Asian Cup and every point will be crucial.
    The idea of playing a more neutral song is a good one but I don't think it will happen here. It does happen elsewhere in other sports. For example in the UK in rugby, each home country has its own song, e.g. 'Flower of Scotland'.
    I just can't see it happening here.
    Regards Mark

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  5. Hi Mark, very interesting post and I agree 100% with you.

    I think there are a lot of things much more important to FIFA like, rebuilding image, racism, financial fair play, development of football in other countries (specially in Asia), etc than if tonight, England and Scotland will wear black armbands with a red poppy emblem.

    I'm very dissapointed because the recent (very good) changes that happened at FIFA were signalizing for another direction.

    Unfortunately, it's impossible to separate sport and politics. And football is a "powerfull tool" that people, organizations, etc use in a good way (or not).

    PS: Yesterday, Brazil beat Argentina (3x0) and during the match all brazilian football players wore black armbands in honor of Carlos Alberto Torres that passed away last week. In the black armbands were write the word ETERNO CAPITÃO (in english Captain forever) and the image of him with Jules Rimet trophy, because Carlos Alberto was the captian of Brazilian team in the FIFA World Cup in Mexico (1970).

    Please take a look in the link below:

    http://globoesporte.globo.com/futebol/selecao-brasileira/noticia/2016/11/capitao-nesta-quinta-daniel-alves-e-usara-4-em-homenagem-capita.html

    So, maybe FIFA will punish Brazil because of that?!?!? I don't think so.

    Let's see and also, I hope that common sense prevails. I'm sure it will and we'll have a great match England x Scotland. It's that really matters!

    Best regards,
    Jaime

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jaime, I see that FIFA has distanced itself a bit from this issue by saying that it would be up to the 'independent' Disciplinary Committee to decide what action to take if the matter is raised in the Match Commissioner's report.
      Let's see what happens.
      England won convincingly, so I'm happy!
      Regards
      Mark

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    2. Dear Mark,
      Thanks for your reply and let's see what will be the decision.
      Yes, England played very well and the same score (3x0) so, we're happy! ;)
      Best regards,
      Jaime

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  6. Hi Mark,
    I can't see any way out of this national anthem conundrum either. But I have just come across this ingenious move by the Washington Spirit who brought forward the timing of the anthem to avoid protests.
    http://www.sbnation.com/2016/9/7/12842910/nwsls-washington-spirit-reschedule-the-national-anthem-to-prevent-megan-rapinoe-from-protesting
    Perhaps HKFA should consider a similar move by playing the national anthem behind closed doors well before the match starts but in the presence of both teams. This might not be the perfect solution. But at least we could avoid the inevitable consequence of getting points deducted which would seriously undermine our objective of qualifying for the Asian Cup Final. As we all agree, we should separate football from politics. Adopting such a practice could be seen precisely as a move to that end. The question is whether the Board has the nerve to do it as some may say it's politically incorrect to do so.
    Bob

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  7. Regarding the question about fans booing Chinese national anthem, it's a very complicated situation because one more time political issues are involved in the sport.
    According to FIFA's pre-match protocol: "... The national anthems of the two participating member associations (maximum 90 seconds each) shall be played after the teams have lined up." So, you're absolutely right Mark and the HKFA must to follow the FIFA Statutes and regulations.
    Nowadays, China is very important country in the worldwide market of football for many reasons so, from my point of view will not be a good idea have a "clash" with FIFA, AFC, etc.
    Just trying to minimize the impact of boos (because the booing will continue ... is impossible to stop and control a crowd of fans in the stadium) during the anthem, some ideas like:
    1) create media campaigns by radio, newspapers, internet, TV, social medias, etc, raising awareness the supporters don't do that inside the stadium because will have a negative effect for the Hong Kong squad.
    2) trained steward in the tribunes helping to avoid a lot of boos. Also, volunteers can help in these tasks.
    Perhaps, working together with HKFA Marketing department it could works very good and others ideas come up with these guys as well. They're great doing these kind of things!
    Best regards,
    Jaime

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Jaime, we have tried some of these ideas and we will continue to do so. For football and political reasons, we will continue to play the Anthem before the match. I expect fans to continue to boo the Anthem as they did yesterday. We don't have another home match now until at least March and maybe June depending on the draw for the Asian Cup qualifiers. With a bit of luck things may have quietened down by then but I doubt it.
      Interestingly the England fans booed the Scottish Anthem and vice versa a few days ago. The British press was commenting that FIFA will have to fine the two Associations because of what had happened in Hong Kong!
      I will wait and see if we hear anything from FIFA.
      Regards,
      Mark

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  8. You're welcome Mark and whenever possible I'll try to help, you can count on me.
    I noticed the same between both fans during the English and Scottish anthems. For your curiosity, unfortunately this situation is very common in South America not for political reasons but because bad education of people, rivalry (trying to create a not friendly environment for the opponent), disrespect between each other countries, etc.
    When you play away, the local fans boo, sing others songs at the same time of your anthem telling bad words, etc, etc and for my knowledge, I never seen before FIFA punishing any national team like Brazil, Uruguay, Chile or Argentina. And it happens over the course of decades.
    So if FIFA punish Hong Kong (I hope not and I'll cross my fingers for that) you can try use this argument.
    Best regards,
    Jaime

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    Replies
    1. Thanks again Jaime, your observations are noted. So far we have not heard anything from FIFA. I will keep people posted through this blog.
      Regards,
      Mark

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  10. Hi Mark,

    As indicated by official page of Tajikistan FA & Kyrgystan FA, FIFA ranking will be used to decide the seeding of the draw of AFC Asian Cup qualification. Hong Kong will probably be placed in Pot 2.

    Pot 1 Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, North Korea, Kyrgystan, Philippines
    Pot 2 Palestine, India, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Turkmenistan
    Pot 3 Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Maldives, Chinese Taipei, Myanmar/Malaysia
    Pot 4 Myanmar/Malaysia, Singapore, Guam, Cambodia, Bhutan, Kuwait (in case the ban of Kuwait FA is lifted by FIFA)

    Hong Kong won't draw with the teams in Pot 2. You may please consider arranging some friendlies with teams such as Tajikistan, Palestine or Vietnam!

    Dennis

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    Replies
    1. Dear Dennis,
      Thanks for the very useful intel. There is no reason why we shouldn't start to make inquiries regarding friendlies although we can't really finalise anything until the draw is made in January.
      We won't be asking Turkmenistan after they let us down last time!
      Regards,
      Mark

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    2. Dear Mark,

      Agree. The AFF Suzuki Cup semi-fianlist, Indonesia can also be our potential friendly opponent as they have been excluded from the Asian Cup qualification already.

      The FIFA point is no longer that important until the next WCQ draw in first half of year 2019. Thanks to the outstanding performance of Hong Kong NT in these two years, it is expected that at least 60 points will be guaranteed in 2019 (188 x 0.2 + 77 x 0.3 in 2015 & 2016). Hong Kong has a good chance to avoid playing in first WCQ round as the bottom 12 of AFC MAs. IMO, HKFA can be more aggressive to plan for more friendlies with stronger opponents in 2017.

      Regards,
      Dennis

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