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February 25, 2017

They steal my time!

I am very worried for València CF. 15th in the table of La Liga, with only 23 points, that gives an uncomfortable feeling of foreboding. They won’t go so far as to be relegated to secunda división, will they?

I have to admit, though, that I don’t have any sentiments for this club. Quite the contrary: in my humble opinion, it shouldn’t even exist anymore since it was bailed out with the public money of the autonomous region of Valencia, who kindly paid the bill left by a period of megalomaniac mismanagement. But then there is this charming Spanish colleague, and his boys, and I know very well what it would mean to them to see Valencia CF relegated. As a result, I can’t help it, I’m worried.

Ridiculous.

And this is not the only club whose results I fretfully look up each weekend. How could I possibly remain insensitive to my elder brother’s life-long attachment to FC Cologne, a chaotic club that does not even deserve the amazing dedication of its numerous supporters (crowds of 50,000 when they played in second division…). Well, I’m sincerely happy to see that ‘der effzeh’ is currently enjoying an almost unprecedented stability, clinging to its surprising 7th rank in the Bundesliga table. Reading the report of their latest match (which I did not have the slightest interest in) and thinking of my brother, I am pouring with great satisfaction my Sunday morning breakfast coffee in my favourite mug, the red-and-white one with the ridiculous billy goat, the FC’s emblem.

I don’t give and receive many phone calls with my new Smartphone (a Christmas gift after years of resistance). But it allows me in no time to learn about the latest news from Nottingham Forest FC, a club that annoyed me massively at the end of the 70s when they won their two European Cups. Today, they vegetate in the Championship, sold to a dubious owner from Koweit – well done for them! If only there was not this good friend lost in the Midlands, season-ticket holder of City Ground and fervent promotor of the NFFC supporters’ trust. Not to mention this smart and cultivated ‘Brussels technocrat’ who went so far as to adorn his European blog with a self-made logo that only the initiated are able to identify as a subtle blend of the Atomium and the NFFC crest. Because of these two guys, I surprise myself wondering at the beginning of each season if this years, perhaps, who knows…

I don’t have to worry much for Beşiktaş. Easy to follow, and heading for another title, no doubt this year. Great, I am very pleased and have a fond thought for the gentleman who taught me all I need to know about the big three from Istanbul and why ‘BJK’ really stood out, especially politically. But what is happening to Gençlerbirliği Spor Kulübü? You don’t know this club? Shame on you! It’s understandable though: not exactly a serial champion, five different coaches in 2015-16 only, lost in the football desert of Ankara. Of no interest really. But knowing the affection that some friends have for them, and being aware of the fact that the ‘Stadium of 19 May’ (my birthday!) may be the last place left in the Turkish capital where you can shout things that you better not say out loud elsewhere, … One of them, a humanist intellectual and renowned editorialist, sent me a photo of himself, standing in the terraces under the April rain of 2001, when his beloved red-and-black won the Cup. Surely one of the best days of his life. How could I not check out how Gençlerbirliği are doing? (Let me reassure you: they still have a buffer of six points to the relegation zone).

And this is still not all! What on earth do I care for Torino? If I only think of their ludicrous (albeit original) maroon club colour… And I don’t even care that much anymore for Italian football. But then, remembering the crest as desktop wallpaper of this renowned French historian’s laptop, it becomes an obligation to have a quick look at the no man’s land of Serie A’s table. Boring, but mandatory.

And the worst curse of all is – of course! – PSG. It remains a mystery to me how this club can be followed with as much passion by so many intelligent and kind people who should know better! And now I have this large smile on my face after the 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona, thinking of their unbearable bliss at the sheer quality of the game, and hear myself say ‘Finally!’ Is that me? How low can you get? Is there no limit ?

These people steal my time! They impose on me these warm transnational bonds I am unable to escape. I had not asked for anything, and now they cost me a good half-hour on various screens each and every weekend!

But revenge is sweet. To think that because of me they need to dive into the abysmal depth of the second Bundesliga to find out how stupid old VfB Stuttgart are doing against famous opponents like ‘Sandhausen’ or ‘Heidenheim’… Ha! Take this!

A slightly shorter version in French was published
by Le Monde in its 25 February 2017 edition.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Identities, Public Sphere - No comment

January 7, 2017

2017: Football’s greatest year ever!

After a somewhat depressing 2016, 2017 turned out to be a great year for football!

Apologies!

As early as in January, to everyone’s surprise, Cristiano Ronaldo publicly apologised to all Spanish football fans. ‘This country, and its immoderate passion for football, are at the origin of my entire private fortune’, he declared in a very emotional video on his Facebook page. ‘I sincerely regret having deprived Spain of all the income tax I owe and am fully committed to reimburse the amount due.’ He was pardoned by the King just before the spring clasico in April.

In France, following the elections of the football association in March and taking into consideration the remarkable score of the list presented by the National Council of Football Supporters (CNSF), the re-elected president Noël Le Graët decided to reserve them two places in his new executive committee and commissioned a feasibility study for the implementation of supporter ownership in French professional football. All across the country the echo to this measure was tremendous and a large number of local investment funds emerged spontaneously. Following the general elections in June, public pressure was so high that the League was more or less forced to introduce new provisions for the progressive opening of the clubs’ capital.

A satisfied Ralf Rangnick.

Promoted to the 1st division only one year ago and heavily contested by competitors as a ‘club without tradition, whose only purpose is to sell Red Bull cans’, RB Leipzig nevertheless snatched its first Bundesliga title in May from the jaws of Bayern Munich. Manager Ralf Rangnick calmly explained that the club was finally to maintain its salary cap at 3 million Euros per annum. ‘We see no reasons to keep greedy players’, he said, adding ‘it is more sustainable to invest in home-grown talent and lower ticket prices for fans rather than fill the pockets of players’ agents’.

Putin rallying against homophobia.

In June, at the Confederations Cup in Russia, two players of the Russian team took advantage of the tournament’s global media exposure to have their coming out during a pre-match press conference. They were immediately imitated by half a dozen of colleagues from the Western teams present. Interviewed the next day, Vladimir Putin forced himself to reassure everybody that it was of course his intention to fight homophobia in the stadia and in the cities, and that the entire 2018 World Cup was to serve as awareness campaign for more diversity and tolerance.

On 6 August, at the end of breath-taking match, the French women’s football team finally won its first international trophy at Euro2017 in the Netherlands, beating Germany on penalties (4-3). It was a double victory, not only on the pitch, but also outside. Since the start of the tournament, the players had set up a dedicated Twitter account with the objective to scrupulously ‘name and shame’ all types of sexist comments in print and online media. Several other teams followed their example. The number of ‘likes’ skyrocketed, and the journalists concerned had no choice but to swear they’d improve.

Between September and December, football fans across the entire continent followed with great interest the new European club competition jointly launched by over forty so-called ‘small’ national leagues. The popular success of the new format took observers by surprise. Meanwhile, the UEFA Champions League, which had been forced to grant 10 spots to the Premier League and the Liga, as well as 6 each for Italian and German clubs, in order to reach a field of 32 participants, recorded its poorest audiences ever.

Who said football was going in the wrong direction?

This post is the English version of Albrecht’s column in Le Monde dated 7 January 2017.
French version online here, print version here.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Posts - No comment

December 6, 2016

Goodbye, Sepp!

A guest contribution by Rainer Kalb.

That’s all, folks! The next time we hear about Mr Joseph S. Blatter, it will be its obituaries. As the CAS confirmed yesterday, there will be, unlike what happened to Michel Platini, no reduction of his suspension. Even among football functionaries, a six-year ban for an over 80-year old means a life sentence.

What did Mr Blatter achieve? He changed the rules of world football when as a paid employee of FIFA he challenged in 1998 the Swedish volunteer Lennart Johansson. The then DFB president Egidius Braun fumed with indignation: ‘Never a salaried employee shall run against a honorary official!’ But so he did, and he steadfastly remained silent about the exact amount of the ‘indemnities’ he perceived for the honorary position as FIFA president once it was his.

Difficult to believe he would know nothing at all about the bribes and kickbacks during his numerous terms in office. All the more so as they had started during his time a general secretary under president Havelange. And what kind of president would Blatter have been if had not known what happened within his harmonious ‘football family’? Perhaps he should have renamed his function from ‘FIFA President’ to ‘FIFA Godfather’, in order to better describe the relationship he had with many.

And yet, it must be recognized that Blatter actually did do some things ‘for the good of the game’. Not so much for its administration and governance, but for the game itself. His greatest achievement was perhaps to force the adoption of the rule according to which a player is no longer offside ‘if level-with the second-to-last defender’, as well as the (admittedly delicate) definition of ‘passive offside’. Both measures were in favour of attacking football and good for the game’s attractiveness.

Along the same line, and also introduced under his leadership as general secretary, was the ‘back-pass rule’ and the simple but efficient instruction to home teams to provide dozens of extra balls in order to prevent the temptation to gain several precious minutes of time by kicking the ball into the stands.

Oh, he was a smart guy, our Joseph S. Blatter, who had the perfectly redundant middle name ‘Sepp’ – which is nothing but a nickname for Joseph anyway – officially registered, because he had always like the ‘F.’ of President Kennedy and perceived it as a key differentiator for really important people. But when he started to find himself for more powerful than the Pope – quite logically, as there were ‘more footballers on the planet than Catholics’ – some of us started to have whether our Swiss friend was not somewhat disconnected from reality. Or struck by acute megalomania.

I can testify that at the time when Blatter was still general secretary and loved to play the Master of Ceremony at drawings for international tournaments of qualifiers, he was jovial, entertaining, often funny. When he had become president, these same qualities metamorphosed into lying, cheating, and hypocrisy. The life sentence is a good thing. It’s never too late to bring someone back to reason.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Football Politics, Governance - No comment

November 18, 2016

Genuine social engagement or cheap hypocrisy?

My football book of the year is, I’m afraid, written in German. It’s the result of three years of field research carried out by Ronny Blaschke, a freelance journalist, independent in the best sense of the word. Its original title ‘Gesellschaftsspielchen’ (don’t even try to pronounce this) may be literally translated by ‘small board games’ but probably best rendered by something like ‘Playing the social game’. The book, released by the well-known publisher Die Werkstatt (Göttingen), is a journey through the social engagement of professional football and the multiple forms it can take.

Through a large number of encounters and field reports the book opens a large and, for the German case, rather exhaustive perspective on the vast variety of initiatives aiming – sometimes without knowing it – at implementing the principles of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Very often this happens in close collaboration with actors of civil society or with public institutions like municipalities, schools, hospitals or prisons.

Actions in favour of social inclusion or vocational integration, health and nutrition, urban development or even political education (such as increasing historical awareness or fighting against discrimination, for instance) – the sheer array of initiatives is more than impressive.

Except that…

Except that all this looks like an uncoordinated patchwork.

Except that the expenditures are not at all commensurate with the income.

Except that you can’t help but wonder whether all this is based on a genuine recognition of social responsibility or rather designed as a fig-leaf.

Philanthropic sprinkling, that’s what it is in its current state and scope. Efforts are no doubt sincere, but not based on a global concept or holistic strategy. And somewhat meagre: in Germany, the total proportion of voluntary CSR action by football clubs represents 0.61% of the overall turnover of professional football (€ 2.62 bn in 2015, one billion of which went into players’ and coaches’ salaries only). In England, to which the book’s last chapter is dedicated, the proportion is hardly any higher: what is a total of € 78 million of CSR-related expenses in the largest sense (as communicated for the 2015/16 season, p. 269) compared to the 20 million that Manchester United presumably had to pay to Paul Pogba’s agent (who credibly claims he is no longer even ‘driven by money’)?

Ronny Blaschke

The best thing about the book is its tone. Ronny Blaschke does not take the part of the prosecutor accusing the ‘greedy football business’ (as the French love to do). The approach he adopts towards his over eighty very different interlocutors and the organisations they represent is marked by an attitude of critical empathy that allows him to dig deeper without prejudice or bias. He thus manages to bring to light the schizophrenia (or cognitive dissonance, if you prefer) of professional football clubs, who are increasingly aware of the social and environmental responsibility as large SMEs moving millions around, while at the same time being almost relieved to see themselves as prisoners of the ‘market mechanisms of global football’ that offer such a cosy excuse, even for intelligent and open-minded people like Reinhard Rauball, president of Borussia Dortmund and the DFL (p. 165), who at the same time recognises that there is a problem if ‘one fourth of TV rights revenues now go directly to players’ agents’.

Blaschke’s approach also reveals the sheer negligence of the media, so much occupied with staging and selling the spectacle that they become indifferent to its social stakes and impact.

The patient and meticulous field work on which this book is based – and which could serve as inspiration to some ‘football intellectuals’, if you grant me this aside – does not result in high-standing moral lecturing. Quite the contrary: Blaschke limits himself to asking the right questions. For instance, whether it is not too easy to ‘outsource’ social engagement into foundations (often understaffed and underfunded) rather than put CSR into the very heart of the corporate structures, in form of transversal departments that irrigate the entire strategic management. He also wonders whether it would be really so complicated for the leagues to impose on their clubs a minimum CSR investment threshold of one tiny little per cent of their annual turnover. In one of the interviews, Dietmar Hopp, the SAP founder-billionaire who has made his childhood club Hoffenheim into a premium address of German football, actually suggests ‘3% as appropriate’, before recognising right away that this would ‘ provoke an outcry’, p. 125). You can almost see this philanthropist (who has actually put much more money into cancer research and health infrastructure than into football) shrug his shoulders at the mentality of corporate football.

In quite a few countries football is a booming business. Its actors tend to forget that it is a profit-oriented sector whose very success is entirely dependent on a non-economic social need that was initially addressed by civil society associations (called ‘clubs’). Today these clubs have become full-fledged corporate organisations and it’s time they understand that their level of social responsibility has changed. Those who are in charge of these corporate players should take the time to read Ronny Blaschke’s excellent book. Maybe they would share my premonition that the football of the future would be well advised to give back to society a fair share of its totally disproportionate revenues. For professional football, embracing social and environmental sustainability will simply be a question of saving its soul.

This post was also published in French as column for Le Monde.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Football Politics, Governance, Public Sphere - No comment

October 24, 2016

A club like all the others

It is only fifteen years ago that German historians started to study the role of sport in the dark years of Nazism. For over half a century both federations and clubs have been somewhat reluctant to open their archives to the researchers. Instead they preferred to refer to the more than elusive narratives that could be found in the occasional commemorative publication.

Since the beginning of the century, however, historical research has shed some new light on the behaviour of sport organisations between 1933 and 1945. Some of the work was of excellent quality, like our friend Nils Havemann’s standard Football under the Swastika (2005) or the very good case study on Schalke 04 (six times champions under the Nazi regime) Between Blue and White, there’s Grey by Stefan Goch and Norbert Silberbach (2005).

Not all of the publications, however, applied the same academic rigour, and some of them appeared to be biased by ideological premises. And as might be expected in a milieu where the attachment to a club is founded on emotions and dearly held collective beliefs, the historiography of German football has also engendered a number of myths and legends.

It is hardly surprising that one of these myths concerns FC Bayern Munich, today the world’s largest sports club in terms of membership (with 277 000 adherents), but in the 1930s a club among others with a thousand members. Legend has it that Bayern, contrary to their local arch-rival TSV Munich of 1860, had shown a kind of passive resistance to the regime of the Third Reich. Roughly speaking, they were said to have been dragging their feet when the Nazis imposed their totalitarian “Gleichschaltung” process on all spheres of society.

The story of a club which tried to do everything to protect its Jewish members, among whom its emblematic president Kurt Landauer, has been popularised over recent years not so much by the club itself, but by books and films that pretended to be well-documented and based on serious research.

It turns out that the historical truth is somewhat less glorious. As a matter of fact, Bayern have been no better and no worse than the vast majority of sport organisations during this period. Like most other clubs, Bayern were quick to “clean” their ranks from Jewish members, efficiently and rigorously, as early as spring 1933. And like most other clubs, they even went beyond the expectations of the new regime, which was not even too eager to displease international public opinion during the preparation of the 1936 Olympics.

The details can be found in a recent volume edited by Markwart Herzog, director of the Schwabenakademie Irsee and a good friend of the FREE Project. The book on “The Gleichschaltung of Football in Nazi Germany” (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2016) contains a chapter by Herzog on the “aryanisation” of FC Bayern Munich, for which he consulted, among other sources, the archives in the Munich Registration Court, where clubs and civil society associations deposit their statutes and all subsequent modifications. These files provide ample and irrefutable evidence for the fact that Bayern was a club like every other, whose directors were eager to please the new regime, some of them by ideological conviction, some simply scared to death by the prospect of being prohibited from playing.

Markwart Herzog had a good laugh when he studied these documents that had all those years been publicly available but neglected by those historians who had taken the role of “hagiographers” of Bayern Munich.

Markwart Herzog

Needless to say that in the small community of German football historians his book chapter (featured in an article in Der Spiegel) caused a good deal of commotion. And as could be expected, he was entitled to a little shit storm on the social networks.

And how does the great FC Bayern Munich position itself in this matter? Very smartly, they have made no comment whatsoever. In prudent modesty (quite unlike their habitual communication style) the club itself had never actively put forward its allegedly “heroic” attitude during the dictatorship. As a result, it is now under no justification pressure and in a position where it can let the historians (the good ones) do their work.

This blogpost is the English version
of an original column for Le Monde.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category History, Memory - No comment

June 4, 2016

The spark of the gods

Friedrich Schiller, does his name ring a bell? Don’t check frantically Joachim Löw’s 23-man squad for the Euro, the man is not the Bundesliga latest Wunderkind.

As a matter of fact, he would qualify for two national teams, since he was awarded French citizenship by decree of the National Assembly on 26 August 1792, for his merits as a herald of liberty. This happened six years after the publication of his ‘Ode to Joy’, which Beethoven immortalised a quarter century later.

It is strange that Europe should have made of an emphatic ode to joy its official anthem. ‘Europe’ and ‘joy’, in these troubled days the connection is far from obvious. Will football and its big quadrennial continental party bring some joyfulness back into the morose setting?

It will not be easy. The host country, for one, seems to be poised towards ‘the final struggle’ rather than ‘the spark of the Gods’ sung by Schiller.

And yet, social sciences research, at its most rigorous, comes to the conclusion that, as disturbingly trivial as it may sound, football is joy. More precisely: it’s a wonderful pretext for being joyful.

According to the photos taken during the innovative field work carried out by the Loughborough team under Borja García with supporters from several European countries, football is not so much about watching football, but about exchanging smiles and taking group selfies, with both close friends and unknown foreigners.

Football is first and foremost about social bonds. These bonds can take different forms: sometimes they can be sometimes slightly masochistic – nothing equals the sweet-sour joy of mourning together a painful defeat. Very often they easily cross borders of all kinds, precisely because no developed linguistic competence is necessary. And because no real football fan, as our research has shown, never ever seems to get tired of talking about his passion.

Of course, the capacity of football to bring joy, has long been noticed by politicians. That’s why they unfailingly support their national federations in their bids for hosting mega-events. 20 years ago, after ‘thirty years of hurt’ and 200 years since Schiller’s poem, English spin-doctors turned simple ‘joy’ into the politically relevant ‘feel-good factor’.

Original manuscript of the 'Ode to Joy'

But organised joy ordered from above is superficial and ephemeral. The deep and sustainable joy is the one that is encapsulated in the souvenir of the smiles exchanges, like those in the pictures of our research guinea pigs. Or in the feeling of having been momentarily absorbed in a solidary community before returning to one’s ordinary individualist life.

This kind of joy happily ignored the national borders everybody seems to be talking about in Europe these days. Friedrich Schiller lucidly observed that it had the capacity ‘to unite again what customs have strictly divided’ and that under its ‘gentle wing’, all humans became ‘brothers again’.

Football as a little break of unifying joy in a strictly divided Europe? I’m not asking for more. Sincere thanks in advance.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Competitions, Memory - No comment

June 3, 2016

Racism, what racism?

What has become ‘the Benzema affair’ this week is a wonderful triple case study.

Firstly, it’s an illustration of the hyper-sensitivity with regard to ethnic groups that was rather feeble in France for many decades and that has grown significantly over recent years, reaching a new level in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2015.

Secondly, it’s a nice example of the mechanisms of ‘moral panic’ which David Ranc described exactly four years ago, at the beginning of another European championship, involving another French top-player, who happened to be of North African descent, too.

Thirdly, it is a case in point of what our recent UNESCO report ‘Colour? What Colour?’ described as ‘Racism accusations as rhetorical weapon in the media’. Here’s the excerpt concerned (from section 5.4, page 71):

Since racism has been tabooed in mainstream society, accusations of racism have become a rhetorical weapon in public debate. A perfect example of this was provided by the former FIFA president himself in summer 2014. Sepp Blatter responded to different allegations against African members of his organisation by saying:

‘Once again there is a sort of storm against Fifa relating to the Qatar World Cup. Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism and this hurts me. It really makes me sad.’[1]

Using ‘racism’ against individuals who very clearly have no racist intent is generally counter-productive and results in a devaluation and even trivialisation of the term itself.

In Germany, where for obvious historical reasons the media’s sensitivity to racist and discriminatory discourse is very high, a certain uneasiness is felt with regard to alleged cases of racism that, at close scrutiny, appear artificially construed by specific political groups or social milieus. According to Ingo von Münch, a reputed professor of constitutional law, racism charges have become a doubtful tool in short-term political conflicts. Used for forming hegemonic or ‘monopolistic’ opinions they threaten to undermine a vital principle of liberal democracies.[2]

Allegations of racism are unfortunately also instrumentalised with the aim of damaging the reputations of persons or influencing ordinary power struggles in football organisations. One may cite the case of Oliver Kahn, who was wrongly accused of having insulted Jonathan Akpoborie in a racist manner.[3] Or the case of Johan Cruyff, who in autumn 2011 allegedly had said to Edgar Davids in an Ajax supervisory board meeting: ‘You are sitting here because you are black’. Although Cruyff could credibly explain that the context gave the sentence a totally different meaning than the one reported in the press, the racism charges that ensued were difficult to dissipate.[4]

Rather than reinforcing the legitimate fight against racist and discriminatory attitudes, the hasty denunciation of racist or discriminatory discourse – whether based on sincere convictions or cynical instrumentalisation – that eventually turns out to be biased or plain wrong, may have very regrettable counter-productive side-effects. Media reports on racism and discrimination in football are a  double-edged sword: they may raise awareness, but they may also, dilute the fundamental intention and key message of the fight against racism and discrimination by blurring the lines and weakening the semantic effectiveness and weight of the concepts they use. In other words: by accusing individuals of racism in a non-differentiating manner, they run the risk of damaging the credibility of campaigns and initiatives.

The full report can still be downloaded as PDF here: http://www.essca.fr/EU-Asia/unesco-releases-report-on-racism-and-discrimination/


[1] Owen Gibson, ‘Sepp Blatter launches broadside against the “racist” British media’, The Guardian, 9 June 2014.

[2] Ingo von Münch, Rechtspolitik und Rechtskultur. Kommentare zum Zustand der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2011, p. 212.

[3] Nils Havemann, Samstags um halb 4. Die Geschichte der Fußballbundesliga. Munich: Siedler, 2013, pp. 470f.

[4] ‘Johan Cruyff desmente comentários racistas’, Diario de Noticias, 22 November 2011. See also Ewan Murry, ‘Johan Cruyff explains alleged racist remark towards Edgar Davids’, The Guardian, 22 November 2011.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Identities - No comment

May 18, 2016

From Panama Pampers to Mexico Muddle

A guest contribution by Rainer Kalb.

Let’s sum up the recent episodes of our favourite soap opera.

Gianni Infantino, the newly elected FIFA president is a man of worldly manners who juggles between six or eight different languages. Having worked for years under Michel Platini, he must even be a master juggler.

After a few weeks in office only he already had the opportunity to give evidence to his skills. First, the Panama Papers leaked that he had sold the television rights of the Champions League for the ridiculously low sum of 110,000 $ to Ecuador. His defence line, according to which there were only two offers the better of which was chosen, sounds reasonable enough. But if an intermediary sells them for three times more to an interested TV channel, the question must be allowed by UEFA did not deal directly with the buyers, but charged a Swiss marketing agency to sell the rights via an Argentinian broker to Ecuador.

Like Beckenbauer, Infantino claims to have signed ‘blindly’ a ‘thousand contracts’. Note that the position of General Secretary (!) in a multi-million dollar business exempts you from reading documents that bind the organisation and engage a lot of money. It does not take a PhD in linguistics to understand then ‘Infantino’ means ‘little child’. Acting like an infant at age 46 is not a good omen for future responsibilities. So much for the Panama Pampers.

From Panama to Mexico, it’s just a three-hour flight. The distance between the Panama Papers and the FIFA reform congress in Mexico seems even shorter. At the congress Infantino presented Fatma Samoura as new general secretary of the ‘new’ FIFA. The 54-year old Senegalese who had served the United Nations for 21 years, seems to be beyond reproach, but the question must be allowed what Infantino’s intentions really are when appointing a person who is supposed to have a tight control over daily business and the use of FIFA’s revenues but has little to no knowledge of football (let alone European football).

Even more grotesk is the replacement of the previous executive committee by a so-called ‘Council’, which is supposed to be composed not only of football officials, although the latter remain. The supervisory bodies (ethics committee, appeal committee, audit and compliance committee and governance committee) were to be elected by the Congress, but since FIFA was unable to propose enough candidates who had passed the ‘cleanliness check’, Infantino imposed a shortcut, having the Council elect and dismiss its own supervisors! In other words: all doors are wide open again for influence-wielding, corrupting, and blackmailing. ‘Blatterism’ at its very best, as Mark Pieth, the resigned founder of the reform commission, called it bluntly.

The chairman of the independent audit committee, Domenico Scala, resigned right away, clearly disgusted with the Mexico Muddle.

Instead of making FIFA a cleaner institution, Infantino seems to be creating a mess. He will need king-size pampers to tidy it up.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Governance - No comment

February 21, 2016

Brexit questions and Euro2016 scenarios

So we’re set for 23 June. England’s Eurosceptics now have for months to pick apart what David Cameron claims was a successful re-negotiation of Britain’s special status within the European Union.

Getting over with it as quickly as possible is probably the best bet. No one wanted an entire year of aggressive campaigning bound to become hateful over time.

The vote will take place right in the middle of Euro2016. Which raises, of course, various questions of timing: is it wise to schedule a referendum of this importance at a moment when the attention of a large part of the public will be diverted to the state of Rooney’s knee? Does it make sense to mix the expected outpour of identity discourse with the surge of football nationalism that comes with every big international tournament?

Martyn Turner's cartoon for the Irish Times after England lost its quarter final to Portugal (on penalties!) on 24 June.

English history would say it’s rather risky for the man in office. On 18 June 1970 Prime Minister Harold Wilson lost the general elections against all odds. The only possible explanation for this surprise defeat was the surprise defeat of the English team at the World Cup that had occurred only four days earlier, in a quarter final that was played under the scorching Mexico mid-day sun in order to allow Europeans to watch it in early evening. As the reigning world champions, England had been favourites against West Germany, but lost 2-3 in a dramatic extra time dénouement after having led 2-0. Could it be that Thursday’s voters were Sunday’s depressed football fans?

Now that UEFA has in its wisdom blown up the European Championship to 24 participants it is not very likely that English voters will already be in a depressed mood after the first round. Chances are England will have sailed through their three matches against Russia, Slovakia and … Wales (the latter reminding us that the UK is represented at Euro2016 by three different nations, with Northern Ireland playing Ukraine, Germany and Poland, while the Scottish Europhiles are watching from home, having been eliminated by the very same Germans and Poles).

But even if England is in buoyant mood during the Euro, would that mean that nationalist fervour around what is likely to be the youngest team in the tournament would reinforce the ‘Leavers’? Or would the joyful noise from the continent make everybody on the island feel more ‘European’ at the moment of the vote?

And, to look at things the other way round, what would be the impact of a clear British ‘Leave’ vote on the remainder of the tournament? Would England’s quarter final be overshadowed by an emergency summit in Brussels?

The favourite scenario of all Europhobic Englanders would be the Danish one. In 1992 Denmark voted a resounding ‘NO’ against the Maastricht Treaty on 2 June, before winning, only three weeks later, a European Championship they had not even qualified for in the first place.

But, who knows, perhaps the Eurosceptics are heading for their worst-case scenario: the UK chooses to remain in the EU and the Three Lions play a smashing tournament from beginning to end, meeting France in the final in Saint-Denis, winning the Euro in a breath-taking penalty shootout and, just like in Wembley on 17 November, singing the Marseillaise again together with their rivals. The ultimate nightmare!

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Competitions, Identities - No comment

January 12, 2016

Oh well, Michel!

A guest contribution by Rainer Kalb on the fall of Michel Platini.

Michel Platini 1984 and 2016.

So you finally threw in the towel. You don’t want to become FIFA president any more. You say it’s no longer possible because of the ‘time frame’. In legal terms, this is perfectly correct. But time cannot really be ‘framed’, it’s fluid, isn’t? No one knows this better than football functionaries among whom you’re still very youthful at age 60. After all, Blatter only became a thing of the past at age 79.

As a young boy in Lorraine you were always looking forward to watching the Bundesliga highlights on the Sportschau. Today you must feel a lot of bitterness towards Germany. The Germans robbed you of the World Cup twice:  in 1982 Harald Schumacher brutally eliminated your friend Patrick Battiston in the World Cup semi-final in Sevilla; and four years later, again in the semi-final, a certain Wolfgang Rolff, today simple assistant coach in Hanover, took you out, just like he did in the European Cup final of 1983, when Hamburg won against Juventus thanks to Felix Magath’s goal.

And today – if your appeal does not miraculously reinstate you – it’s a German judge who thwarted all your ambitions by law. And now that Sepp Blatter has neutralized your friend and ally Wolfgang Niersbach, you lost your last support in Germany.

I presume you feel like good old Heinrich Heine, who sighed from his Parisian exile in 1844, ‘When I think of Germany in the night, I am deprived of my sleep!’

You’re going down with Blatter now – but how stupid must one be to fall into a trap Blatter did not even set? You told me once you were earning more money at UEFA in a month than in your entire first year as professional footballer in Saint-Etienne. But why then did you have to take the two million Swiss francs? Why the greed? You don’t even have the time to spend that money with all your obligations and travels!

For me, you will remain, along with Pelé, Beckenbauer and Cruyff, one of the best footballers ever. I will always remember how at Euro1984 you scored 9 goals in 5 matches as a midfielder. No one will ever come close to this. Certainly not Blatter. Like you recently said, he only ‘adorned himself’ with you, but would never let you ‘cast a longer shadow than he did’.

As a faithful companion of yours since 1981, I sincerely hope you will be allowed to watch at least one match at the French Euro this year. You already expressed, in one of your quips nobody understands but everybody appreciates, how strongly you feel about this: ‘If needs be’, you said, ‘I can always drive the car of Jacques Lambert’, the head of the organising committee with whom you already staged France 98.

But being a driver may no longer be the social group you belong to. And not all the drivers get to see the matches. When the terrorists blew themselves up in Saint-Denis on 13 November, the only victim around the Stade de France was a chauffeur, waiting for his clients because he did not have a ticket himself.

Rainer Kalb’s previous contribution can be found here.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Football Politics - No comment

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