When the headlines were all about cash for votes in World Cup and presidential campaigns then the British media was crawling all over Zurich: local hoteliers grew fat on block bookings from London-based television and radio crews and newspaper reporters.
Last Monday barely a handful flew down for the annual FIFA Awards Gala and only a couple attended media-specific seminars the following morning on activities beneath the tip of the world federation iceberg.
Of course, the awards gala did prompt some snide comments both in Zurich and from afar.
UEFA president Michel Platini was sniffy that fellow Frenchman Franck Ribery was not crowned as World No1 given that he had won so much during the year while Cristiano Ronaldo had won nothing (bar worldwide admiration for his goal-scoring prowess and the ‘honour’ of mimicry from Sepp Blatter).
Platini complained that voting parameters had changed since the good old days when France Football ran the show. But then, the very first European Footballer of the Year, back in 1956, was Stanley Matthews – and he won only one major trophy in all his 33-year career (the FA Cup, a full three years earlier).
In any case surely Ribery was no more worthy of an individual award on behalf of Bayern Munich than Philipp Lahm or Bastian Schweinsteiger? The awards balance was probably reflected most accurately in picking out Bayern’s retired Jupp Heynckes as Coach of the Year.
The trouble with (and for) FIFA is that it unifies 209 associations (Gibraltar, next Congress, will be 210) and devising rules and regulations to satisfy all those political and cultural standards is well-nigh impossible.
A Swiss penchant for precise rules and regulations also has its drawbacks.
For instance, a case arose recently of a teenager whose family moved from Canada to England for reasons of the father’s work. But the son was denied an international transfer permit to play football – as a student – in England because the paperwork submitted by the FA lacked some little dot or comma.
The Singapore judge acting for the players’ status panel stuck rigidly to a narrow interpretation of the rules and failed to either commonsense or humanity to bear on the case.
Similarly, this writer was told, any refugee footballers from Syria or Somalia will not receive any sympathy from FIFA is they make a new life in a new country and want to play international football for their new homeland.
Ferenc Puskas – one of the greatest footballers of all time and a refugee from Hungary in the 1950s – would not now be cleared to play for the Spain which provided him and his family with a welcoming haven from communist pursuit.
Football needs all its rules and regulations and so does FIFA. But it’s a game played by human beings. Next, and most complex, trick: Getting the balance right.
Keir Radnedge is one of the foremost observers of international soccer. He has reported at every World Cup since 1966 and is a regular contributor to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines worldwide. He is editor of KeirRadnedge.com and is chairman of the Football Commission of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Visit www.KeirRadnedge.com for further information. Follow him on Twitter for more sports industry updates.
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