Tuesday, March 26, 2013

FIFA Opaqueness: It's a Cultural Thing

Last Friday the US played Costa Rica in a  CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in a heavy snowstorm. I was there, along with more than 19,000 other supporters. The conditions were dismal, and I cannot recall ever seeing a top-level match played in such weather. (Though I do recall ~30 years ago in high school playing in a snow game against Thompson Valley, in which I scored 2 goals . . . but I digress;-) At the same time, the match was great fun and the US eked out a victory. So all is good right?

Well, not according to the Costa Rican squad. Predictably, Costa Rica lodged a formal protest with FIFA. In characteristic fashion FIFA's response leaves much unanswered. Here is the sum total of the FIFA response:
FIFA received a letter via email and fax from the Costa Rica FA on 24 March 2013 with regards to the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier played on 22 March between USA and Costa Rica.

FIFA has examined the content of the letter and, taking into consideration article 14, paragraph 4 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup regulations, has confirmed that the conditions established in the regulations for an official protest have not been met by the Costa Rica FA.

Therefore, the result of the match played on 22 March stands and is considered as valid.
Apparently, Costa Rica does not get a judgment on the merits of their complaint due to some procedural point. Here is article 14, paragraph 4 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup regulations (here in PDF):
Protests regarding the state of the pitch, its surroundings, markings or accessory items (e.g. goals, flagposts or footballs) shall be made in writing to the referee before the start of the match by the head of delegation of the team lodging the protest. If the pitch’s playing surface becomes unplayable during a match, the captain of the protesting team shall immediately lodge a protest with the referee in the presence of the captain of the opposing team. The protests shall be confirmed in writing to the FIFA general secretariat during the preliminary competition and during the final competition by the head of the team delegation no later than two hours after the match.
Reading between the lines -- Costa Rica did not follow this procedure: the letter arrived 2 days and not 2 hours after the match -- and thus had its protest thrown out before getting heard on the merits. Fair enough.

But why can't FIFA simply explain the judgment with relevant facts. What procedures were violated? Where is the evidence?

The FIFA judgment on the Costa Rican protest illustrates much that is wrong about the culture within FIFA. Secrecy and a lack of public accountability are in the organization's DNA. If FIFA does not explain its ruling on US-Costa Rica, does anyone think that they will open up about bn Hammam and other decisions of the star chamber?

FIFA's cultural predisposition to decisions behind closed doors will be difficult to change, but it will have to if FIFA is to successfully reform.


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