Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tick Tock ...

Perhaps the strategy devised by the Caribbean Football Union's leadership in response to their May 10th meeting with Bin Hammam -- hold firm, stick together, deny, and wait for things to blow over -- was a wee bit flawed.

You've got forty-eight hours:

"FIFA sent a letter yesterday (25 July) to all CFU associations, asking the associations, their presidents, and any of their members with knowledge of anything that transpired during the meetings held on 10 and 11 May in Trinidad and Tobago to provide and report all relevant information in their possession within 48 hours.

"Truthful and complete reporting will be considered in mitigation by the Ethics Committee when deciding on potential sanctions. Any person who has relevant information but does not come forward during this 48 hour period will be subject to the full range of sanctions.

"Following this 48 hour period, the Ethics Committee will be asked to open the necessary ethics proceedings."

Skysports has the current standings:

25 associations --

1 did not attend (Cuba)

4 failed to meet with investigators (Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Montserrat -- note that while no one from Dominica may have met with investigators, that has not stopped Patrick John, the association's President, from talking openly about the meeting in the press).

11 met with investigators but denied receiving cash gifts (Barbados, Guyana, British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands)

9 informed FIFA they were given or offered $40k at the meeting (the Skysports article doesn't list the countries but five of the nine are the football associations of the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Turks & Caicos and representatives of the football associations of Suriname and Curacao have publicly acknowledged that $40k was offered at the meeting. The last two countries not listed in the three other categories are Aruba and Grenada).

Of the eleven that denied receiving gifts, some went further.

The head of the British Virgin Islands' football association, Franka Pickering, told The Independent that she saw no evidence of any bribes at the meeting.

Carlos Prowell, representing Colin Klass and the good folks at the football association in Guyana, told local news outlets that not only was no money taken by his impeccable organization, none was offered.

Representatives of the football association of Barbados have said in statements to the press that no payments were made at the meeting (they've made it pellucid).

Also interesting from the breakdown is that the group of eleven CFU member associations reportedly represented by Colin Henry includes members that have acknowledged the offer of a bribe (the Cayman Islands and Grenada), others that have refused to cooperate with FIFA (Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda), as well as the core group of CFU's leadership (Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana). How the interests of all eleven -- which, at this point, clearly diverge -- can be represented by the same counsel is an interesting question.

In any event, FIFA has issued an ultimatum. What say you?

If you're Jamaica's Captain Horace Burrell (and acting President of the CFU), you're doubling down. And so too is Oliver Camps, the President of Trinidad & Tobago's Football Federation.

So that should be fun.

But if you were to ask me what was the best part, the absolute best part of this story? How about what Louis Freeh's report had to say about one Colin Klass. From the Irish Times:
The Freeh report also includes statements about Colin Klass, a CFU executive committee member and president of the Guyana FA, who orchestrated a campaign by other associations to write letters backing Warner and saying there was no offer or talk about cash gifts at the Trinidad meeting.

The report quotes evidence from Bahamas vice-president Fred Lunn, who took a photo of the cash he was given before returning it on the afternoon of May 10th, stating that Klass went into the room when the money was being given.

The report states: “Outside the boardroom, Mr Lunn encountered Lionel Haven (a former Bahamas FA board member) and Colin Klass.

“According to Mr Lunn, Mr Klass stated: ‘Why is this door locked, are there people getting bribed around here?’ The male \[CFU official] then allowed Mr Klass to enter the boardroom, which he exited after a few minutes. Mr Lunn noticed that Mr Klass had a smile on his face and was slightly giggling.”

Klass told investigators however that he did not go into the boardroom.

The report states: “Mr Klass tried to enter the CFU boardroom on the afternoon of May 10th, but was told that the room was not for him. Mr Klass remembered that Mr Warner said on May 11th that the only gifts were a laptop computer and projector.

“Mr Klass... stated that \[he] had not been offered or received any cash gift while in Trinidad and Tobago at the meeting.”

If Mr. Klass had a smile on his face then, he doesn't have one now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

No Hope

It has been coming for a while now, but this weekend signaled the final, swift closure on a false period where my little girl joined me for soccer outings in the region.

"I don't like soccer, daddy."

No Everton-D.C. United Saturday night, in spite of how excited I was about the scheduling of the friendly.

No Real Maryland - Fredericksburg Hotspur PDL season finale this evening. I'd planned to head to the game on my own, but being told by the little one that all she wanted to do is stay home with daddy isn't that bad an outcome.

Unfortunately, my change in personal fortune is due to baseball. The tide turned with an innocent trip to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs' Regency Furniture Stadium. One evening at the stadium -- and its playground, inflatable slide, bounce house, sand pits, and bumper boats -- combined with regular trips to the playground and Build-A-Bear at Nationals Stadium and the carousel and bounce house at the Bowie Baysox's Prince George's Stadium was enough to paint soccer in sharp contrast.

I grew up at Wrigley. Perhaps because of that I failed to fully appreciate the threat posed by these stadiums. These parks concede that baseball is boring (at least for long stretches of the three to four hours spent at the stadium).

The long, dull stretches of baseball games was something I appreciated as it was conducive to conversation or fixation on details about players that might otherwise have been missed or pondering important/spurious concepts under a beautiful sun. I disliked Comiskey, in part, because it tried to draw attention away from the competition on the field.

But William Louis Veeck has unquestionably won the war for baseball's soul.

The last soccer game I was able to take my daughter to was a Real Maryland match shortly after the birth of her little sister. My wife needed a break, so the trip was over my eldest's strongest objections. On the way into the stadium she looked up and said "I don't like soccer. Baseball has bouncies. Baseball is more better."

In almost any other year, this would not bother me terribly -- in point of fact, she asks to go to baseball games and this, in and of itself, is great. But it had to be this season.

When the Cubs were in town at the beginning of July, my daughter was asking to go to baseball games and I refused, holding out until the Thursday finale. We bought tickets outside the stadium and immediately went to the playground. It took a while to get to our seats, but shortly after sitting down I wanted to get back to the playground.

The Cubs won the game eventually (following the Nationals' epic collapse), but what we saw was horribly depressing baseball. I'm happy to say it was the most I've seen of this awful Cubs team in several months.

And when they are blowing plays or cut down trying to stretch singles into doubles while down seven runs, the thought I cannot evade is what Jim Hendry did to Ryne Sandberg. Hendry's done many remarkable things for the franchise at the helm, but the decision to go with Quade over Sandberg was pure ego -- there was no legitimate baseball justification for the choice -- and it is, finally, an offense that merits relieving him of his position.

Removing Hendy won't fix the Cubs problems. But for the reasons that Phil Rogers outlined in an inspired column in the Chicago Tribune on Friday, hiring Pat Gillick would not only restore competence to the front office, it might also facilitate the correction of the grave error made this last offseason.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

College Prep

When D.C. United announced the acquisition of Austin da Luz from the Red Bulls on Sunday, it brought back pleasant memories of when we first started to seriously follow collegiate soccer. da Luz was part of Wake Forest's terrific 2007 national championship squad and, along with Lyle Adams, is the second player from that team to have been signed by United.

In 2007, da Luz was a substitute in Wake Forest’s 2-1 win over Ohio State. He was one of fourteen Demon Deacons to take the field that day -- each of whom went on to play at least some professional soccer.

Coming off the bench along with da Luz was current Chicago Fire midfielder Corben Bone and current New England Revolution striker Zack Schilawski. Starting for Wake Forest was Schilawski’s current teammate in New England, Pat Phelan, along with Chivas USA’s Michael Lahoud, San Jose’s Sam Cronin and Ike Opara, Real Salt Lake’s Cody Arnoux, and Marcus Tracy, currently at the Danish-side Aalborg, and Brian Edwards, the keeper for the Swedish second-division side Dergefors IF (a team currently in contention for promotion to the Allsvenskan).

The remaining four players, including Lyle Adams (D.C. United and Austin Aztex), each can claim some professional experience: Julian Valentin (L.A. Galaxy and FC Tampa Bay), Jamie Franks (Wilmington Hammerheads and Rochester Rhinos), and Evan Brown (Seattle Sounders).

That season, Maryland dropped its one game against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem two to nothing. The Terps would bow out of the tournament in an emotional upset win for a visiting Bradley squad overcoming grave tragedy.

The Terps of 2007 were no pushovers -- current MLSers Omar Gonzalez, A.J. Delagarza, Rodney Wallace, Jeremy Hall, Graham Zusi, and Stephen King were on that team (as was Thorne Holder, currently with the Philadelphia Union; Rich Costanzo, currently with the Rochester Rhinos; Sean Flatley, currently with the Charleston Battery; and Drew Yates, currently with the Harrisburg City Islanders) -- and it was unquestionably a good season to be introduced to collegiate soccer at Ludwig Field.

This likely explains why I do not understand arguments that college soccer is somehow retarding the development of the game in the United States.

For all of the players mentioned above, amateur soccer in NCAA division I competitions gave them a chance to play at high levels of competition against talented opponents, even if for only a limited portion of the year. The education they received (even if only partially completed) likely also provided some comfort to each as they pursued careers as professional athletes in a field with limited opportunities available to Americans.

In any event, we view the addition of da Luz as a positive development and look forward to seeing what he can do as part of United.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bertie Chimilio's XI

There are lots of things going on at the moment that merit special attention. We're on the brink of a new era of incompetence of our federal political system. If that's too depressing to grapple with, the U.S. women will contend for the championship of the Women's World Cup on Sunday to cap off what has been a tremendously entertaining tournament and the Copa America promises four intriguing match-ups over the weekend.

Shortly after the Women's World Cup Final is concluded and a few minutes before Chile and Venezuela tangle to see who will make the semifinals of the Copa America, an absolute farce will take place at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula.

To some muted fanfare, FIFA announced on July 7th that it was "provisionally" lifting the suspension of Belize to allow the national team to complete the second leg of its World Cup qualifier against Montserrat. As opaque as ever, FIFA explained: "This decision has been taken following some positive developments in the case, as reported by the FFB to FIFA."

What would that positive development have been, one wonders? It can't have been that positive, as FIFA's announcement also observed:
This return match will now be played before 17 July 2011 outside of Belize (in order to avoid the risk of the Belizean authorities not providing security guarantees, as was the case for the game originally scheduled for 19 June 2011).
Hold on, what's that? The game will not be in Belize because the government may not provide security? Wouldn't that imply that, perhaps, the Belizean FA isn't considered representative of the country?

When the game kicks off, it will take place over the objection of Belize's government:
The Government, in a press release, maintained that the FFB was not recognized and called on Honduras, where reports suggested the game would be played, to respect Belize’s “sovereignty” and right to accountability from its national governing body.
The Belizean government has informed FIFA that the FFB "is not authorized to represent the people and country of Belize in local or international competition, (and FIFA) continues to sanction matches for a team that is not recognized by the country of Belize as its National Team."

In other words, the team that takes the field in Honduras on Sunday would be more appropriately designated as "Dr. Chimilio's Eleven."

The moniker would not only be descriptively accurate, it would also emphasize what this dispute is all about: the continued reign of one Bertie Chimilio.

Dr. Chimilio is unlikely to be terribly worried about what the outcome will be. FIFA is on his side and if there was any question to whether this support would continue, FIFA's July 7th announcement quashed that.

If Bertie does not prevail, FIFA will not only cut off Belize from international football competitions but, far more importantly, cut off the FIFA financial fount:
Kaseke concluded that the FFB’s ban from the stadiums was causing extreme havoc and disruption to its football schedule and was preventing follow-through on plans for redevelopment of the stadiums with FIFA money.
And let no one forget that Dr. Chimilio is the conduit for those funds. Why did the FFB fail to file its registration papers with the government complete and on time? Well, the FA simply "overlooked" its obligations "because of the visit to Belize of FIFA President Sepp Blatter."

On Tuesday, Belize will entertain three high level FIFA officials (Rafael Salguero, FIFA Executive Member and Emergency Committee member; Ariel Alvarado, CONCACAF Executive Member; and Rafael Tinoco, UNCAF President) and FIFA's emissaries are likely to push for even more Dr. Chimilio.

But while FIFA may be resolute in its defense of a Blatter friend and ally, the pressure on the good doctor is mounting. A report by the Sports Investigation Committee apparently lambastes the electoral system established by the FFB which resulted in Dr. Chimilio's re-election to another four-year term in December of 2010. Even at the time the election was controversial as Dr. Chimilio refused to allow Sergio Chuc, the chairman of the Belize Premier Football League, to challenge him for the presidency of the FFB. That farce acted as yet another catalyst for the current crisis.

And no one in Belize is pulling punches. When the BPFL withdrew from the FFB back in May, the e-mail sent by Mr. Chuc to the FA was released to the press and it wasn't sweetness and light:
But for the record, we are not interested in continuing to be part of the FFB. We have found over the years that the President is very deceptive, arrogant and lacks the best interest of the game. You are no better than him as you blindly follow his instructions and cannot make decisions on your own. Furthermore, the majority of district chairmen are lackeys that do the bidding of the president for a few pieces of silver, especially the chairman for Orange Walk. Mr. Palacio is by far the most dishonest person I have come to meet in the last years. I pray that you all would find it in your hearts to step down and give football a chance in Belize.
Nor is Belize's press soft-pedaling their opinions.

The Guardian:
Many are frustrated with the FFB’s undemocratic method of selecting executive members. The dictatorship reign of the president has equalled the privatization of football in which Bertie is C.E.O. and king. . . FIFA’s disregard of the government’s decision is complete disrespect to the country and disregard for its laws.
For nearly a decade, the football community in Belize has tried to remove the present FFB President through all the constitutional avenues afforded by FIFA. But every attempt has been thwarted using often blatantly illegal tactics, which have received the blessing of FIFA’s representative in CONCACAF, then President Jack Warner. . . Belize has gone nowhere in football during this past ten years of Warner endorsed corruption and mismanagement in Belize football. And our game and football organization is in a mess, thanks to FIFA’s prolonged reluctance to intervene.
However, even with blood boiling, can a little country on the Caribbean withstand FIFA's onslaught?


From the same Amandala piece quoted above:
As an afterthought, it might come as a surprise to President Blatter that, even with the largesse of FIFA’s financial generosity to the FFB, the Belize football family is still not happy. That is because, Mr. Blatter, the football family in Belize is likened to a stressed out household where the abusive husband receives a big, fat paycheck, but it all goes to the sweetheart, while only a few meagre crumbs reach his starving children. We haven’t been “feeling it” in Belize, so only a select few will miss the massive FIFA grants. That’s why Belizeans are facing the suspension without great panic or heartbreak; those with little have little to lose. Rather, there is a sense of relief, and a resolve to start over again, after ridding ourselves of this yoke of corruption and stagnation in our football.
Regardless, FIFA says "Belize" will play Montserrat in Honduras on Sunday. But for supporters of Belizean football, the real game -- the match that will determine the future of the sport in the country -- will play out even further out of sight.