Friday, August 5, 2011

Seeds of Hope

Reviewing the corruption and abuse that has infected far too many of FIFA's constituent members (to say nothing about FIFA itself) inexorably leads to the conclusion that the international football is so deeply and fundamentally bent that it is beyond the possibility of reform. Cynicism, therefore, reigns supreme. When another venal federation official commits another horrific violation of the public trust, those that have seen the same story played out over and over should be excused for merely nodding their heads in disgust and moving on.

Cynicism, of course, concedes the territory. If we expect that FA officials are, by nature, venal, mendacious, and corrupt, then the corruption of football is an unremarkable consequence; an inevitability that must be accepted.

But why should the corruption of a game that millions enjoy playing and watching be something that is tolerated?

On Tuesday of this week, a remarkable thing happened: FIFA failed to throw the full weight of its support behind the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) and the FFB's President Dr. Bertie Chimilio. FIFA blinked.

When the Belizean government took on the FFB, FIFA took action in defense of its member organization. Belize was suspended from international football. Rather than cave at the threat of a shunning, the general popular wisdom in Belize seems to have been "So what?"

FIFA changed tack, lifting the suspension and facilitating a "Belize" team to play in a World Cup qualifier outside of the country. The game went on under the direction of the FFB and over the objection of the government . . . a slap in the face of the government and a show of solidarity with the good people at the FFB.

But Belize's advance to the next stage of qualifiers did not spark a popular movement to quell the government's actions. If anything, it signaled how far the game had fallen under Dr. Chimilio's guiding hands. As Amandala observed early this week:
[I]f FIFA wants an idea of just how deep and painful are the wounds caused to the Belizean football public by those presently in control of the FFB, they only need to note the fact that there was no national outcry or lament, except from a select few FFB stalwarts, when the FIFA suspension was first announced; and neither was there any great celebration when it was lifted. In fact, the qualifier games in Honduras were hardly even discussed in Belize football circles. What the Belize football family was most concerned about was the FIFA visit, and the possible changes that they hoped may result. As one aggrieved football family member put it, “it is not Belize, but instead it is the Bertie Selection that is participating in these games.”
Thus, although FIFA allowed the farce in Honduras to proceed, nothing changed in Belize. If FIFA was going to suspend Belize (and all financial support as well), so be it -- the price of continuing under this iteration of the FFB was simply too great.

In the face of unyielding opposition, FIFA took the easier way out. FIFA backed down:
Their Football Federation of Belize has received a sharp, stunning come-uppance from FIFA that's so severe, it can't even be called a slap in the face; it's more like a kick in the rear end.

Forgive the crude analogy, but it's that rough.
Specifically, FIFA ordered that FFB has to organize a Special Congress by September to adopt new statutes and an electoral code. New elections are to be held in December.

Now, Dr. Chimilio may still retain his title come January 2012; there is plenty of time to get districts back in line. But whether there is a new President of the FFB or not, the crux of this dispute was the government's unwillingness to recognize a private football association that had disclaimed any accountability to anyone other than CONCACAF or FIFA. And, in the end, the stand taken by the Belizean government forced FIFA to intervene and demand that the FFB make reforms.

For football fans and players in Belize and football supporters generally, this is a promising turn of events. Belize may never be a power in Central American football, but they should be much better than they are now and talented Belizean footballers ought to have the chance to compete at the highest levels, just as their neighbors do. Cleaning up the FFB is the first step in correcting these deficiencies.

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