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FIFA’s arrogance ….(a Stabroek News Editorial)

The events of recent years have sent those of us with an interest in football and even those with no interest in the game whatsoever, a clear and unmistakable message about the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA’s) global status as the game’s unquestioned powerhouse. FIFA’s jurisdiction in the global game even transcends the authority of governments.

It is of course hardly necessary to add that accusations of corruption and other devious practices by some high officials of FIFA have become commonplace in the organization and that it is just such a circumstance that now appears to have brought an end to the lengthy and controversial tenure of its President, Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter.

Accordingly, what appears to be the recent travesty involving Guyana’s Golden Jaguars’ quest to advance as far as they can on the road to the 2018 World Cup is hardly likely to create an international furore or even to unduly trouble FIFA, such is the overwhelming arrogance of the body about its own status as the global boss of the sport.

What is worth noting in the first place is that while the final outcome of the occurrence to which this editorial alludes will not make a material difference to whether the Golden Jaguars find themselves in Russia in 2018 or otherwise, it could certainly have bearing on our sense of self-esteem as part of the global football family and might even restore some modest measure of respectability to the seriously impaired image of FIFA.

For his part and for the sake of the self-respect of the GFF if nothing else, it is important that the Normalization Committee’s Chairman Mr Clinton Urling strive to prevail over the blunt and precipitate posture struck by FIFA in relation to the protest made by Guyana.

Except the Stabroek News is missing something quite critical the matter is a simple one. On June 14 a member of the St Vincent and the Grenadines team, Mr Garvin James, took the field in a 2018 World Cup qualifying game against the Golden Jaguars at the Providence Stadium. That is not a matter in question. What is also not a matter in question is that the rules of the competition dictate, among other things, that “participating member associations shall present each players’ valid national passport for the country of the participating member association to the FIFA Match Commissioner on the day before the match. A player without a valid passport,” the rule goes on, “shall not be entitled to play.”

It transpires that what was tendered as proof of Mr James’ identity was a British passport with a stamp placed there, presumably, by the Vincentian authorities, to the effect that he is a citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The rules on this issue are explicit. The only document that is admissible as proof of identity is a valid passport of the player’s country of birth. Mr James ought not to have been allowed to participate in the game.

Since there is no question as to whether or not a FIFA rule was broken there ought to be room for protest on the part of Guyana, and FIFA, if it were to follow its own rules, ought therefore to have disqualified the Vincentian team, awarded the game to Guyana and even sought to apply some form of sanction against the Commissioner in charge of the June 14 game since it was the said Commissioner who was charged with ensuring that the players’ credentials were in order.

That has not happened. Instead, FIFA, in a communication – in response to the Guyana Football Federation’s (GFF) protest note of June 16 ‒ that resembles a peculiar mix of distracting legalese and downright arrogance, has told the protesting Guyana Football Federation that “after careful examination of all the requested information and documentation, it was considered that no further intervention was necessary in such context.”

What absolutely misplaced arrogance! Two days after a letter of protest over a clear transgression of its own rules and without even a semblance of a proper investigation FIFA rules that there is no case which would require an answer from the Vincentians.

This newspaper is far from persuaded that anything remotely resembling “careful consideration” has been applied by FIFA in this matter. There can be no question than that the inclusion of Mr Garvin James in the Vincentian team was a transgression of FIFA’s own rules for the World Cup qualifiers, a circumstance which would seem to amount to an open and shut case for the team’s disqualification.

One is left to wonder whether if it were Brazil, Germany, Spain or any other global football powerhouse rather than Guyana that had been in the situation, FIFA would have been so seemingly dismissive in its handling of the matter. We very much doubt that.

There is another point that is worth making at this juncture. It has to do with the surprisingly low decibel level among local football enthusiasts, (who are often inclined to make much ado about nothing) the media and even the GFF on this matter, even though the Golden Jaguars’ World Cup quest has now come to a shuddering halt.

Some would argue that that quest was unlikely to advance much further, anyway, though, frankly, that is entirely beside the point.

In fact, and ironically the most comprehensive article that we have seen on this matter so far – titled ‘Was fraud committed to make a player a citizen?’ ‒ was written by a St Lucian sports journalist named Robertson Henry who lives in St Vincent and the Grenadines. That alone, in our view, ought to provide the GFF, the media, local football enthusiasts and the Government of Guyana with more than enough reason to say to FIFA that we are not about to let this travesty pass quietly into the night.

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