Tuesday, September 17, 2013

FFA optimistic to a fault, wants World Cup refund from FIFA

Since missing out on the 2022 World Cup in December 2010, the Football Federation of Australia and has remained almost piously silent.  Despite changing chief executives, boasting one of Asia’s best teams, a domestic league that continues to grow and the impending rollout of the new FFA Cup, a knockout competition involving clubs from the A-League and various lower-tier leagues across the country, the Federation’s mantra since late 2010 has been “don’t mention the war”.

Today the war got mentioned like Basil Fawlty. 

This morning, via major benefactor and Chairman Frank Lowy, the FFA requested FIFA pay back the the $43 million spent by the nation on their failed 2022 World Cup bid.  The move results from FIFA tacitly acknowledging that the tournament to be staged in Qatar will almost certainly be played in the northern winter to avoid local temperatures in excess of 40° Celsius.  This understanding is also a significant backtrack on prior statements made by executives both from FIFA and the Qatari bid commission.

With a  new Cup tournament beginning in 2014 and hopes of replacing coach Holger Osieck with someone more personable/charismatic/nurturing – and therefore more expensive – either before or after next year’s Big Dance, that $43 million would really help Australian football.  That half-a-latte chipped in by every Australian constitutes more ready cash than the FFA could ever hope to see again and so would be very handy – especially if Guus Hiddink’s back in the frame (which he’s not).

The reparation request suggests that the FFA wouldn’t have placed the bid had they known that changing tournament dates was possible.  The request is also framed by a particularly murky bid process which is still being “investigated” by FIFA’s ethics committee. 

Even with the obtuse and confused selection method, Chairman Frank Lowy’s position is both optimistic and curious.  Despite – because of? – widespread misgivings as to the integrity behind the bid process, some of the blame for the loss must be placed at the callow nature of Australian football administration.  The FFA entered a competitive bid situation against powers like USA, Qatar and Japan administered by a body with only one hard and fast guiding tenet – money usually talks.  And the Australians’ $43 million is a whisper when compared with what Gulf States are able to bawl.

In retrospect, it’s tough to work out why the FFA ever thought they were anywhere near pole position.

FIFA will not grant the request – why should they?  If they were to recompense their irritated Aussies, then they open themselves up to the lawyer’s best frenemy, precedent.  Any club who felt irked by a hosting decision (and Australia had reasons to be very annoyed indeed) could then expect to request – or sue – the governing body and pocket all or part of what they spent.  This puts the Australian party line on a par with the Ireland requesting to be a 33rd team at the 2010 World Cup.

It’s somewhat comforting to know that the FFA hasn’t abandoned all of its resentment towards the FIFA executive: Australia was (now, perhaps naïvely) seen as one of the frontrunners to host the tournament yet received only one vote.  But the manifestation of that resentment now makes the FFA an object of footballing derision.  While the sentiments of the FFA represent those of the greater Australian populace, they are far from realistic expectation and have only tenuous legal basis.

When Ireland requested a trip to South Africa, FIFA probably laughed privately before responding with a courteous negative.  Watch them do the same with Australia.

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