FIFA seem to be under-fire on a daily basis. Allegations of corruption consistently surround the organisation and the 18 month investigation led by Michael Garcia is yet to come to any conclusion. The bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 world cups in Russia and Qatar has been highly debated in the media and has seen professional and ex-professional footballers alike wade into the argument.
Gary Lineker has recently voiced his opinion. Speaking in GQ Magazine he branded the awarding of the world cup to Qatar as “ludicrous” and stated that “the corruption at the top level is nauseating.”
The Match of the Day presenter and former striker (Leicester, Everton, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Nagoya Grampus Eight and England) is one of the most interesting commentators to emerge on the subject as he was part of the England 2018 bid team.
Immersed as I am in the constant FIFA bashing I decided to look at an alternative perspective. I confess to in no way being an advocate of FIFA, but I had to find an answer to a question which had begun buzzing around my head. With all the bad press surrounding FIFA, why are teams still desperate to join?
Let’s start by looking at Gibraltar. They are the newest member of UEFA and are looking to hold the same title with FIFA. The country is currently the smallest side affiliated with UEFA as it has a population of around 30,000 people. To put that into context San Marino, Monaco and Hartlepool are bigger.
Despite the obvious disadvantage this brings, the side will be lining up against current world champions Germany in qualifying for Euro 2016, as well as Poland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Georgia.
On paper the side may have their best chance of a positive result against Georgia, but with over four million people and a comparatively long history in UEFA and FIFA, they are heavyweights in comparison.
I spoke with Steven Gonzalez, Communications Manager at the Gibraltar Football Association, about their upcoming qualification debut and asked him what would represent a successful campaign.
He said: “Enhancing and furthering Gibraltar’s reputation on the international stage. It is our first campaign and we are looking to cause a few shocks along the way. We want to make sure people realise who Gibraltar are, and what Gibraltarian football is all about.
“Gibraltar is a country that is football mad. Everyone is buzzing and can’t wait for the big kick off on September the 7th against Poland.”
Affiliating with UEFA was a big step for Gibraltar. Making it into the European confederation is a necessity requirement for FIFA membership. Gary is convinced it has been a great move for the national team.
He added: “There have been challenges that we have faced over the past year with the implementation of various infrastructural requirements that UEFA membership requires, but we have embraced these wholeheartedly. All of these are for the greater good of football in Gibraltar.”
“Becoming a FIFA member is the next logical step”
With FIFA affiliation now on the horizon, and the world cup entwined with it, I asked Steven the question that set me on this journey: Why do you want to join?
“Becoming a FIFA member is the next logical step in the development of Gibraltarian Football. We have just arrived on the European Stage after becoming the 54th member of UEFA, and joining FIFA would make us become part of the Global football community.
“The world cup is the pinnacle of international football. It is a tournament that attracts a huge following in Gibraltar every time it is staged.”
The Gibraltar FA has a very positive outlook, but they did have to fight for their current position. Their past includes matches against club sides, teams from the Channel Islands and taking part in the FIFI wild cup, a tournament for non-FIFA members.
For another national side that fight is ongoing. Zanzibar has twice been rejected by FIFA, once in 2005 and again in 2011. They are also only an associate member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) so cannot enter the African Cup of Nations.
The rejections and restrictions imposed on Zanzibar are due to their union with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964. Despite having their own football association, in the eyes of FIFA this makes them an affiliate of Tanzania who is already a member.
As with Gibraltar this left the team competing in obscure competitions and the FIFI wild cup, a million miles away from the world cup or even Africa’s premier international tournament. While FIFA do so much to encourage the development of football, it does lead you to question how Zanzibar can develop if they are not playing against the best teams.
A side who has made it into the FIFA fold is Guam. The team are one of the lowest ranked sides in the world, and first began entering world cup qualifying in 2002. Since affiliating to FIFA in 1996 the side have won only a handful of games, but have shown signs of improvement over the last few years.
I spoke to their longest serving player and Captain Jason Cunliffe about the move to affiliate with FIFA, and his father’s role in the process who, in 1996, was the General Secretary of the Guam Football Association and instrumental in the move.
“in order to grow the game we had to take the necessary steps, and I believe being a FIFA member was the first step in that”
He said: “I believe my father and the others knew that in order to grow the game we had to take the necessary steps, and I believe being a FIFA member was the first step in that. They also had the foresight to move from Oceania to AFC as it would allow us greater opportunities to play and learn.
“No doubt there have been some growing pains but I think if you look at our recent results, an island with a population of 176,000 is beating countries with millions, and we are not done yet. It’s safe to say I’ve been a part of the worst and the best of times of Guam Football, and I’m excited as to what the future holds for our program.”
From speaking with the different representatives of each nation it is clear that there is a feeling amongst these teams that FIFA affiliation is a must if the team is ever going to improve. From Gibraltar to Zanzibar to Guam, none of these sides are likely to make it to the world cup any time soon. But with affiliation comes games against better teams, and this is essential.
If we look at Liechtenstein, another relatively recent member of FIFA, the side can boast a record of eight points from their 2006 world cup qualifying group. Any positive result, be it a narrow loss, draw or win is greeted with elation.
Roland Ospelt, General Secretary of the Liechtenstein Football Association, told me about his side’s aims for upcoming qualifying campaigns.
He said: “For us we have to take game by game and maybe we can make some points in those qualification matches, four or five points would be really great for us. We hope that we will once qualify for a final tournament.”
The results of the corruption investigation are likely to damn FIFA, but it seems little can be done to change things at the very top end of the organisational process. It must not be forgotten however that while to many the awarding of a world cup is a pivotal moment, to others the access to development opportunities both on and off the pitch are far more important.
FIFA is far from perfect, but to the lesser known sides, it still seems invaluable. Whether the organisation has a draconian monopoly over football is another question, but as it stands, FIFA are still the answer.