Wednesday, January 15, 2014

FIFA's Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds - Part II

Unless the European leagues all decide that they should change their seasons to a March to November schedule. Which is exactly what they appear to be considering.

The acting chairman of the European Club Association, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (who is also the "top official" of Bayern Munich, almost indisputably the best soccer club in the world at the moment), just last week floated the idea that the European leagues should consider playing a Spring to late Fall season just like ... well, just like the MLS season that has drawn Sepp Blatter's wrath for years.

Rummenigge's reasoning makes so much sense, highlighting the issues (particularly bad weather) that Russian professional soccer has been endured since it switched its season to coincide with UEFA's, that FIFA will find very hard to ignore.

First, Rummenigge points out that, in Germany, France, or England "summer is the best period of the year. And that is the season we don't play. In deepest winter, when it is very cold and snowing, we play nearly all the time in conditions that are disagreeable for both players and spectators. It is not logical."

Not that logic has ever gotten in the way of Blatter's or FIFA's edicts in the past.

What may well appeal to both, however, is his second argument: that switching to a March to November season would ease the pressure on those who play for both club and country by clearly demarcating the club and international seasons. Many clubs now agonize over losing players in the middle of their seasons to train and play with their national teams, taking them away from their "paying jobs" and risking fatigue and injury.

And who knows? Maybe Rummenigge's idea was floated as part of a wider scheme by Blatter himself to justify what I wrote about in the first part of this post -- moving the 2022 Qatar World Cup to the winter of 2022-23. This may be the first step in allowing Blatter to retreat from his previous hard-line position on the seasons of the MLS and Russian professional leagues and appear as eminently reasonable in doing so.

The Russians listened when Blatter told them to move their
season. And for that these players say: "Thanks Sepp!"

Either way, if the European leagues move their seasons Don Garber, the MLS Commissioner, will breathe a huge sigh of relief. And all of Blatter's blathering about its non-competitiveness because of the position of its season will be revealed as just that.

Friday, January 10, 2014

FIFA's Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds - Part I

For years, FIFA Emir Sepp Blatter hounded MLS about changing its season to coincide with that of the European leagues. And, according to fairly recent reports, he may have been close to winning the argument. That should have changed, though, this past week with two separate developments regarding soccer and when it is played.

While the pretense of the advice was that the U.S. pro season should coincide with that of England, Spain, Germany, etc., it always struck me that Blatter's position on the issue was either incredibly naive (not caring that MLS can not now, and will not for years, if ever, be able to compete directly with the NFL) or, more likely, incredibly arrogant (Sepp thinks that if our pros play at the same time of year as Europe's they will be better players, so we should think that too).

Blatter didn't care that many MLS teams shared stadiums with NFL franchises or college football teams that made playing from August to May logistically impossible. Or that fans, forced to make the choice, would opt for football over soccer.  Or that the thought of playing soccer in Boston or New York City or Chicago or Denver or Toronto or Montreal in December and January and February is absurd (evidently, the NFL missed that memo too). Just his saying "play August to May" should have been all the reason we needed to make it so.

What soccer in March can look like in Denver.
(photo from USA Today)

Never mind that the Swedes aren't stupid enough to play in the Scandinavian winter, or that Brazilian clubs play May to December. Or that the Russians, who apparently caved in to Blatter's pressure, have experienced all sorts of issues in converting their season from March to December to August to May (hmm, maybe that's why they were awarded the 2018 World Cup? in a way, that would be a refreshing change from the usual monetary bribes).

The first development that should eliminate any consideration of kowtowing to the Blatter Rule on soccer seasons was a slip by FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke during an interview on a French radio station. Valcke admitted that it is likely that the 2022 World Cup (to be held in Qatar, remember?) will take place in December 2022 and January 2023.

Right smack dab in the middle of the domestic professional season Blatter has championed in most of Europe, forced on Russia, and has tried to foist off on the U.S. But in the Qatari winter, when temperatures will average a pleasant 25C rather than the brutal 50C weather in June and July, when the World Cup has been held in late May, June, and or July every time since its inception in 1930. Every time.

So much for tradition and concerns about domestic soccer. Not to mention the support of UEFA, which is thoroughly annoyed at the suggestion that the tournament will take place during both domestic competitions and its lucrative Champions and Europa League seasons, risking injury to its best players at the same time. Or of Fox and Telemundo which ponied up more than double the amount paid by ESPN to broadcast the South African and Brazilian World Cup to win the bid for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 Cups and now face the prospect of trying to convince advertisers that their money is better spent on soccer during the same months as the college football conference championship games, bowls, and playoffs and the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl.

While the ensuing denials, partial withdrawals, and outrage that followed Valcke's interview reveal FIFA at its Keystone Cops best, the real point is this: Blatter's demands that the U.S. change its domestic season were as baseless and dictatorial as most other decisions he has handed down during his reign.  

No matter how corrupt the selection of Qatar has proven to be (and it was astonishingly, brazenly corrupt, even for FIFA), no matter how stupid the idea of playing soccer in the Middle Eastern desert in June and July was, no matter how absurd the suggestion that the outdoor stadiums could be air conditioned for players' and fans' safety (yeah, that was b.s. too), the 2022 (well, and 2023) World Cup will be played there and then, the domestic season which he championed for years be damned. Which is pretty much what it will be.

Unless …