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It\'s time soccer made friends, not civil war

It\'s time soccer made friends, not civil war

The World Cup slogan "A time to make friends" could be seen everywhere in Leipzig as the eastern German city prepared for last night's draw for next year's finals.

Banners hang from almost every lamppost in the thriving old town, it dominates FIFA's glossy World Cup literature and is emblazoned in meter high letters behind the news conference podium where more than 1,000 of the world's media gathered to report on yesterday's globally televised event.

It is a slogan that football would do well to heed because self-interested groups running the game seem more intent on making enemies and declaring civil war than making friends and working out differences in a reasoned, calm and peaceful way.

There have always been divisions in football - that is the nature of the sport in which cities all over the world boast clubs with interlocking histories, rivalries, shared glories and despair.

But other kinds of deeper divisions are in danger of causing serious rifts between governing bodies like FIFA and UEFA, the national associations, the clubs and even the players.

Bosman anniversary

Next Thursday marks the 10th anniversary of the Bosman Ruling, the historic decision by the European Court of Justice that banned transfer fees for players out of contract and removed the limit on the number of foreigners clubs could field.

That ruling, together with the introduction of the TV-driven, cash-laden Champions League three years previously, changed the face of modern soccer.

It empowered Europe's clubs and players, helped create the G14 pressure group of Europe's richest and most powerful clubs, and opened the way for rich, powerful men to come into soccer and begin to question the way FIFA and UEFA run the game. The authorities are now faced with the thing they hate most - having a soccer issue dealt with by an outside agency - the civil courts.

Two clubs, Charleroi in Belgium and Olympique Lyon in France, with the support of the G14, are suing FIFA for compensation because of injuries sustained by their players on international duty.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Wednesday the world governing body would resist any attempt by Lyon to sue it over the injury picked up by France defender Eric Abidal in a friendly against Costa Rica in Martinique last month.

However, Charleroi already has their date in court booked for March over the case of their Morocco midfielder Abdelmajid Oulmers who was injured against Burkina Faso last year.

Both clubs are demanding about one million euros (US$1.17 million) in compensation from FIFA. The cases are being compared in importance to the Bosman Ruling. If FIFA loses, the face of international soccer, rather than club soccer this time, could change forever.

Worldwide insurance

At the heart of the matter is insurance and who is liable for the costs if a player is injured on international duty.

FIFA claims the clubs are liable, the clubs say FIFA is responsible. If the club's insurers' decide they will only insure players on club duty what happens to national teams? On Wednesday Blatter said FIFA was in good shape, he was in good shape and FIFA's finances were in good shape but he admitted FIFA found the Lyon and Charleroi cases "worrying."

Sam Allardyce, manager of English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers, has suggested that FIFA should raise a worldwide insurance policy for every player on international duty to protect the clubs, players and national associations. That would at least spare the poorer clubs the cost of insuring their players.

It is a remarkably simple solution and could easily come about if the men who run football noted their own motto and took the time to make friends - with each other.

The alternative for the world game does not bear thinking about.


Updated : 2021-06-18 10:04 GMT+08:00