Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Peru Gets FIFA Slaps

FIFA wants to keep its members pure.

Or at least that’s the lesson they seem to hope people will pick up from the suspension of Peru from “all international sporting contact for its clubs, national teams, referees and officials” due to governmental meddling in the Peruvian football association (FPF.)

A good plan. In theory. Football and government are generally a poor mix. But, to play devil’s advocate, what if the football associations aren’t pure? And what if they’re failing to clean themselves up? What happens then?This looks as if it may be the case in Peru, whose team is currently at the bottom (10th place) of South American CONMEBOL standings for World Cup qualifying. They’ve fallen a long way from their glory days in the seventies, when they were close to a perennial qualifier for World Cups and managed to take home a Copa América trophy.

Things aren’t so great these days. From Sports Illustrated (an excellent read for those interested in the big picture):

The Peruvian state, through its sports institute (IPD), demanded that the FPF bring its statutes in line with local law. When this didn’t happen, it declared FPF president Manuel Burga and some of his team ineligible for a period of five years. Burga ignored the ban. He stood for re-election. It was a controversial process. The election took place a year later than scheduled (was this really an attempt to profit from the good performances of the Peru side in last year’s World Under-17 Cup?). But Burga won. In the eyes of FIFA, he is the legitimate representative of Peruvian soccer.

The IPD sees it differently. It doesn’t recognize Burga nor his team. Restrictions have been imposed on the FPF’s use of bank accounts. And Peru lost the right to stage the South American Under-20 Championships next January. The stadiums belong to the IPD, which wouldn’t cede them for use by the FPF, and so the tournament was recently switched to Venezuela. …

The FPF seemed to be searching for scapegoats when it suspended some senior players for alleged hijinks after celebrating a draw with Brazil. No longer considered for selection are Claudio Pizarro (who still angrily proclaims his innocence) and fellow strikers Jefferson Farfán and Andrés Mendoza, plus senior center back Santiago Acasiete. Peru doesn’t have the strength in depth to be able to leave out such talent, and it certainly appeared the FPF was more interested in playing the blame game than in providing a structure that might help the team. While the other South American sides were involved in warm-up friendlies in August and November, the FPF didn’t organize any games for its own team.

Public opinion is against Burga and the FPF, but there is no way for the public to oust him. And because he is the elected representative, FIFA stands fully behind him. Hence the ban.

FIFA regrets that the Peruvian government sports authorities have not taken up any of the numerous invitations to dialogue that FIFA, CONMEBOL and the FPF have extended in good faith over more than two years in order to reach constructive solutions for Peruvian football.

FIFA wishes to make clear that the FPF will only be allowed to return to the fold of the world and South American football communities on the basis of negotiations with the President and the Board of the FPF who were elected in October 2007.

It seems we have an impasse. The government will not accept the FPF as it is, saying that they’re not complying with the law. And Burga has refused to step down, saying that this will not solve the federation’s problems. And now fans and players are caught in the middle with no obvious way forward.

Tim Vickery at SI (link above) sees one way out: If the clubs make it clear that they have no confidence in Burga, which could force him to resign. Maybe.

It will be interesting to see who blinks first.

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