Sat, Feb

CONCACAF could destroy World Cup spirit

Caribbean foot­ball fans con­tin­ue to de­bate CON­CA­CAF's re­cent de­ci­sion to seed the top six FI­FA-ranked coun­tries in­to a six-team pool which will play next year for the top three au­to­mat­ic 2022 World Cup spots avail­able to the re­gion. This will see the top three teams go­ing to Qatar while the re­gion’s oth­er teams, among them the 29 Caribbean coun­tries, for the right to play for a re­main­ing half spot, with the win­ner still fac­ing a coun­try from an­oth­er re­gion in a fi­nal play­off to earn a berth on the world’s biggest foot­ball stage.

Many have ar­gued this is elit­ist and will be the death of Caribbean foot­balling na­tions.

Guardian Me­dia Sports Desk in­ves­ti­ga­tions have al­ready re­vealed that CFU mem­bers seemed un­aware that this for­mat, put for­ward some two years ago as a pro­pos­al, had ac­tu­al­ly been agreed to and fi­nalised be­fore it was an­nounced by CON­CA­CAF last month. CFU mem­bers may al­so pos­si­bly soon lob­by for a re­view of the de­ci­sion if TTFA pres­i­dent David John-Williams, who re­port­ed­ly was against the move, can con­vincd them to do so.

Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Gary Grif­fith, an avid foot­ball fan whose son al­so plays at the na­ton­al lev­el, has added his voice to the dis­cus­sion. To­day, Guardian Me­dia presents his ar­gu­ment.
CON­CA­CAF dream killers would de­stroy the spir­it of what World Cup Foot­ball stands for, if not stopped.

The de­ci­sion by a hand­ful of in­di­vid­u­als in CON­CA­CAF to vir­tu­al­ly ma­nip­u­late the sys­tem by us­ing their po­si­tion to al­ter the qual­i­fy­ing for­mat for the 2022 World Cup CON­CA­CAF qual­i­fi­er must be ex­posed and stopped, with the im­me­di­ate in­volve­ment of FI­FA, if good sense does not pre­vail at CON­CA­CAF lev­el.

The clan­des­tine de­ci­sion, main­ly by those who hold posts in CON­CA­CAF to jet­ti­son their own coun­tries in­to a safe zone and by­pass the rig­ors of qual­i­fy­ing through ini­tial pre­lim­i­nary rounds, is noth­ing short of abuse of pow­er, and is in to­tal con­trast to all that World Cup Foot­ball stands for, which is for small na­tions to dream big.

This ridicu­lous for­mat be­ing de­cid­ed up­on, by a hand­ful of CON­CA­CAF mem­bers is vir­tu­al­ly killing the as­pi­ra­tion of small na­tions to dream big, hence de­stroy­ing all that World Cup Foot­ball is about, as it is more than just foot­ball, but al­so al­low­ing mil­lions of cit­i­zens from 29 oth­er coun­tries to sim­ply try, hope and to be­lieve.

This base­less and bi­ased for­mat in­tends to de­stroy just that.

To put it in­to a sim­ple per­spec­tive, the for­mat high­light­ed be­low has been used for decades by the oth­er Re­gions in World Cup Foot­ball qual­i­fi­ca­tion, with these Re­gions all hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced far greater suc­cess than our CON­CA­CAF Re­gion, via re­sults, and some hav­ing even few­er teams than CON­CA­CAF. How­ev­er, they are ma­ture enough to un­der­stand the val­ue of a lev­el play­ing field, some­thing which seems be­yond the un­der­stand­ing of those who make de­ci­sions on be­half of CON­CA­CAF.

The for­mat used for decades is still to be used in 2022 by the fol­low­ing Re­gions for qual­i­fy­ing in Eu­rope, Asia, South Amer­i­ca, and Africa, which in­volves every­one be­ing on a vir­tu­al lev­el play­ing field from the start of qual­i­fy­ing, as this is what World Cup Foot­ball stands for; every­one hav­ing an equal op­por­tu­ni­ty and not as CON­CA­CAF of­fi­cials ap­par­ent­ly see it, with some be­ing more equal than oth­ers.
The for­mat of a lev­el play­ing field al­so en­gi­neers a struc­ture to en­sure de­vel­op­ment and growth by so-called weak­er coun­tries, hence, the gap is clos­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis be­tween great teams and weak­er teams in all oth­er re­gions, thus mak­ing the de­vel­op­ment of foot­ball in those re­gions more ef­fec­tive.

It may ap­pear that cer­tain CON­CA­CAF of­fi­cials, seem wor­ried about this and are in­tent on us­ing this new bi­ased for­mat to de­stroy such a pos­si­bil­i­ty.

The con­trast is glar­ing:

Eu­rope - [UE­FA] - 54 teams, with the great­est suc­cess in World Cup, and al­so the largest mar­gin of rank­ings, but a lev­el play­ing field is pro­vid­ed from Day One in qual­i­fy­ing, as all 54 teams are placed in 9 groups of 6 teams each, with Bel­gium ranked Num­ber One in the world, be­ing placed in qual­i­fy­ing along the same lev­el as San Mari­no, ranked 211th, the low­est in the world. UE­FA un­der­stands the val­ue of this, not just for the weak­er teams, but for the over­all de­vel­op­ment of foot­ball in their re­gion.

South Amer­i­ca [CON­MEBOL] - Like­wise, with enor­mous World Cup suc­cess, but with on­ly cer­tain na­tions. How­ev­er, like Eu­rope, there is no easy pas­sage to slip in­to the World Cup Fi­nals, based on past track record. All 10 coun­tries start on a lev­el play­ing field, from Brazil, ranked 2nd in the world, vy­ing for a spot from Day One in qual­i­fy­ing, with the low­est-ranked team in this re­gion, be­ing Bo­livia ranked 73rd.

Asia [AFC] - No lu­di­crous for­mat like CON­CA­CAF, of teams, get­ting a safe pas­sage to the fi­nal round, but every coun­try fight­ing from day one in Qual­i­fiers, with 40 teams be­ing di­vid­ed in­to 8 groups of 5 teams, in­clu­sive of the high­est-ranked Japan,[ 28th], be­ing on par with Sri Lan­ka, ranked 201st.

Africa- [ CAF] - A Re­gion com­pris­ing 54 teams, with the low­est-ranked 28 teams play­ing a home and away, and the 14 win­ners im­me­di­ate­ly be­ing placed in a lev­el play­ing field with the oth­er 26 teams, hence Sene­gal, ranked 20th, could be along­side Chad, ranked 175th, from the sec­ond round.

CON­CA­CAF- Now com­pare this to what can on­ly be de­scribed as a back­room de­ci­sion made by CON­CA­CAF, be­cause it is in­con­ceiv­able that 29 coun­tries out of the 35, would agree to such a bi­ased de­ci­sion, by de­cid­ing that the 6 high­est ranked teams, none ever hav­ing even reached a World Cup semi­fi­nal, would now be just jet­ti­soned in­to a fi­nal round with­out play­ing a sin­gle world cup qual­i­fy­ing game, and get­ting 3 au­to­mat­ic spots out of 6 teams, and leav­ing the 29 re­main­ing coun­tries to fight for one lone spot to play the 4th placed team in the self-ap­point­ed elite group of 6 for a play­off spot, to then par­tic­i­pate in an­oth­er play­off game, against an­oth­er coun­try from an­oth­er Re­gion for a spot in the World Cup Fi­nals.

So a team that is ranked 6th in CON­CA­CAF, present­ly be­ing El Sal­vador, that is ranked 68th in the world rank­ings, can get an easy pas­sage to a group of 6 teams with 3 au­to­mat­ic spots for a World Cup Fi­nal qual­i­fi­ca­tion; while a team ranked just be­low the 6th ranked team, in 7th or 8th ranked Pana­ma, [ranked 74th in the world], or Cana­da, [ranked 78th], now hav­ing to fight with 29 teams for half a spot.

What makes it even more lu­di­crous, is that such a de­ci­sion should have been told to Na­tion­al team coach­es and Ad­min­is­tra­tions in ad­vance. As some coach­es, not know­ing that there would be a rank­ing sys­tem to get a fast pass in­to the fi­nal hexa­gon round, have been us­ing friend­ly games and Tour­na­ments against much stronger op­po­nents, not as a com­pet­i­tive na­ture or even be­ing too con­cerned of the re­sult, but us­ing it as a tri­al and er­ror for­mat to find the right mix of play­ers in prepa­ra­tion for qual­i­fi­ca­tion. By not let­ting them know in ad­vance that even friend­ly games would now be an av­enue to World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion via rank­ing is bla­tant­ly un­fair and can be seen as foot­ball am­bush­ing.

Where­as some have been at­tempt­ing to vir­tu­al­ly bul­ly their way for decades in this foot­ball re­gion, this de­ci­sion, how­ev­er, is the last straw, where­by the 29 coun­tries, not just from the Caribbean but al­so oth­er CON­CA­CAF na­tions such as Cana­da, Guatemala, Be­lize and Nicaragua, need to stand up to put an end to this dra­con­ian rule by a few, that is af­fect­ing foot­ball de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion. One won­ders if this is a fear fac­tor by so-called big coun­tries, af­ter a small coun­try knocked one of them out of the World Cup in 2018, and they are do­ing what they can, out­side the field of play, to pre­vent a re­peat.

And to any Caribbean coun­try that de­cides to jump on this band­wag­on now be­cause of where they may be ranked at this time, I humbly ask them to re­mem­ber that this rank­ing is very flu­id, as "to­day might be for you and to­mor­row for me", which is not what World Cup foot­ball stands for, and how one should have an eas­i­er pas­sage to such a pres­ti­gious tour­na­ment.

Some may ask what is my con­cern and in­volve­ment in this, as a Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er from Trinidad and To­ba­go. 

I would not ven­ture in­to stat­ing that sport, through prop­er de­vel­op­ment, can as­sist in crime re­duc­tion, or that I was part of the Tech­ni­cal Staff of the Na­tion­al Team in the 2018 World Cup Qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign, or that I saw what qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup Fi­nal did for my coun­try in 2006.

In­stead, I would say that I am a sim­ple sup­port­er, who is just as con­cerned as the tens of mil­lions of cit­i­zens/sup­port­ers from dozens of Caribbean coun­tries see­ing a grave in­jus­tice be­ing done, to de­stroy dreams of na­tions, due to the tun­nel-vi­sioned think­ing of a hand­ful of per­sons who present­ly hold the of­fice.

It is hoped that the vast ma­jor­i­ty of CON­CA­CAF, be it, foot­ball of­fi­cials and sup­port­ers, stand up to this foot­ball bul­ly­ing, and to ad­vise these so-called stronger na­tions to stop be­ing cow­ards and come up and fight for their spot in the World Cup Fi­nals like any­one else. 

Do not let one elim­i­na­tion by a small coun­try, cause you to lose fo­cus on what is right for foot­ball.

To the few who may claim that this bi­ased for­mat is jus­ti­fied be­cause their team is bet­ter than us,  they may even be cor­rect, but show that su­pe­ri­or­i­ty not via hav­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives in a board­room, who would use a world rank­ing to by­pass pos­si­ble em­bar­rass­ment. 

If you want to make your coun­try great again, (in foot­ball), then do not do so, via a board­room de­ci­sion.

Do it on the foot­ball field, where the play­ing field is lev­el.