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JESSE FINK
THE COUNTER

Jesse Fink is one of Asia's most read football columnists and has been named by ChangeFIFA as an "expert on world football you must follow".

Burkina Faso gets a get-out-of-jail-free card

Herve Zengue

our columnist got an email from FIFA's media department this week. It was to assure me, apropos last week's Sunday Guardian column regarding the awarding of lucrative World Cup TV rights for Asia (including India) to a company fronted by Sepp Blatter's nephew Philippe, that the decision "was made by the Finance Committee and ratified by the Executive Committee on the basis that Infront presented the best offer". As much as that counts for anything. Right now FIFA's executive committee has as much credibility as Milli Vanilli.

"FIFA's relationship with Infront dates back to long before Philippe Blatter joined the company in 2006. In fact, FIFA has worked with Infront in highly specialised areas of the FIFA World Cup™ project in part or in whole since 1997 to great success. It is this proven expertise combined with a very convincing offer that won them the award of sales representation from FIFA for selected territories in Asia for 2015–2022." Impressive. Certainly FIFA's new army of media flacks have their work cut out for them, putting out all the spotfires of dissent that are striking up around our ever-connected globe. They are to be commended for their industry.

But it still didn't answer the most salient question I put forward in my original column: "Will FIFA release the tender documents that substantiate [the] claim that it was the 'best package'?" I look forward to the release of all the documents and trust it's a recommendation of FIFA's new Task Force Transparency and Compliance. "FIFA's name has been tarnished by the actions of a few, but there is a very strong commitment from the worldwide football family to improve processes, add greater transparency and restore FIFA's reputation," said the unit's head, Frank Van Hattum.

"Greater" transparency? Why not complete transparency? Until we have that, FIFA's blithe assertions are worth nothing. It speaks volumes that the new transparency unit will be meeting behind closed doors. Then there is the strange case of Burkina Faso, which has escaped sanction despite fielding an ineligible player in two 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Namibia. The player in question, defender Herve Zengue, was born in Cameroon, plays in the Russian Premier League, and his only connection to Burkina Faso is his marriage to a Burkinabé woman.

IFA's statutes stipulate that a player must be resident in a country for two years before he is eligible to play for it.There it is under Article 17: a player switching nationalities and without eligibility under other conditions must have "lived continuously on the territory of the relevant Association for at least two years". Zengue, apparently, had not fulfilled that criterion. He got his passport the day before the return leg in Ouagadougou. But FIFA now says it is the responsibility of individual FAs to determine whether a player is eligible to play for representative teams and is happy to let the CAF unilaterally deal with the Burkina Faso matter.

The problem, however, is the CAF, a useless, corruption-ridden confederation, has declared the Namibians' protest invalid because of a "procedural error" in the paperwork. Namibia has said it did nothing wrong and the CAF was "looking for technicalities". And rather than drag the CAF over hot coals, FIFA is backing it.

"We cannot comment on [the CAF] decision," it said in a statement this week. "Neither are we in a position to establish whether the player is or is not eligible to play for the representative teams of Burkina Faso, since... this is the responsibility of the association." Put simply: FIFA has effectively washed its hands of any responsibility or enforcement of the rules.Which is odd, considering those pesky statutes demand it take action. Article 2 declares boldly that the world body's mission is "to draw up regulations and provisions and ensure their enforcement" and "to control every type of Association Football by taking appropriate steps to prevent infringements of the Statutes, regulations or decisions of FIFA or of the Laws of the Game".

Yet with the Burkina Faso case we have a clear-cut example of FIFA drawing up a rule and an association breaking it with the blessing of the CAF. Importantly, Article 20 says confederations only have the right to "comply with and enforce compliance with the Statutes, regulations and decisions of FIFA", not make up their own rules and do as they see fit, independent of FIFA scrutiny. No adherence to the wording of its own laws. No justification for the decision against the legitimate Namibian protest. And FIFA wonders why fans and now its own sponsors, such as Emirates, are so cynical about how the game is being run and why its reputation is so low. They can't blame it on the rain.

 
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