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Michael Pavitt: Actions will speak louder the words as FIFA attempts to tackle discrimination

Michael Pavitt: Actions will speak louder the words as FIFA attempts to tackle discrimination

It is often said that actions speak louder than words.

The phrase seems extremely apt when it comes to FIFA’s approach to dealing with the problem of discrimination and racism at football matches. Granted, tackling the problem is no quick fix and naturally it would be difficult for FIFA to police crowds at matches across the world. However, I can’t help be feel they should be doing more to tackle the problem.


David Owen: Football’s perennial Club vs. Country ding-dong moves to the next stage

David Owen: Football’s perennial Club vs. Country ding-dong moves to the next stage

It was interesting to read the recent report to the effect that European Club Association (ECA) head Karl-Heinz Rummenigge believes that football’s perennial club-versus-country tug of war is now receding.

“I’m quite optimistic that in FIFA things are changing in a good way,” the German, once an international player of considerable stature himself, was quoted as saying.

“We’re still totally ready to support national team football and, in exchange, we are getting this kind of money and governance back, which is a huge step for the recognition of club football in Europe.”

From where I am sitting, Rummenigge’s satisfaction seems a reflection of the fact that clubs have had the upper hand in club-v-country skirmishing for the past 12-15 years now.

I can remember, in the wake of Italian centre-back Alessandro Nesta’s tournament-ending injury against Austria at the 1998 World Cup, raising the question, “How much longer will decision-makers at leading clubs be prepared to lay their most valuable assets on the line without adequate compensation?”

The issue was underlined by a representative of a leading club with several players on show at that competition.

“There cannot be many organisations that are willing to give up assets worth millions of pounds without getting anything back and with a chance they may come back damaged,” he observed.

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Alessandro Nesta's club side Lazio did not gain significant compensation after the defender's tournment ending injury when playing for Italy at the 1998 FIFA World Cup ©AFP/Getty Images

The obvious retort was that some of the “assets” might perform so brilliantly that their value was considerably enhanced.

But the point was that it was a lottery - and not one that the biggest clubs, by and large, would want to buy a ticket in, if they had a choice in the matter.

Consider what has happened since then.

• FIFA has started to pay clubs for the players selected for World Cup duty.

What is more, the total of these payments is set to more than quintuple - from $40 million (£27 million/€38 million) to $209 million (£143 million/197 million) - in less than a decade.

• FIFA has also introduced, at a cost to itself of $88.5 million (£60 million/€83 million) over three financial years, the Club Protection Programme (CPP) to compensate the employers of players, like Nesta, injured on international duty.

• Under a deal announced last week, the European body UEFA has agreed to hand over at least €200 million (£137 million/€189 million) from Euro 2020 revenues to the clubs for releasing their players, an increase of €50 million (£34 million/€47 million).

As explained by ECA, which represents more than 200 clubs: “In the future, the clubs’ financial benefits from UEFA Euro will be calculated as a percentage of the total gross revenue.

“In 2020, clubs will receive 8 per cent of income from broadcast, commercial and ticketing/hospitality, with the minimum set at €200 million (£137 million/€189 million). ”

• Though it is not directly related to club-versus-country, even UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) initiative – its attempt to save clubs from the consequences of their own actions – appears to be working with all the potency of a Bondi Beach lifeguard.

FIFA started paying clubs for the players selected for World Cup duty, with payments set to have quintupled in a decade
FIFA started paying clubs for the players selected for World Cup duty, with payments set to have quintupled in a decade ©Getty Images

Coupled with a bumper broadcasting deal, it has helped to transform the financial fortunes of clubs in the richest league of all, England’s Premier League, with astonishing speed.

The combined pre-tax profits of the 20 clubs which played Premier League football last season is now assessed by accounting specialist Deloitte at £190 million ($278 million/€262 million), almost four times the previous record.

With their financial dials now well on the way to being reset, English clubs are probably in a position to push player transfer fees – in other words, the explicit market value of football clubs’ most marketable assets - to new heights this summer.

Meanwhile, with the image of top-tier club football ever more glamorous and ever more prominent in an ever-growing number of countries, there is a strong chance that this new-found profitability of even mid-level Premier League clubs will attract the eye of new investors and push up the value of the clubs themselves, enabling current owners, should they so wish, to sell down their stakes, or even exit entirely, at significant financial gain.

It is worth remarking that whereas the Premier League has achieved colossal increases of around 70 per cent in each of its two latest domestic broadcasting deals, my analysis of recent FIFA financial reports indicated that revenue from television broadcasting rights to the latest World Cup, Brazil 2014, crept ahead by just 0.9 per cent compared with South Africa 2010 - from $2.405 (£1.642 billion/€2.269 billion) to $2.426 billion (£1.658 billion/€2.289 billion)

For all the thrills and spills of the Brazil 2014 group stages, meanwhile, some experts argue that top club football is also now of better quality than its international counterpart.

“Club football outstripped international football in terms of quality around four decades ago - something that has become increasingly obvious over the past 10 years or so,” Jonathan Wilson, a football tactics specialist and editor of The Blizzard, a football quarterly, told me.

Set against that, the decision, however tortuously arrived at, to play a World Cup in the northern-hemisphere winter, is going to pose the club game some logistical issues.

But I have seen no suggestion that club competitions will, in any way, be truncated.

Indeed, if Qatar 2022 does show it is feasible to play a World Cup over a somewhat shorter period than recent predecessors, who is to say that this span, albeit in June/July, might not be adopted as the norm, creating a little bit more room for club football?

So the club-v-country balance has been shifting.

And now, with the object of financial compensation to the clubs for supplying the stars of the international game (ie their employees) having been attained, it seems we are moving to the next stage: overt participation in the most refined decision-making machinery.

As the recent ECA announcements revealed, two European club representatives have secured the right to sit on UEFA’s Executive Committee, the European body’s top table.

ECA described this as “a major achievement for ECA and a strong statement of UEFA’s commitment to modern and dynamic governance models”.

Will it lead to better governance of European football? Maybe, but I don’t think this is guaranteed.

It is certainly a development whose consequences are worth watching very closely.

With a new competition - the UEFA Nations League - in the pipeline, one prediction I would make with some confidence is that a new stream of revenue will before long be wending its way to the clubs that will provide its chief entertainers.

With the UEFA Nations League in the pipeline, clubs might gain even more income from their players participating for their nations
With the UEFA Nations League in the pipeline, clubs might gain even more income from their players participating for their nations ©Getty Images

I have few major issues with the changes effected so far.

The situation prevailing in 1998 was plainly no longer sustainable.

That said, I do worry that it might result in more and more of the money generated by football being channelled into the coffers of the sport’s ‘haves’ at the expense of its ‘have-nots’.

I would make two observations in support of these misgivings.

First, FIFA’s preliminary budget for its 2015-2018 business cycle, published in 2014, earmarked an increase of 12.5 per cent for development projects.

This sounds fine until you compare it with hikes of 55.5 per cent for FIFA’s glitziest competition, the World Cup, and of 69.2 per cent in “operational expenses and services”.

This is FIFA’s best guess-timate, as opposed to what will actually happen.

Even so, I thought it was quite revealing as an indication of the governing body’s priorities.

Second, Europe is virtually monopolising CPP payments, absorbing 98 per cent of the €39.4 million (£28.5 million/$41.8 million) disbursed in the scheme’s first two years and four months of operation.

Clubs are increasingly having more control over their players participation at national level
Clubs are increasingly having more control over their players participation at national level ©Getty Images

While the pendulum has of late been swinging in favour of clubs, there have been times when employers of the sport’s stars wielded considerably more power than they have at present.

Ireland had to play the most important match of its early footballing history - the 1914 clash with Scotland that delivered its first Home International Championship title - without ace striker Billy Gillespie, who was required by his club Sheffield United because an FA Cup tie had gone to a second replay.

The situation in some of the biggest US sports tends, furthermore, to underline that soccer’s approach to this age-old problem remains relatively balanced.

In American football, a huge commercial success-story, international matches, certainly in the top echelons of the sport, scarcely exist.

As for baseball, one of the reasons why the sport lost its place on the Olympic programme (it now looks temporarily), was that the stars of the Major Leagues by and large could not attend.

Seen in a broad context then, the present club-country balance in football still strikes me as a generally acceptable compromise.

But it is an area where the status quo seems seldom to prevail for long - hence the need for continued vigilance.

Nick Butler is away