Monday, March 26, 2007


The Death of Oceania

Another FIFA communiqué has seen the light of day recently. Nestling inamongst a number of largely trivial matters, there is an announcement of a small change to the format of that irrelevant but moderately lucrative tournament, the Club World Cup.

Although the format for the six-match final tournament of this year's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan will be no different from in 2006, the executive agreed to introduce a qualifying play-off between the Oceania champions and the league champions of the host nation, with the victors then lining up alongside the champions of the five other confederations.

Oh dear. Poor old Kiwis.

Or, to put it another way, what FIFA gives with one hand (Oceania participation in the latter stages of the Asian World Cup qualifiers), it takes away with the other. And this just when the Oceania confederation had launched its own “Champions’ League” (yes, really) as a qualification route for the 2007 event in Japan.

But there is a silver lining for our trans-Tasman friends. What both the FIFA moves have in common is that they appear to point inexorably towards an eventual dissolution of the Oceania confederation – which is good news for just about everyone except the frequent-flyer Oceania bureaucrats.

Oceania’s history is a study in the ridiculous. Formed in 1966 basically because the Asian confederation didn’t want a bar of the colonialists to the south, it festered along without representation within FIFA for thirty years, while taking part in the Asian qualifiers anyway. For the 1986 and 1990 cycles, it was a politically convenient dumping ground for football’s two pariahs of the time, Israel and Taiwan.

Now the confederation has only one member of any consequence, and that member has not qualified for the World Cup since 1982. As the big fish in the tiniest of ponds, one can hardly expect them to do so again without some good competitive experience – which they will never get in Oceania.

In the long term, a move to Asia can only be good for New Zealand. As for the Pacific nations, they would probably simply find themselves in the same basic situation as before.

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