Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Echoes of Foe

As the grim mystery surrounding the murder of Bob Woolmer deepens, one gets the distinct impression that international cricket - or its World Cup at least - will never be quite the same.

The fact that the ICC has, for ages, been turning a blind eye to the activities of the subcontinental betting syndicates is well-known. Now, however, they might just have to overcome their legendarily pussy-footed approach to the chicanery on the subcontinent if they are to maintain any credibility as an organisation.

That credibility has already been undermined by their typically facile, self-serving statements to the effect that "the show must go on", "we must show that cricket is strong", etc., etc. Such meretricious rhetoric has been robustly and eloquently torpedoed in a recent article by the noted cricket commentator, and former player, Mark Nicholas.

What has all this to do with football, you ask?

Cast your minds back four years.

At another nonsense event, the football Confederations Cup, a heatwave has been sweeping through the host nation, France. Cameroon and Colombia meet in the semi-final in Lyon. Late in the second half, Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe collapses, with no-one near him. The cameras reveal a haunted, frozen look on his face as the medics desperately try to revive him.

They failed. Foe had died, as an autopsy later revealed, of cardiac failure.

In the desperate blurtings of cricket officials at the moment, there is a distinct echo of FIFA's party line following Foe's death.

"...collective tribute of respect and solidarity...what would make Foe happy now...football must go on..."

Sound familiar? Agatha Christie once wryly observed that any given person's view of "what (the dead person) would have wanted" tends to correspond remarkably closely with what that person wants. Blatter's assertions that the Cameroon team were united in the wish to play the final, incidentally, were later shown to be misleading; of course, their opponents, the French, were simply embarrassed to be forced to play the game.

The crass grandstanding of Blatter, Blazer and the rest was justly condemned in this piece, published shortly afterwards. The tournament named after Foe? Of course, Blatter reacted warmly to such a suggestion at the time, while knowing full well that such a move would be politically disastrous. You will notice that, in Nicholas's article, he too predicts that the ICC will make some suggestion as to the connection of Woolmer's name with the tournament. Watch this space.

One particular thing that Blatter did in the aftermath of Foe's death was, in my opinion, unforgivable.

After the findings of the autopsy were made public, the FIFA president was straight out onto the hustings, declaring that Foe's death "had nothing to do with football". All that the autopsy had determined was that the death was cardiac-related, and might have been the result of a congenital defect. The rigours of a tournament played in the daytime, at the height of summer, at the end of a gruelling European season and a World Cup before it, definitely had nothing to do with his death? A pernicious, self-serving lie, which Keir Radnedge exposed in a subsequent editorial piece in World Soccer (in which he made the obvious suggestion that the best memorial to Foe would be to scrap the pointless Confederations Cup).

And yet, you have the same sort of thing happening now. Cricket officials are doing their level best to distract the attention of media and fans from the murky tales of match-fixing and bookmaker greed which, as is becoming increasingly clear, probably hold the key to Woolmer's murder.

The issues in any particular sport must be faced, whether they concern intolerable fixture crushes or nefarious betting rings. And whether they result in murder or natural death, they require action, not bluster.

I love my football internationals, especially when the Roos are playing so the validity of my point here is lessened.

But I'd be greatly saddened if the midweek date in football or any other so-called meaningless series of matches were forced out of the calendar due to a crowded club fixture list - some matches obviously meaningless there themselves apart from the money it generates. Given a choice, I'd rather that cash went to the national association because its more likely to stay in football.

Arguing that the club pays the wages of the players isn't foolproof to me given that its not always that one club that has spent the money developing the player, in some cases it is national bodies like the AIS or Clairefontaine.

My point here is that I'd like to see more recognition of the stress placed on their players by the clubs first, at least a more balanced long term view than a result that is needed this weekend.

Either way it is hard to argue against the fact that players are often exploited unfairly on both sides - but also that the players know what they are signing up for when they take the elephant bucks home.

The operation of a betting mafia on the other hand clearly operates outside the game only to its detriment.
I hear what you're saying, and in fact I've always been of the belief that the clubs and FIFA have to play an equal part in reducing the fixture crush. The problem is, they're both far too keen on gaining ground over the other to make common purpose of it - and they're both shockingly greedy. FIFA have never been prepared to give any ground, nor have the clubs. That's why we still have bullshit competitions like the Confed Cup and the UEFA Cup.
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