Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Jersey Breakthrough

This story has also been published by When Saturday Comes

Could last week’s visit to Jersey by a FIFA delegation be the first step towards playing the Channel Island playing international football?

The trip to the island was led by Geoff Thompson, formerly chairman of the Football Association, but more latterly a vice president of both FIFA and UEFA. In tow was Urs Kluser, development director for FIFA’s grandly titled member associations and development division.

“They were extremely positive about what they found in Jersey,” Ricky Weir, president of the Jersey Football Association (JFA), told WSC. “Of course nothing is guaranteed but I do believe there is now a genuine recognition and understanding of the international void we find ourselves in.”

Jersey has a population of 87,400 – roughly double that of FIFA members Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein and San Marino – but as a British Crown Dependency is not eligible for FIFA.

Not because of FIFA’s regulations, which simply require recognition by the undefined ‘international community’ but because the JFA needs to get into UEFA first. The European body has far tighter membership criteria. Potential entrants must be members of the United Nations – a rule designed to keep out Gibraltar and appease Spain. As a result, Jersey is on the international touchlines along with the likes of Guadeloupe and Kosovo.

What makes FIFA’s visit to St Helier interesting is that firstly, FIFA finally seems to have accepted that a grey area exists between regional and international football and, secondly, that Jersey has successfully promoted itself into this limbo zone.

Not content with the football tournament at the Island Games – a sort of mini-Olympiad for islands – in 2008 Jersey staged a three-way tournament with two other rejects, Gibraltar and Madeira, and plan another tournament with Guernsey.
Guernsey are looking to field a club side in a UK-league but under Weir, who was born in Coatbridge and played internationals for the British Virgin Islands before moving to St Helier, Jersey will not let the idea of international football drop.

Weir has been in contact with UEFA president Michel Platini but enticing an official FIFA delegation is the JFA’s biggest success to date. After returning home, Kulser told the JFA: “As discussed in our meetings, we will do what we can to further the question of the Jersey FA within the international football family.”
Kulser’s working party has also visited an unidentified Asian region and another in CONCACAF.

In response to WSC’s questions, FIFA said: “Geoff Thompson and Urs Kluser’s visit was as part of working group chaired by Mr Thompson to look at the issues faced by small nations and territories, such as Jersey, not currently recognized internationally. The key purpose of their visit was to: understand the football organisation within the island; understand the current island situation with regard to football development; [and] understand the relationship with and support currently received from The FA.”

FIFA said the other places included in Kr Kulser’s could not be “clarified” until later this week but one place in CONCACAF that is also stuck in international limbo is Guadeloupe.

As a French department, Guadeloupe is not eligible for FIFA and the island’s footballers traditionally aspired to play for Les Bleus. Players like Marius Tresor and Lilian Thuram did so with success but that all changed in 2007, when Jocelyn Angloma, a veteran of Euro 92 and 96, accepted that his French international days were gone and returned home.

Led by Angloma, Guadeloupe reached the semi-finals of the 2007 Gold Cup (the North and Central American regional championship) where they were edged out 1-0 by Mexico. Angloma had retired by the time of the next Gold Cup in 2009 but the Gwada Boys still made the quarter finals.

Alain Soreze from the Ligue Guadeloupeenne de Football confirmed to WSC that the LGF had heard nothing about a visit from FIFA but without something greater to play for than the Gold Cup, Guadeloupe’s flourishing football scene will wither, as will the hamstrung game in Kosovo.

Dozens of countries recognise that Kosovo is a country. Sadly, the Serbs and Russia do not, forcing the likes of Lorik Cana and Valon Behrami into adopting other countries to play internationals.

Bournemouth’s St Helier-born striker Brett Pittman might not seem to be in the same bracket, but with FIFA showing signs of wanting to solve the dilemmas that a combination of politics and football generate, an international call-up could soon be on the way.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Viva World Cup Draw

A version of this story was published in Soccer Business World and Play The Game.

A record six men's teams have entered next month’s Viva World Cup (VWC) for international teams not affiliated to FIFA.

The tournament that will be held in the Maltese island of Gozo for a week starting on May 29 2010 is the fourth staged by the NF Board and features the largest field so far.

The hosts will play with a side drawn from Gozo FC, which has previously played in the Maltese first division before slipping down the island’s pyramid, plus local teams, such as 2009/10 Gozo league champions Sannat Lions.

Gozo have been drawn with Padania, a team drawn from northern Italy that won the 2008 tournament and retained the trophy at last year’s third VWC. Padania have been linked by some critics of the tournament with the separatist Liga Nord political party but the NF Board insist that politics must play no part in the tournament.

Occitania, a team comprised of players who can speak the medieval language of Occitan found in southern France, Monaco and parts of Italy, make up a group with Gozo and Padania. Occitania staged the first three-team tournament in 2007 but have not taken part since. The other group features a side drawn from Iraqi Kurdistan that was runners-up last year and are expected to host the next tournament in 2012.

A team from the French region of Provence took part last year and has again entered. The other side in this group is a new entrant with a team representing the old Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with players drawn from southern Italy

The Scandinavian Sami tribe – known more commonly as Laplanders – won the inaugural tournament in Occitania in 2007 and staged the 2008 event but for the first time in the event’s brief history will not send a team in 2010.

The Sami are spread across Norway, Sweden, Finland and a handful in Russia. Traditionally, the Sami FA has been made up of teams from Norway and Sweden but a number of the old Sami FA board have quit since the Norwegian Leif Isak Nilut was replaced as president two years ago by Mikkel Isak Eiras of Norwegian club Kautokeino IL. Departures include Hakan Kuorak from Gällivare, home to many of the Swedish Sami and the hosts for the 2008 VWC. "Now the Sami FA are concentrated to Norway and not the whole Sami area," said Kuorak.

Monaco also entered the first tournament but have not entered since, while the side drawn from Swedean’s Aramean Suroye community that played in 2008 will not feature in Gozo either.

The draw took place in Gozo at the weekend but was disrupted by the cloud of volcanic ash that has forced the cancellation of many air flights across Europe. At the draw, Jean Luc Kit also returned to the role of secretary general of the NF Board after a brief hiatus.

The last final was screened on satellite TV channel Rai Sport and there was also coverage on a number of other TV stations, including Rai Sport, Canale 5 and Rai 3.

The NF Board hope to get similar air-time for this year’s event, which will be sponsored by Vellone Sports and held in the 4,000 capacity Gozo Stadium in Xewkija and the Sannat Ground, which has a new artificial playing surface. A women’s tournament was to feature Gozo, Padania and Corsica and be staged at the same time as the men’s event but the French controlled island will not now take part.