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FIFA fails to act in naturalisation row

November 3, 2011

FIFA has failed to act on allegations that Burkina Faso flouted rules on fielding foreign-born players on their way to qualifying for the African Nations Cup.

In doing so, soccer’s governing body has potentially opened the floodgates for other teams to do the same.

Burkina Faso’s campaign included home-and-away wins over Namibia, who alleged that in both games the Burkinabe fielded Russian-based Cameroon-born defender Herve Zengue.

The Burkinabe said Zengue had obtained nationality by marrying one of their nationals. However, FIFA statutes also say that a player must have lived in his adopted country for at least five years before he can represent their country.

Nambia, adamant that Zengue did not meet this criteria, saw their protests brushed away on a technicality with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) saying, among other things, that the complaint had been lodged on the wrong type of paper.

Namibia angrily rejected this and said that the least CAF could have done was to have looked at the merits of the case.

Namibia said that, under CAF’s own rules, they should be awarded 3-0 wins in each match.

FIFA’s reaction? “We cannot comment on that (CAF) decision,” it told Reuters in a statement.

Soccer’s governing body reacted with similarly last year when it transpired that a “fake” Togo team had played an international friendly against Bahrain.

The world’s media was awash with stories of the farce yet FIFA, apparently unperturbed at the damage to the image of the sport it is supposed to protect, did little.

“We can’t act until somebody sends us a complaint,” said FIFA at the time, adding that it was not its job to control international friendlies.

Several months later, FIFA changed its tune overnight after a case of match-fixing at a double bill of international friendlies in Antalya, Turkey.

Taking full advantage of the lax controls over such matches, an agency working with illegal gambling rings organised the two games — Bulgaria v Estonia and Latvia v Bolivia — and brought in the referees, who awarded no fewer than seven penalties in 180 minutes of football.

All six officials were later banned for life and FIFA announced stricter controls over friendly internationals, locking the barn door after the horse had well and truly bolted.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said recently that the corruption scandals had overshadowed the positive work that FIFA does in the developing world, including a variety of social and education programmes.

Yet FIFA does itself no favours at times.

Blatter’s organisation sent a sharp message to the Swiss FA, reminding of it of its duties to “implement the FIFA statutes” after a club in the country defied regulations by taking its grievances to a civil court.

It has intervened in the federations of Bosnia and Indonesia, setting up “normalisation” committees to make sure its statutes are respected.

Other African nations are also accused of bending the nationality rules and, ironically, Blatter, a regular guest at the tournament, could be in the stands witnessing the problem first hand in January.

There seems little to stop FIFA intervening in the Burkina case and nipping the problem in the bud, if it really wanted to.

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