PtG Article 06.05.2010

FIFA working group to help small unrecognized nations and territories

A FIFA working party is attempting to help small nations and territories unable to gain recognition by the world body in a move that risks sparking outrage among other potential members.

Geoff Thompson, a former chairman of England’s Football Association (FA) and a current vice president of FIFA, chairs a working group at the world body that is looking at issues faced by small nations and territories not currently recognized internationally.

Thompson and Urs Kluser, director of member associations and development at FIFA, have visited the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu and Sint Maarten - a Dutch administered territory that occupies half of the Caribbean island of Saint Marten. Their low-key programme of trips culminated in a visit to the British Crown dependency of Jersey on April 14-16.

“The key purpose of their visit [to Jersey] 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,” explained FIFA, which confirmed that only three places are being visited by Thompson’s working party and that no other visits are planned.Tuvalu, which has a population of just over 12,000, took part in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers without even being a full member of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) let alone FIFA.

FIFA is waiting on a final report from Tuvalu following the working party’s visit and the island is likely to become Oceania’s twelfth full member and the next member of the world body.That will disappoint a number of other territories lobbying for FIFA membership, notably Kosovo, whose independence from Yugoslavia in February 2008 has been recognized by 66 countries – but not by the United Nations (UN) or FIFA.

FIFA is working to stamp out illegal trading in Kosovan players, which has denied clubs in Kosovo much-needed funds, but any new member of the world body must be accepted by a regional confederation first.UEFA insists that all new members are recognized by the UN to prevent Gibraltar from joining and upsetting Spain. This rule also keeps out Kosovo, whose independence is vehemently disputed by Serbia, and UEFA president Michel Platini has promised the Serbs that he will respect the UN’s decision – a promise that will also hinder Jersey’s aspirations.Any move towards international footballing recognition would provoke a political storm in Serbia and Russia and FIFA confirmed to media in Kosovo that no visits from Thompson’s working party are scheduled.FIFA’s last attempt to resolve a long-running political dispute brought the football association in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Cyprus Football Association together for the first official talks in more than three decades but these ground to a halt after two years.

The world body has been more successful in helping associations in less contentious regions, such as Greenland, where last year a U$D 400,000 FIFA grant channeled through the Dansk Boldspil-Union provided the Arctic island with its first artificial pitch. The Jersey Football Association is keen that their attempts to develop football on the Channel Island are seen in isolation and do not get caught up in sporting politics.

“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,” said JFA president Ricky Weir after Thompson’s visit.On returning to Switzerland, Kluser told Weir: “It was inspirational to see what a small FA can achieve. I will certainly share with my colleagues what we have seen during our stay on the island. As discussed in our meetings, we will do what we can to further the question of the Jersey FA within the international football family.

”Jersey is a member of the FA, along with neighbours Guernsey, and the JFA is trying to set up a competition with other places caught in international limbo – but only non-contentious ones, not the likes of Kosovo.Jersey’s plans for an International Shield have yet to come to fruition but this September the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) will stage the second Coupe De L’Outre Mer for French departments.The tournament began last year and eight teams will journey to France for the next event, featuring Reunion, Martinique, French Guiana, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Saint Pierre et Miquelon, French Polynesia and Guadeloupe.For Guadeloupe, the tournament is a vital outlet for a region, whose team reached the semi-finals and quarter finals respectively of the last two Gold Cups for teams in CONCACAF yet is not even a full member of this body so remains excluded from World Cup qualifying.

News that FIFA’s working party would not be visiting Guadeloupe was a disappointment to the Ligue Guadeloupeenne de Football but the LGF’s Alain Soreze said: “In Guadeloupe, we work hard with French FA to authorize us to be a full member of CONCACAF that is our first step.”