Top Women Players Fight for Equal Playing Fields at 2015 World Cup

By | August 11th, 2014 | No Comments

2015-womens-world-cup-poster copyElite footballers, coaches, and advocates are threatening to sue FIFA and the Canadian local organizing committee for gender discrimination at next year’s Women’s World Cup.

 

An international group that includes the last two FIFA Players of the Year, Nadine Angerer (Germany, @NAngerer) and Abby Wambach (USA, @AbbyWambach), is demanding organizers switch the six venues from artificial turf to natural grass, the only surface that’s ever been used in the men’s World Cup finals.

 

While FIFA guidelines state that the world body “will always prefer a perfectly manicured grass pitch to an artificial surface,” the 2015 tournament is set to be played exclusively on plastic pitches. Through their legal counsel, the players are demanding their right to “Equal Playing Fields.”

 

“By singling out women for differential and unequal treatment,” states the official letter (click here for full text) to FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the Canadian organizers, “you not only subject the world’s top players to heightened risk from an array of turf-related injuries, but you also force them to experience the legally cognizable indignity of playing the game’s most important event on what your organizations admit to be an inferior surface.”

 

At the time of writing, neither FIFA nor the Local Organizing Committee have issued a public statement in response to the players’ demands. But few aficionados would disagree that if the 2015 Women’s World Cup were to be played on natural grass it would be an important victory for gender equality and the beautiful game.

 

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Filed under: The Players

Boyzzz Khumalo: From Soweto to Michigan, part 2

By | July 25th, 2014 | 2 Comments



Part 2 of my interview with Boyzzz Khumalo (part 1 is here) opens with a description of the harrowing injury that prematurely ended his Major League Soccer career.

Boyzzz reflects on the inherent fragility of professional sports, the importance of higher education for life after soccer, and his extensive youth coaching experiences in both Soweto and in Michigan.

Boyzzz’s deeply personal commitment to community upliftment comes through in a detailed discussion of the challenges and hopes for the Umhlaba Vision Foundation. Anyone interested in getting involved or learning more about Umhlaba can send email to boyzzzkhumalo80 AT gmail.

Boyzzz Khumalo: From Soweto to Michigan

By | July 24th, 2014 | No Comments



Thabiso “Boyzzz” Khumalo grew up in Soweto, South Africa, around the corner from the homes of two Nobel Peace laureates: Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Like so many boys in the land of apartheid, he spent every moment of free time playing soccer and dreaming of becoming a professional player overseas. Unlike most of them, however, Boyzzz fulfilled his dream

On July 22, I sat down with Boyzzz for an interview on the campus of Michigan State University. We’d been hoping to do an interview ever since we met in November 2013 when he visited my “Sport in African History” seminar for a screening and discussion of Invictus.

This week was an especially opportune time to chat about Boyzzz’s sporting life because on Sunday, July 27, Lansing United, his current team, travels east to New Jersey to play a National Premier Soccer League semifinal against New York Red Bull Under-23.

How does a young man from Soweto end up playing in Michigan? In part 1 of our interview, Boyzzz shares memories of anarchic pickup games in Soweto; his first experience in the U.S. during a youth tournament that would change his life; and then scoring his first MLS goal for DC United.

Boyzzz also discusses the work of the Umhlaba Vision Foundation–a nonprofit organization he founded in 2007 with two South African friends. The goal of Umhlaba (meaning “world” in the Zulu language) is to change the lives of young Sowetans by creating a positive development environment through sport and education and bringing student-athletes to the United States. For more information about the foundation please email Boyzzz (boyzzzkhumalo80 AT gmail).

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for part 2 of the interview!

Spotlight Africa: After the 2014 World Cup

By | July 23rd, 2014 | No Comments



I chatted about the 2014 World Cup with Assumpta Oturu on KPFK Pacifica Radio‘s Spotlight Africa program.

We analyzed Brazil’s historic collapse, Germany’s youth development policies, club versus country loyalties, African teams’ performances and what can be done to improve their results in global football.

Listen to the entire July 19, 2014, show here.

Soccer Development in South Africa: Same Old Story

By | July 21st, 2014 | 5 Comments



Radio talk show host, author, and political analyst Eusebius Mckaiser spoke with Robin Petersen, CEO of the South African Football Association’s development agency, about what is going wrong and what needs to be done about the future of Bafana Bafana—the South African men’s national team.

Peterson has an unusual background for a South African football administrator. He owns a construction company and holds a PhD in Religion and Ethics from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Since 2001, Peterson has held important positions, including as CEO of SAFA and the domestic Premier Soccer League. In his new role at the helm of SAFA’s Development Agency, Peterson’s job is to ensure that the football development plan known as SAFA Vision 2022 is implemented.

In conversation with Eusebius and his listeners, Petersen touches in general terms on a 7-point plan that includes a national football philosophy; youth teams and academies; coach education; football infrastructure; and sports science. The complete absence of a sense of history in his remarks underscores a serious problem within South African football: an unwillingness to deal honestly and productively with what has already been said, tried, and failed in the two decades since the end of apartheid and the birth of democracy. (For two different, but complementary, critiques of South African football development, click here and here).

Despite Petersen’s best intentions and SAFA’s more sophisticated packaging, it seems that, once again, the latest development plan amounts to little more than a public relations campaign.

Filed under: The Hosts

Struggling Italy Robbed at the World Cup

By | June 26th, 2014 | 3 Comments

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36 hours have passed since millions of Italians watched the national team get eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.

Here in Italy, the media and the pundit class have joined ordinary fans in criticizing the team. First in the line of fire is Cesare Prandelli, the coach, rightly taken to task for dubious roster selection, poor match management, improvised tactical changes, and an inability to bind together a group of “senators” (i.e. veterans) and relatively inexperienced youngsters. His resignation in the aftermath of the Uruguay loss, came not a moment too soon for many Italians.

Balotelli, the only player in the squad with potential to be a game-changer, has also come in for plenty of criticism. Reading the papers, watching endless debates on TV, and talking with fans, it appears that many Italians, including vocal defenders of Super Mario, are disappointed with the star striker’s weak performance. Sadly, some racist Italians have taken to the web and social media to insult Balotelli for his blackness.

But I wouldn’t go so far as saying that Balotelli is being blamed for the World Cup debacle. Honest observers recognize that the failure of Italy’s 2014 World Cup campaign has multiple causes, not least the pathetic 0-1 loss to Costa Rica last week. As historian John Foot explained in an excellent column, there is a structural rot in Italian football that needs to be addressed. From corruption and mismanagement to suffering youth systems, club rivalries, and outdated stadiums; the list of major problems is quite long and vexing.

While this analysis is legitimate, there seems to be a consensus among Italians (and not a few neutrals) that the loss to Uruguay was an outright robbery perpetrated against an ordinary team.

The first half of Tuesday’s match was played evenly, with Italy rarely in trouble. Pirlo had a dangerous free kick saved by Muslera and Verratti distinguished himself as the best player on the pitch, weaving in and out of Uruguay’s workman-like midfield with creativity and dynamism. With a draw enough to see the Azzurri through to the next round, Italy was in control.

Then, a few minutes into the second half, the Mexican referee, Rodriguez Moreno, decided the match. In an inexplicably absurd decision, he sent off Marchisio with a straight red card for a normal tackle that showed no malice and, at best, deserved a yellow. What made this refereeing decision so outrageous is that previous Uruguayan fouls of a similar ilk had not been punished with any cards.

Moreno’s call transformed the match. With nearly the entire second half still to play in the heat of Natal, the Azzurri were a man down, less able to deal with fatigue, and psychologically shaken. Uruguay, on the other hand, seized on the opportunity and began dominating the match. Even so, only two goal-scoring chances came out of this advantage.

Perhaps dissatisfied with the outcome of his earlier outrage, Moreno then took center stage again. Suarez, the recidivist, sunk his fangs into Chiellini’s shoulder and then fell to the ground, theatrically, as if felled by a sniper’s bullet. The referee awarded a free kick to Italy, but did not send Suarez off despite Chiellini showing Suarez’s dental mold chiseled into his shoulder area. Surprisingly, the assistant referee provided no assistance.

Two things happened at this point. Instead of playing the final 12 minutes or so 10 vs 10, the Azzurri had to labor on a man down with players cramping and visibly tiring. Then, 100 seconds after the Suarez bite, the Italians lost their concentration defending the corner kick that produced Godin’s winning goal.

Most Italians recognize the 2014 national team was an ordinary one. Fans and pundits admit that Balotelli, Immobile, Cassano, Thiago Motta, De Sciglio and others put in sub-par performances. But people also know a robbery when they see one. And the culprit was Rodriguez Moreno. Curiously, another referee named Moreno (from Ecuador) also sent the Italians home from the 2002 World Cup. He is currently serving a long prison sentence in the United States for smuggling drugs.

Brazil 2014: World Cup Politics

By | June 11th, 2014 | 3 Comments

The day before the magic kingdom opens in São Paulo, WKAR’s “Current State” host Mark Bashore interviewed me about the politics of the World Cup. We discussed FIFA profits and institutional reform, special World Cup laws and extraterritoriality, nation-building, development, civic protests, and what the future holds for Brazil, on and off the pitch. Originally broadcast live on June 11, 2014. Take a listen!



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