Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Time to Re-Construct the World Cup Qualifiers

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil leaves us with many questions surrounding representativeness across the globe. Traditionally, the number of berths awarded to each confederation has been determined via political maneuvering even though the larger public naively believes that the number of berths are determined by performance. Sure, performance is usually drummed up as a rationale to justify increase in berths for a confederation but there is no known FIFA formula for determining this increase. Thus, political compromises have often been used to make the determination. That compromise has been reached by merely increasing the number of teams in the finals or in a recent move, denying the defending champion an automatic place in the final.

The difficulty in reaching an agreement on who deserves additional berth and who does not is based on the fact that there is no established formula for making the decision. Importantly, UEFA initially held fast to its domination of number of berths in the final by flaming that berths should be determined by performance and UEFA was far better than teams from other confederations based on World Cup results. Its only competitor was South America (CONMEBOL) that had far fewer ember nations. However, UEFA continues to maintain dominance in berths in spite of the fact that other confederations have rapidly closed the performance gap between Europe and the rest. The table below shows historical efficiency scores of the Rest of the World against Europe/South America.

Efficiency scores of 0.30 or above are considered competitive because a draw (denoting equivalence of strength) leads to a score of 0.33 calculated on 1 point divided by a possible 3 points from a win. We also note that three games against a confederation is required for what we consider an adequate sample. Games less than three are denoted with asterisk. The choice of three games comes from the fact that FIFA uses three games in each World Cup group as an adequate sample to determine the teams that advance to the elimination stage of the World Cup.

The table is subdivided into two parts. The top part of the table compares the Rest of the World (CONCACAF/CAF/ASIA/OCEANIA) against UEFA teams in two ways. First, it compares results against all UEFA teams since the 1970 World Cup and then compares results against UEFA teams taking away results against four perennial UEFA powers (Germany, Italy, Holland, and France). Note that perennial teams are determined by consistent finishes in the top four at the World Cup since 1970. The lower part of the table is a comparison against CONMEBOL (South American) teams. The power teams in this case are two -- Brazil and Argentina.

The results demonstrate that UEFA's usual argument that Europe maintain the bulk of the teams at the final is increasingly becoming tenuous. Since 1986, the rest of the World have produced increasingly good results against UEFA teams at the World Cup save for two competitions in 1990 and 2006. Importantly, even when you include the TOP 4 UEFA teams in the equation, the results have been reasonable in three competitions in 1994, 2002, and 2010. Results against CONMEBOL teams show less success. However, it is important to note that games against CONMEBOL teams have been too few until 2010 to definitively speak on performance. What is disturbing is that in 2010 and 2014, number of games have been adequate but results dismal.

Nevertheless, UEFA now cites number of teams from other confederations that fail to go beyond the first round as a sign of UEFA's superiority over other confederations. However, that ignores mathematical proportion which shows that the larger the number of teams you have in the competition in the first place provides the larger possibility that your teams go beyond the opening round as is the case with UEFA. Take the most recent World Cup, while in raw numbers Europe had six teams move to the second round compared to Africa's two teams, the actual percentage of success was only 0.46 to 0.40 respectively for both continents. On the other hand, CONCACAF showed 0.75 success, far surpassing UEFA!

One disappointment is that in FIFA's biggest competition attended by 32 countries, not all of FIFA's 6  confederations are guaranteed of being there! This certainly seems unfair when mathematically, each confederation would have had at least five teams each! Using team performance to adjust requirement that all confederations are represented should at least assure each confederation one place at the finals.

A consideration is that there are six teams that perennially finish in the top 4 at the World Cups. These are Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Holland and France. But is it fair that other UEFA teams should get in under the coat tails of those few teams UEFA teams that finish in the top four? The best case scenario, may be, is to strip UEFA of some berths and award them to other confederations since the World Cup is increasingly competitive among all teams. This surely will be resisted by UEFA. However, if this becomes tough to agree on then UEFA should be open to prove itself deserving of those berths by competing increasingly for the berths. Thus, it appears to me that FIFA should think of ways to politically balance the qualifiers based on a few principles listed below:

1. That each confederation should have at least one automatic berth to the final.
2. That UEFA maintain the possibility of getting the same number of teams in the final.
3. That other confederations receive an opportunity to increase their number of berths in the final based on size of FIFA membership.

The Re-allocation of Berths

Principle 1: Allow Oceania to have an automatic berth.

Principle  2 and 3: UEFA retains possibility of providing 13 teams to the final phase of the tournament. However, five of those teams should qualify via playoffs against teams from other confederations. This will meet UEFA's insistence of having the best teams at the finals. If UEFA's teams are that good then they should prove it in contests against teams from other confederations. UEFA's opponents in these playoff games will rotate in each World Cup against teams from CAF, CONCACAF, ASIA, and CONMEBOL. Number of teams from each of those confederations involved in play-off games will be CAF (2), CONCACAF (2), ASIA (2), and CONMEBOL (1). This will give others, particularly CAF which has the largest number of FIFA member countries, opportunities to increase the number of teams at the final phase of the competition.

Automatic Berths at the Final Phase

UEFA = 8
CAF = 5
ASIA = 4
Host country =1

TOTAL automatic berths = 26

Playoff Berths (An example but will rotate as described above)

1. 1 CAF v 1 UEFA
5. 1 ASIA v 1 UEFA
6. 1 ASIA v 1 UEFA

TOTAL playoff berths = 6

***To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at Amazon.com books.***

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Central Issues in Persistent Nigerian Football Statute Crises…

Recently, a Plateau state court declared the illegality of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). However, it is not the first Nigerian court to make such declaration and it might not be the last if changes are not made to the NFF’s existence as an institution. What we do in this piece is to briefly explain what has led to this situation and what are the alternatives for escaping this situation. Please understand that there are several pieces to this issue, some complex and others less complex but the intent here is to be brief and clear without being clouded by minor issues that may distract from a clear understanding of the situation.

The Genesis
By January 2004, FIFA required Nigerian football to comply with FIFA’s statutes requiring affiliate associations to be independent from government interference in local football. Before then, Nigerian football was governed by the infamous Decree 101 which stamped government’s total control over football administration including specifying that the daily affairs of administration was led by a Secretary appointed by the government.  NFA’s Galadima (Chairman) and Ogunjobi (Secretary) met with FIFA in Paris on May 19 to review Decree 101 in an attempt to persuade FIFA of the Decree’s appropriateness with minor tweaking. FIFA rejected this and demanded a new and compliant statute.  The challenge then was how to abrogate Decree 101 and introduce another statute amenable to FIFA guidelines of football administrative independence. However, in Africa this must be noted as difficult considering that most of the football associations depend on government funding to operate.

The Birth of a New Statute
The Sports Ministry that controlled the Nigerian Football Association (NFA) dragged its feet, understandably, since complying with FIFA directive meant losing its authority over Nigerian football. With FIFA pressure mounting, the Football Association set up a review committee headed by Prof. Gye-Wado that drafted new statutes, which the NFA Annual General meeting approved in Port Harcourt in 2004. The statute received further approval by FIFA. However, at the time Decree 101 remained in the books as the Nigerian legislative assembly was yet to abrogate the decree. Minister Musa Mohammed declared the review committee’s work illegal and instead set up a restructuring committee headed by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Alhaji Babayo Shehu. Subsequently, the National Council for Sports (NCS) met in a 3-day emergency meeting at Otta voting to repeal Decree 101 and approving a replacement bill drafted by the Restructuring Committee set up by the Minister.  The bill was an amendment of Decree 101 and retained considerable government power over football administration. The Minister forwarded the bill to the Federal Executive Committee (FEC). The FEC approved the repeal of Decree 101 in January 2005, which was then sent to the National Assembly. With this, there was an erroneous belief that the NFF statute was surely going to be the football law and Decree 101 was dead. Note also that a group tagged Concerned Friends of Nigerian Football led by Obienu Nwabufor also drafted and submitted a private bill to the House of Assembly to restructure Nigeria’s football administration.

Refusal to Sign Bill into Law
As FIFA faced Nigeria’s persistent delays in abolishing Decree 101, FIFA announced that “Nigeria is playing a game of poker with its international football future. . . we have come to the end of our patience with Nigeria.” It then issued a fresh deadline of April 30. The reality is that FIFA’s patience exercised since 2004 is still tested today, a decade later! In any case, in May 2005, the Senate acted and repealed Decree 101 while passing a new Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) bill removing government management of the country’s football.

In the next month, the House of Representatives also passed a modification of Decree 101 forwarded by FEC and both legislative Nigerian houses moved to resolve differences in the passed bills.

Nevertheless, FIFA through its Deputy General Secretary Jerome Champagne told BBC in June that it was wrong for Nigerian legislators to draft football laws as it smacks of government interference. Meanwhile in early July, President Obasanjo refused to sign the bill, passed by both the Senate and the House into law noting that it was not the bill he had sent to the legislative houses. The President was reportedly displeased that the legislators not only added more seats to the proposed NFF board but completely removed control that the government wanted.

A Solution and Drawbacks
By March of 2006, the FA Chairman Sani Lulu, facing increased FIFA pressure to ensure abrogation of Decree 101, claimed that the decree had died a natural death and that in any case “there are so many decrees before the National Assembly that by now should have been annulled but everybody knows that it is not easy.” In essence, he was not pursuing fast tracking of legislative action but simply attempting to convince FIFA that progress was being made.

The facts: (1) The NFF is today using the statutes that FIFA approved back in 2004.; (2) The Nigerian President has not signed into law the abrogation of Decree 101 nor has he signed into law the new NFF Act approved by the Nigerian legislative House; and (3) The NFF has not registered legally as a business under the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

The facts stated above have introduced a chaotic situation into administration of Nigerian football that have been exploited through numerous court cases that declare the NFF illegal as the NFF is neither established by law nor is it registered by the CAC.

Ways to Overcome Drawbacks
The Nigerian situation, compounded by the fact that government provides over 90% of funds for football, has intensely made issues complex. Government wants control because of how much it invests and the fact that government maintains an obligation to develop its youth and uses sports as a means for achieving such goals. But FIFA wants its affiliate federations to abide by FIFA rules, which require independence from government. The question is how best for the Nigerian federation to wade through these demands. Here is what to consider:

1.     The football federation must meet FIFA rules or simply cease to be a member. You cannot be a member without the rules being applied to you. If Nigeria wishes to change the rules then it must build a coalition with other FIFA members and press for a change via FIFA Congress.
2.     There is no reason for the Nigerian Legislature to make football rules. This is not only based on the comment made by FIFA’s Jerome Champagne but also on analyses made by several Nigerian lawyers as well as cases elsewhere. Nigerian lawyers point to the fact that the Nigerian National Assembly’s power to legislate is set out in an Exclusive and/or Concurrent Legislative list of which sports is not a listed item. Moreover, the Nigerian constitution does not empower the legislative arm to make laws pertaining to sports. In several other FIFA affiliate countries, a collective of football stakeholders come together to form an association drafting rules that guide sporting activities and management.
3.     Based on the above, it seems clear that the NFF was correct in drafting its own statutes without reference to the Nigerian National Assembly.
4.     However, registration with the CAC is also required to ensure legality of the NFF’s statutes defining management of football business.
5.     It is time for the Nigerian President to promptly sign abrogation of Decree 101 into law. The legislators have done their part. No new law establishing the NFF needs to be signed for running football in the country.
6.     Government should have no ongoing obligation to support the NFF via federal budget. However, government may continue to provide funds to the NFF (as well as other NGOs who meet government’s interest) via grants that will be audited by government. This way, government is assured that its responsibility and obligation to the Nigerian public to develop youth is met via non governmental organizations that would include the NFF. Each of those organizations must formally apply for funding by responding to requests for proposals (RFPs).


Clearly, the unresolved situation in Nigerian football today will continue and will not only distract from goal achievement but may well retard progress. What we have done here is suggest the way forward if concerned parties have the true interest of the country’s football.   

Sunday, July 6, 2014

World Cup: African Record Against Other Confederations….

It is important to take a look at the records of African teams against other confederations particularly since African teams have historical struggles making it out of the opening round of the World Cup. But first acknowledge that, for first time, multiple African teams have moved past the opening round of the World Cup and, thus, there may well be a light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

Though the World Cup began in 1934, we have used data from 1970 because that is the first time Africa received an automatic berth to the World Cup final. One quirk to the data is that African teams had rarely played against a team from CONCACAF until 2006 and, in addition, sometimes there is just a single game against a Confederation. Those quirks are important because they can skew the data. Thus, read with caution.

Pay attention to the efficiency scores (Eff.) in the extreme right column. Understand that an efficiency score between .30 and .50 is not necessarily bad. Why? efficiency scores are based on points awarded in a game and because a draw is just one point (.30) and, thus, not .50 of three points (win), a team may have less than .50 and still hold its own. Lets take an example, Cameroon's three draws in three games (no defeats) in 1982 leads to an efficiency score of .333 and not .50! In essence, efficiency scores are focused on ability to collect maximum points. Therefore, .30 + efficiency score is not bad in the larger scheme of things.

The data, not surprisingly, show that African teams have difficult times with European and South American teams. In Europe's case, African teams have achieved improved results since 1978 when we had efficiency scores of less .30.  Since 1982, African teams have consistently recorded wins over European teams.  Against South American teams, the results have been mixed with good results in the 1982, 1990, and perhaps 2002 but African teams have lost all games against South American teams since!

African teams have been quite comparable to CONCACAF teams but less so against Asian teams until recently. In fact, it appears that African teams have finally made a leap over the Asian teams. However, this must be stated cautiously as positive results against Asian teams in the World Cup have been quite recent and a pattern has not been convincingly established.

So what does all this mean? Apart from contests against South American teams, African teams  have somewhat held their own against teams from other regions. However, for African teams to move to the next level of becoming contenders for the World Cup the teams need to begin achieving efficiency scores that go beyond what they are today. The scores need to be closer to .60 where we are holding an advantage and not simply breaking even or being close.

***To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at Amazon.com books.***