Africa’s games highlight Club and Country conflicts.

Having lost my computer en-route, regular bulletins have ceased, but here is a general view of the politics surrounding the tournament. A summary of my trip will be added, probably next week

This biennial tournament is well known for creating and recreating a debate on the club versus country issue, as it takes players away from their paymasters for around a month.

For years the clubs have been upping their protests against the competition, or to be more accurate against all international football that does not meet their terms. Although never explicitly stated, the terms are along the lines of –

1. International teams should pay the clubs the players wages for the periods in which they are away on international duty
2. International teams should provide insurance for players on international duty, so as compensation is paid for any player who is injured.

Up to now, these demands have been refused on the simple basis that the international teams cannot afford it, but the massive amounts of cash now generated by the World Cups and European Championships have damaged the argument. The principal body arguing for the clubs has been the G-14, the oddly named group of 17 of the World’s richest, most popular clubs, and Bayer Leverkusen. The G-14 have long been a thorn in the side for the Football Confederations, and the have a nice trick of appearing to support the little guy, for example by bring a court case on behalf of Belgium club, Charleroi who not surprisingly are not members.

The case, which I have covered in this column before concerned Abdelmadjid Oulmers, who sustained an injury when playing for Morocco, keeping him from playing for his club team for best part of a year. As part of the case, G-14 asked for a massive €860 million as compensation not only for Charleroi but also for similar cases involving their own members. The monetary side of the case was dismissed by a Belgium court in May 2006, but this was only the start of things – as they then referred the issues concerned to the European Courts.

A fortnight ago, a meeting between FIFA, UEFA and the G-14 clubs resulted in them agreeing to drop the case, (and other court cases), and to disband as an organisation, with the football organisations instead recognising a new 100 member European Club Association (which will include at least one member from each of UEFA’s 53 states). As such an organisation will find it hard to reach a consensus unless bullied by the big clubs, this appears to be a victory for UEFA add FIFA, and a demonstration that since Platini had taken over at UEFA, the two bodies are working in unison, rather than in competition with each other.

In the week leading up the the African Cup, there were two almost conflicting statements, from the secretary of the CAF, and Sepp Blatter. The CAF statement was to re-state the Federations determination to keep the tournament every two years, and to play it in January. The claim of the CAF is that a June or July date would be a problem because this is too hot in may countries, and it is the rainy season across the central belt of the continent. Only right down in the South is the weather supposedly suitable, (the 2010 World Cup, will of course be played in the South African winter).

There are some problems with this claim – although it is clearly cooler in some countries than others in January, this does not mean the sport is limited to this period of time. The African club competitions run on an calendar year system, with matches from February to November, while this season the federation has scheduled four rounds of world cup qualifying for June – just the time said to be too hot or too wet.

The CAF statement concluded that the biennial, January tournament will continue unchanged at least until 2014. The next edition, though – in Angola will be held two weeks earlier, from January 10-31. Not that this makes a difference to the European clubs, as the main suppliers of players – France, England, Spain, Portugal all play through this period – only Germany which restarts its top division in the first week of February would be helped by the decision.

On the other hand, Sepp Blatter stated that by 2016, this tournament must change to playing in June and July, in line with the other continental competitions. Of course, Blatter did not mention that the next Asian tournament will probably be played late in the year, around November and December to fit the weather for Qatar. If the Qatar tournament was to be played in June or July, then temperatures could exceed 40 degrees centigrade during the matches. The 2000 tournament in the Lebanon was played in October, while 1996 it was December in UAE

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