Toronto FC Moving to Miami? Fun With FIFA

For several months now, there's been a small kerfuffle on the other side of the planet which would seem to have implications for the continuing Canadian presence in the United States of America's Division 1 professional soccer league.*

Back in 2007, the New Zealand Knights, a member of the Australian A League, went belly up. There was something of a tussle over who would replace them, and an Australian group initially seemed to have the inside track but the Football Federation of Australia expressed a preference for including another New Zealand team, which eventually led to the formation and inclusion of the Wellington Phoenix.

The FFA granted Wellington a three year A League license and everyone was happy. Everyone except Asian Football Confederation Chairman Mohammed Bin Hammann who, along with his very close pals Sepp Blatter and jack Warner, essentially run FIFA as their own private little consortium.

Bin Hammann stated that this cross-border arrangement runs counter to FIFA rules and that - this is the best part - Wellington Phoenix would have to pack up and move to some town in Australia or disband in 2011 when their charter expires.

This caused a good deal of consternation in New Zealand, as the NZF has very little hope of ever starting a quality New Zealand Division 1 league. They feel they need the Phoenix not only for local fan interests but also as a place for promising New Zealanders to hone their game.

Sound familiar yet? This whole thing is very much analagous to Jack Warner demanding that Toronto FC either move to a US city or disband.

Enter FIFA Potentate Sepp Blatter, who's beginning to feel some heat from his old pal Bin, (Or do his freinds call him Hammy? No matter) who has the financially very substantial backing of his own AFC which includes both Far East and Middle Eastern money. Bin Hammann has made some comments recently about how his good pal Sepp might want to consider taking up golf and Mahjong in a confortable retirement somewhere come 2011.

(Although lately he's been backing off of those statements, nobody really believes he's given up on his goal of succeeeding Blatter in the near term if he can)

Anyway, Sepp has just given Binny a "Not so fast there, Skippy" moment. In a statement at the FIFA Executive clambake at the end of December, he told reporters:

"It is not the matter of the confederation, it is the matter of the FIFA Executive Committee... If Wellington will go on playing in (the) Australian League, then as long as (the) Australian league wants to have them and Wellington wants to stay (and) both associations in this case, New Zealand Soccer and Australian Football, are happy with that then we will give them the blessing. The confederation can not interfere with that."

So done and done, right? Not at all. This is, after all, FIFA and nothing is either a) simple or b) as it seems.

The problem dates back to 2006, when the FFA petitioned FIFA to let them move from the Oceania Football Confederation (which it was instrumental in founding) into the Asian Football Confederation, primarily for competitive reasons (you don't improve your game much playing Fiji) and also for travel purposes, since their European based players have a much easier time getting to, say, Qatar or Iran for a match then they do flying out to Tahiti.

So the A League is now part of the AFC Champions Cup, except that Wellington is not eligible since New Zealand is in Oceania.

(If your eyes are starting to glaze over at this point, hang on - I'm even boring myself at this point, but the good part is coming)

Into this whole controversy steps our old freind Jack Warner. A little far from home, but what the hell.

Jack was also at the FIFA Executive Board meeting in Tokyo, and he was approached on the subject of Australia's bid for the World Cup in 2018.

He allowed as to how it was too bad that they seemed so determined to go for 2018 instead of 2022 (a strange position given the fact that both Mexico and the US are almost certainly going to bid on the latter) because - are you ready? - the AFC just had a World Cup in Korea and so it's not their turn.

On the other hand, Jack noted, if Australia was in Oceania they'd be a shoe-in for 2018 because Oceania has never had a World Cup, and he'd be happy to support them moving back.

Fortunately, the Chairman of the FFA is none other than Frank Lowry, he of the super-duper World yacht of the year that Jack and Sepp and Bin Hammann enjoy so much. So when reporters told Lowry what Jack had said, he announced that he suddenly had a burning desire to cruise the Caribbean later this month and was hoping he could stop by T&T to see if jack could possibly come with him.

I'm guessing Jack will find the time.

Of course, Warner is pretty busy right now trying to figure out how to get T&T into the World Cup in South Africa.

HE SAYS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IS LACK OF MONEY but he'll figure out a way. Personally, I'd suggest he go find some of the $20 million his country was given for WC 06 that has turned up mysteriously missing, but that's just me.

Jack says he'll "leave no stone unturned" in his quest for money.

Hey - Frank Lowry has money. Say, you don't suppose.....

* Well, OK, so it really doesn't. A guy can dream, can't he?