FIFA’s European Favoritism

landon celebrates

In 2006, an outcry led by certain elements of the British Press was directed towards CONCACAF. The theory stated that the United States and Mexico had been ranked too highly under the FIFA World Ranking formula of the time.

Reacting to this public pressure, FIFA changed its formula towards new criteria which surprise, surprise benefit European countries more than any other region.

The current FIFA ranking rewards nations for playing more high profile friendlies against highly rated teams on FIFA blackout dates. This means that European nations, geographically more capable of scheduling these sorts of matches get a distinct advantage over the nations of CONCACAF, Africa, COMNEBOL and especially East Asia.

Thus South Korea, so competitive in the last two World Cups finds itself ranked below the likes of Scotland, Bosnia and Latvia who have qualified for a grand total of one major tournament this decade (Latvia’s 2004 Euro appearance). Honduras is ranked below Bulgaria and Israel for very much the same reasons.

FIFA’s emphasis on its new world ranking formula became even more apparent as the world governing body threw out the established criteria for seeding teams in World Cups and relied exclusively on the FIFA ranking for tomorrow’s draw.

Obviously, with the most commercially viable European sides protected by the October 09 ranking (but interestingly enough not the November 09 ranking which would have seen England unseeded in favor of France, a less football mad nation), it was simple enough to seed based on that. I don’t disagree with FIFA’s decision to use Oct 09 over Nov 09. I disagree with FIFA’s decision to seed exclusively based on this ranking.

Even today, when the subject of the FIFA ranking comes up on some English football programs, the issue of “over ranking” regarding the United States and Mexico is repeatedly mentioned. If anything, the new formula has been punitive towards both the US and Mexico in a way that it is not towards sides from UEFA. Qualifying loses for both nations’ precipitate, larger drops in the ranking than for the average UEFA side after similar losses in qualifying. This is inspite of the fact that Mexico’s qualification and advancement record in the World Cup is comparable to any major European side save the real powerhouses of Italy, and Germany.

Maybe the English are still upset that Mexico had the good sense to dump Sven Goran Eriksson’s act after ten months, when they put up for it for five years. Or perhaps they are so threatened by an American ascendency in the sport they claim to have invented (I believe based on my reading that the Scots actually invented the game, but the English deserve the credit for codifying the rules. But the London based press has little claim to either, as the rules of football were codified in industrial Sheffield, far from the elite media circles of London) that they have to put down the US at all costs.

Either way, the FIFA rankings which actually now benefit European sides are alleged to favor CONCACAF, when they do not. Even more criminal is the chronic under ranking of East Asian sides, for the reasons, I outline above.

Assured of seeding all of the commercially viable European nations (France is not a football first country, and they could be easily discarded in favor of football mad Holland and England), FIFA took the unprecedented and unwise step of revising its consistent seeding process. Perhaps next cycle the shoe will be on the other foot and the seeding process again revised?

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About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
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14 Responses to FIFA’s European Favoritism

  1. Charles says:

    How could anyone say this favors CONCACAF ?
    Look at the teams we (USA) CAN’T play in the group stage. They are the who’s who of teams you WANT to play.

    FIFA will never do it, but random should be done.

  2. kevin_amold says:

    To me, it is obvious that the English feel threatened by an American ascendency. Whether or not that feeling is justified is quite another matter. I might liken us (CONCACAF) to the Gonzaga basketball program in the mid 90’s, when they seemed to make a little noise every year, but were still really struggling for validation in the press. Not a perfect metaphor, but CONCACAF teams are generally lively in their groups (Trinidad and Tobago 2006, Mexico 2006, USA 2002, Mexico 2002), with the US absolutely flopping occasionally. Until someone goes DEEP in the cup from CONCACAF, the respect from England and UEFA just won’t be there. Without a certain handball off the line by Frings, maybe the US would have done it. Someone needs to….

  3. Tom says:

    For once I agree with Charles, random should be done (although countries from the same continent kept apart, excepting Europe which has more than 8 teams).

    If they are going to have seeding, I like this process better than using the results of World Cups played 4, 8, and 12 years ago. Perhaps they could use rankings, but only the European group winners, CONCACAF group winner, South American first and second places, African Cup winners, and Asia first and second places are eligible. Then weak qualifyering campains, like those had by Argentina and France, would be recognized.

    Whatever the process, it should be announced before qualifying begins.

    As far as Europe being overated- I don’t know, they had all 4 semi-finalists last time, 2 out of 4 the time before (and Spain got ripped off by Korea), and usually get 3 out of 4. They often have 7 out of 8 quarterfinalists. I’ll look up the stats later.

  4. sidereal says:

    I actually like the idea of using World Cup results exclusively, because it gives more incentive for teams to do well in World Cup games, even if they know they won’t make it out of the group. They’re playing for their nation’s seeding in the next Cup.

    And Kartik, it may well be that the FIFA formula change in 2006 was some Eurocentric conspiracy and it’s certainly true that FIFA should be much more transparent about its methods and they should be agreed on well ahead of time, but there was definitely a problem with the old rankings formula. Do you really believe that in April of 2006 the US team was the 4th best in the world? And Mexico was 6th? As in, if the US had played Portugal 10 times on neutral ground, they would have one more than half? That’s just not credible. As a fan of US soccer, even I knew that the absurdly high US and Mexico rankings were an embarrassment.

    • LI Matt says:

      Do you really believe that in April of 2006 the US team was the 4th best in the world? And Mexico was 6th?

      I heard a lot of talk like this at the time.

      However … in those same rankings, the Czech Republic was #2. Brazil was #1, so according to FIFA CzechRep was the best team in Europe. I never heard a single person publicly state they had a problem with that.

      It’s strange that the only complaint I ever hear about the FIFA rankings is that the US is ranked too high.

  5. Ivan says:

    Here we go again…
    I have one thing to say: at the last World Cup, out of the 8 quarter-finalists, 6 (six) were European teams: Italy, Germany, Portugal, France, Ukraine, England; 2 were from South America: Argentina and Brail.
    0 were from North America; 0 were from Asia.
    Every 2 weeks or so Kartik goes on a rant of some big conspiracy rant, whether it is against English commentators (we all remember the anti-Martin Tylor piece), the poor Irish who can’t pass the ball twice amongs themselves (yes, they got screwed, but the thought of watching John O’Shea next summer still haunts me), etc.
    Now, it’s the big bad FIFA(yes, Blatter is a joke, but that doesn’t mean that the group leaders were unfairly picked). We all know how South Korea got to the semis when they hosted the World Cup: it will be a one -off occurence. They are not a better team than any of the 8 group leaders (excluding South Africa, but they are a host nation).
    I could make a Mexico argument since they consistently qualify and progress to the knock-out stages of almost every World Cup.
    US, w/ the progress it has made over the last decade or so, is still about 20 years from being a super-power in football.
    Honduras, to the best of my knowledge, has qualified only once for a World Cup, back in ’48 or something.
    Another African team would have a more legitimate claim to be a group lead, as noone would want to play in Africa against the likes of Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, or Ghana…but, an African team is yet to get further than a 1/4 final at a World Cup(this will change next summer: an African team WILL make the semi-finals, possibly the final)
    Next piece by Kartik: the World Cup winner has already been arranged. And it won’t be the United States…

    • Rex says:

      KK is only talking about FIFA individual rankings, not that Europe isnt better as a whole.
      Your 6 of 8 stats means nothing for this debate. The world cup field is made up 40% European teams (well deserved) so they are much more likely to advance. In 4 groups there is a 50% and the other 4 groups its 25% chance a Euro advancing to the ro16.

  6. ERic says:

    Well, I was going to comment, but I think others have covered it nicely.

    I’m a huge US soccer fan. And this summer was fun. But I’m also a realist. Euro teams get tough groups. The difference between them and us is that they make it through them. Other than ’02 and ’94, we don’t. I actually think we are over-ranked in the current FIFA rankings. Voros has a much more realistic number — around 20. Here’s hoping the Confed Cup was a real measure of where we are, and we can actually make it through this time.

  7. Berlin says:

    It wouldn’t bother me so much if FIFA wasn’t so self righteous and full of sh!t. You can group CONCACAF & Ocean-asia together because you don’t think they’re very good and penalize France for it’s handball against the Irish, but don’t pee on my leg and tell me its raining. It’s just like the sudden cancellation of the rotating confederation policy when it came to be CONCACAF’s turn, just say you want the Cup in Europe every other time.

  8. Charles says:

    Tom, thanks for the bonding 😉

    Was the US overrated in a previous World Cup, sure, all the more reason for random.
    Europe is definitely NOT overrated…as a whole. The have won 1/2 of the World Cups.
    The problem gets to be the teams in Europe ARE overrated, lower of the pack European qualifying teams rated too high losing to the Nigerias of the world, who would never get rated that high.
    It’s called bias and I think it exists. But I live on the West Coast, where we have all changed our middle name to “Screwed by East Coast Bias”

  9. Charles says:

    I am just interested in why Ivan thinks it will change in 20 years ? or take that long ?

    “US, w/ the progress it has made over the last decade or so, is still about 20 years from being a super-power in football.”

    And if others agree ?
    I don’t, although I dont know if I have a time table, just don’t think it should or would take that long. Kids like mine are huge soccer fans, not just Soccer Made in Germany fans, or more current EPL fans, happy to look down on the US Soccer while living here.
    It may seem like we are long way away from a typical round of 16 or maybe round of 8 English team, I don’t think so.
    As the money shows up, like in Seattle, you get the great athletes in any sport and would prefer to play soccer. At that point it is game on with the tops in the world…maybe game over for the rest of the world 😉

  10. Seybold says:

    What’s really lacking from FIFA is transparency. No one knew in advance how seeding would be determined, so it was all a mystery. I suspect FIFA used the October rankings just to keep France from being seeded. Remember 2006, how FIFA devised an arcane points-based formula where Argentina and Mexico both ended up being seeding, just barely ahead of the USA?

    It all looks like means are devised to meet predetermined ends. Another blatant example was the last-second decision to base UEFA playoffs on rankings. I actually think it was the proper method, but when you change the rules at the last second, it’s clearly favoritism at work.

    To take it even further, did anyone ever notice how the seedings for WC qualification were set for each region? It was based on FIFA rankings, but there was no common criteria, different months were used for different regions. The CONCACAF seedings were based on a month well before the draw that blatantly favored Costa Rica, and damaged Canada (Costa Rica wasn’t even ranked in the top 6 in CONCACAF based on then-current rankings, I think Canada was 3rd or 4th at that time. Only 6 teams were seeded so based on then-current rankings Costa Rica would’ve faced a very tough draw instead of a comically easy one, and Canada would’ve had a much easier draw).

  11. Edgo says:

    I am sorry you are wrong.

    France is a football country, it’s by a huge margin the most popular sport.

    France in semi final or final of an european and worl cup attracts 22-23 millions of TV viewers, without counting the giant screens installed in all the cities. That’s around 85 of marketshare for the TV.

    You fail. The reason France was left out was to punish the country for Henry actions.

  12. Edgo says:

    Then it’s totally normal that the European countries are better ranked as they are better team in general. You are really crying over nothing in my opinion.

    People don’t care about Erikson being sacked or not in Mexico you totally miss the point. The FIFA is searching to reward the better teams. If the 4th team of Concacaf is not on par with the 15th team of UEFA it’s not the FIFA fault.

    Then , it was not even for Henry that France was out of the protected seed, but for the fact that the team has done very poorly recently. And it ended fantastic as France got one of the weakest group of the competition.

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