Last week, during a well-publicized trip to Mexico, reporters noticed something odd about FIFA president Joseph Blatter during a press conference.
No, it wasn't the occasional comical mishandling of the Spanish language, but more the fact that Blatter would dive his head into a few sheets of paper whenever a question pertaining to Mexico would come his way.
At the end of the session, a keen reporter noticed Blatter left the sheets behind.
What he discovered was a fax sent over by the Mexican Football Federation (FEMEXFUT) with a list of "hot" topics involving Mexican players, teams, and leagues.
Also included was the Federation's official stance on these matters, so as to heighten Blatter's understanding of what he was being asked.
This, in itself, is not at all shocking.
If we are to believe that Blatter is going to be completely up-to-date on what happens in every single one of the over 200 nations that he essentially administrates on a day-to-day basis, then we are quite simply being naive.
However, Blatter wasn't being asked about a player's new haircut, the current form of a specific team, or the inauguration of a new stadium.
He was asked about enforcing basic rules that make competition fair for clubs, and FIFA's negligence to do so. The apparent sudden change from FIFA's firm hand to a soft embrace in Mexican policies is surprising.
Why is FIFA ignoring the egregious violations to basic rules and codes in Mexico?
Furthermore, why is Blatter taking cues from Mexican officials to answer certain things in response to certain questions?
Just two decades ago, Mexico was harshly punished for forging birth certificates during qualifying matches for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Their two-year ban from international competitions—including the 1990 World Cup in Italy—left the Mexican federation with a scar that is yet to completely fade away.
It's a lesson that that they have seem to forgotten.
Only four years ago, at the 2005 Confederations Cup in Germany, two players were found to have failed doping tests. Despite allegations that they played after their results were handed down, no investigation or punishment was handed down.
Since then, one of those players, Salvador Carmona, tested positive a second time and was banned from the profession entirely. The ban caused his team, Cruz Azul, an elimination during the 2007 play-offs for playing him despite knowledge of the test.
Again, no further investigation was conducted by FIFA, and the matter seems to be completely disregarded.
Back to the now-famous piece of paper on Blatter's desk, here's a rundown of the spiny issues plaguing Mexican football, and the (in)action FIFA has taken in response to those problems:
1. Multiple Ownership of Teams
Mexico's first division is comprised of 18 teams, two of which (Club América and Club San Luis) are owned by Grupo Televisa, the nation's largest television network.
A year ago, it was three (Necaxa, who were relegated) of 18.
Understandably, various conflicts of interest have arisen due to this, with the most notorious being the Summer 2002 tournament final between Necaxa and América.
Other irregularities include CF Pachuca's owner, Jesús Martínez holding a minority stake until recently in Indios de Ciudad Juárez, another first division team.
FIFA's response to this would seem to indicate a non-rebuttal in the entire North American continent, as this problem is not exclusive to Mexico, with multiple ownership also occurring in the United States.
2. Labor Irregularities in Player Contracts
With the implementation of the Bosman rule in Europe almost two decades ago, a precedent was set for player-owner relations and the negotiation of contracts, as well as a clear establishment of labor rights for footballers.
Though the ruling doesn't technically apply outside of Europe, regular labor laws apply in Mexico that explicitly prohibit certain actions that Mexican owners and clubs take against their players.
Infamously, an under-the-table agreement commonly known as the “Gentlemen's Pact” does not allow for free agency and player rights in Mexico. A player can only move from club to club if the previous club allows it and receives a transfer fee, even if the aforementioned player's contract is up.
Blatter was predictably mum on the subject, preferring to answer fluff questions about Mexico's chances in the 2010 World Cup and what he thinks of the new stadiums that are being built in the country.
3. The “Two-Party” System
With three of the 18 teams under their ownership and the national rights for television broadcast split between them, television networks Televisa and TV Azteca rule Mexican football with an iron fist.
Teams that disagree with the payment for television rights from one network are immediately shunned by the other. Having only cable channels to shop their rights to, teams risk losing viewers and advertising money.
The disciplinary committee is a joke, favoring “big” teams and teams owned by the television networks. Case in point, Club América's Aquivaldo Mosquera was handed down a three-match ban for punching Morelia's Mauricio Romero during a game.
When Televisa executives protested the ban, it was reduced to only one game.
During the same season, considerably smaller club Estudiantes Tecos was handed down several multi-game bans for similar offenses, with their appeals not being heard. CF Puebla manager Jose Luis Sanchez was fined for comments against referees and CONCACAF brass.
Again, no appeal was heard.
Maybe Blatter, who has been involved in his own share scandals throughout his presidency, doesn't see fit to levy punishments upon a country that generates a large amount of revenue for World Cup broadcast rights.
Maybe it's because the country is sure to make a big sum of cash for the organization during the upcoming U-17 World Cup, hosted in Mexico.
Maybe, just maybe, with an upcoming election, Blatter needs votes from the region, and is trying to be as diplomatic as possible with the leaders of the nation.
Whatever the reason is, it sure as heck isn't for the good of the game.
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