Monday, September 21, 2009

Bolivia refusing to play ball in player power struggle

Every supporter of a team from time to time feels that the squad could do with a shake up and followers of the Bolivian national side have been afforded just that.

The whole of Bolivia's squad have vowed not to show up for next month's two World Cup qualifications games.

Some may argue that they have barely been present in the campaign so far, chalking up ten defeats in 16 matches making qualification for South Africa an impossibility.

The next two matches are scheduled for 10th and 13th October with the Bolivians entertaining Brazil in La Paz before travelling to Lima for a game against Peru.

Just who will be turning out for La Verde for these games is unknown now that the entire national team have announced their withdrawal until reforms are made to way the game is run in their country.

Joaquin Botero the hat trick hero in Bolivia's 6-1 demolition of Argentina earlier in the year and his teammates broke the news through their player's union Fabol.

"Bolivian football is in deep crisis," Read the statement on Fabol's website. "As long as our suggestions are not taken into account and implemented the country's professional footballers resign indefinitely from representing the nation team."

The major gripe of the players is the amount of opposing factions governing the game in the country. Power is divvied up between the FBF, the League and the national associations with few people looking out for the interests of the players.

Fabol's statement went on to say that the three separate governing bodies should merge as one. They believe that this will lead to "the real actors in football, the players, coaches and referees" getting more of a say.

It is also hoped that under a single body administration an increase to government allotted funds could be better deployed.

In light of defeats against Paraguay and Ecuador and the certainity that Bolivia would not be heading to South Africa for the World Cup the country`s president Evo Morales suggested that the game should be "nationalised".

Morales' love of football is well documented and it is the posts he held within regional football authorities that gave him his start in politics. He once famously skipped a meeting with Chilean President Michele Bachelet to skipper a game of football with his mates.

"I've said that some [football] officials live off of sports," Morales said. "I feel that sport has to be nationalised, especially football. What better thing than the intervention of the state?"

"We're sorry about the performance of our team in the qualifiers," Morales went on to tell reporters in Bolivia. "Until now [football] has been [controlled] by private, autonomous entities but they aren't getting results."

The President believes that nationalising the game would restore "dignity" and give it back to the people. Morales already has an impressive record of reclaiming his country`s gas, tin and telecommunications industries and making them a better proposition for his people rather than lining the pockets of multi-national companies.

"Soccer is an integrator," Morales said last year. "It doesn't just have to do with championships, trophies or medals. It means much more than that. Soccer makes us forget the politicians who are our specific problems. Even poverty, if only for 90 minutes, gives way to this social phenomenon."

Any move for his government to run the game in Bolivia would be frowned upon by FIFA who only last year temporarily suspended Peru from international competition after it perceived interference from the government over the FA.

Morales can however be buoyed by his recent victory over the games big wigs in Zurich. When FIFA imposed its ban on matches being played at over 2,500 metres above sea level it was Morales who led his neighbours to rally against "football's apartheid".

The sanctions affected Peru, Colombia and Ecuador but it was Morales who stuck his neck out by declaring the ruling "deplorable" and a violation of human rights.

Sepp Blatter and his cronies were eventually forced to substantially water down their initial ruling and now Bolivia continues to play their home games in La Paz at an ear popping 3,600 metres above sea level.

However Morales' Sports and Health minister Ramiro Tapia did follow his leader’s words of nationalisation with a little hint against total domination of football in Bolivia.

"One should think about improving," Tapia said. "We're not talking about intervention."

As for the players´ strike Fabol´s actions hardly come out of the blue such has been the amount of similar action in South America recently.

As with all industries the strike is a useful bargaining tool and this year footballers in Uruguay, Peru and Argentina have already threatened action to one degree or another.

In March the Uruguayan players' union led by Enrique Saravia forced a midweek round of matches to be called off amid a dispute centring on unpaid wages and bonuses.

In July the Peruvian national team staged a walk out in protest of malaise blighting the game in the country. Their demands were similar to those of their Bolivian counterparts with reforms in how the game was run on top of the agenda.

More recently the start of the Argentine season was pushed back a week as again a players' union pitched battle against the national authorities.

Bolivia's case could pan out slightly differently than their Latin American neighbours as they have a man who takes his football very seriously in the top job. Evo Morales is due to face the polls in December and although he is in no serious threat of losing he can use positive action on football to bolster his populist stance.

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

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