FIFA officials and representatives of the 32 teams competing in this year’s World Cup wrapped up a two-day workshop in Tokyo on Thursday by declaring that they are ready to stage the World Cup in May and June.
In fact, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, the general secretary of soccer’s world governing body, went so far as to say they could hold the World Cup immediately, if they needed to.
“We had a very intense two days in Tokyo, people were very active, and we had a lot of requests and suggestions,” Zen-Ruffinen said. “We are ready. If the World Cup started today, we would be in a position to carry it out.
“Thanks to the two organizing committees and FIFA’s administration we can now see that the work of the last six years is bearing fruit.”
In fact, there are still several issues to be sorted out and various new topics of discussion arising from the gathering in Tokyo. Among the subjects covered by the workshop were:
* refereeing and the need for match officials to have a common interpretation of the laws of the game, particularly when it comes to “simulation,” as Zen-Ruffinen put it, or faking, diving and cheating;
* making referees more media-friendly by assigning a full-time press officer for the World Cup;
* disciplinary procedures — yellow cards given to players during qualifying matches for the World Cup will not carry over into the World Cup finals, but any suspensions still outstanding from the qualifying rounds will have to be served during the first round of the finals; Zen-Ruffinen also confirmed that players cautioned only once during the first round of the finals will start the second round with a clean slate;
* doping controls — players will be tested at friendly matches ahead of the World Cup and out-of-competition tests can be made at any time during the training camps;
* immigration and customs — those with official accreditation will not need visas to move between the two host countries during the World Cup;
* safety matters — “We are convinced of the safety for officials and all coming to the World Cup,” Zen Ruffinen noted;
* ticket sales — it was pointed out that Japan was well ahead of South Korea in ticket sales. Zen-Ruffinen noted that Korea was “a little behind Japan,” but added that measures were being taken “to ensure that all the stadiums will be full when the competition is played”;
* FIFA representation — as the competition is being cohosted, FIFA plans to have two fully operational headquarters, one at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul, and the other in the Westin Hotel in Tokyo. “They will be run on a parallel basis,” Zen-Ruffinen explained.
In conclusion, the general secretary confirmed: “We are ready for the World Cup itself, which is very good news.”
However, he admitted there were still problems and issues to be resolved. These include:
* team accreditations — many teams are requesting more passes than the 45 (23 for players, 22 for officials) allotted to them by FIFA;
* drinking water for players — as the weather could be hot in June, some teams have asked that drinking water be available or breaks in the game instituted to allow players to replenish bodily fluids;
* transportation and accommodation — Zen-Ruffinen noted that transportation between the two countries had been greatly facilitated by the opening up of certain airports to international flights, but he added that flight schedules were problematic for certain teams and some cities did not have enough decent accommodation, so the organizers were looking into the possibility of charter flights to reduce the number of nights teams have to stay in certain cities;
* training sessions — FIFA has to decide whether or not these sessions will be open to the public and/or the press.
Zen-Ruffinen also said FIFA had amended its regulations a few months ago to accommodate games that are abandoned or postponed due to the weather or other reasons. As the World Cup finals will be played during the rainy season, there is the possibility that certain games may be unable to take place on their scheduled day.
“The organizing committee is now empowered to decide, depending on the circumstances or consequences of a given match, whether or not that match has to be replayed or not,” Zen-Ruffinen said. “If a match does have to be replayed, then the decision will be made on an ad hoc basis. Usually the match will be played within 24 hours at the same stadium.
“It’s a burden, but we have the capability to do that. The only problem is the broadcasting of the game as satellites have to be booked in advance.”
As for the laws of the game, Zen-Ruffinen said that no great changes were in store, but FIFA was looking at the application of various laws and the need to find a common interpretation of these laws.
“We will not be making any big changes,” the general secretary said. “The main topics we discussed were the fight against simulation; the passive offside law in which players aren’t interfering with the game; the possibility of having a stoppage to allow players to have a drink of water, although I personally consider this impossible under the laws of the game; and the ruling where players are allowed to remove their shirt after they score a goal.
“We were not expecting so many players to do so and we were not expecting so many players to have messages on their undershirts. We want to bring this situation under control again.”
On doping, Zen-Ruffinen said that for the first time in a FIFA competition, offenses will not be handled by the organizing committee but directly by FIFA’s disciplinary committee. He added that during the World Cup there will be a permanent chamber of the independent court of arbitration to handle any dispute, particularly those involving doping offenses.
On the state of the Saitama Stadium pitch, Japan organizing committee (JAWOC) chairman Yasuhiko Endoh said that no final decision had been taken on what to do with the pitch, which cut up badly in Japan’s friendly with Italy in November.
“The Japan Football Association and JAWOC got together after the Japan-Italy match and both organizations have sent teams to inspect the situation,” Endoh explained. “We have also met with local authorities to discuss this matter.
“The J. League kicks off in March and matches will be played on the pitch, so we will make a final decision after we see the condition of the pitch at that time.”
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