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The Conflicting Case of Florent Malouda

Thursday 13th July 2017
Wealth and influence aren't everything. Sometimes the little guys push back. Every once in a while, they win, too. This time, French Guiana and Florent Malouda are battling the system.

Who hasn't heard the saying money talks, bullshit walks? Unfortunately, there are many individuals and organisations with plenty of the former who love to deal in the latter. They exploit and bully those with lesser resources, then flout critics who cry foul.

These days, Donald Trump springs readily to mind. Especially as he appears to be up to the same old tricks, following news he has defaulted on payments to contractors who worked on his newest hotel in Washington, DC. It's Round and It's White only concerns itself with politics as it pertains to football, however. So, I'll have to kvetch on FIFA and its subsidiary, CONCACAF, instead.

In its opening match at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, tiny French Guiana played to a goalless draw against not quite so tiny Honduras. Former Chelsea and France winger, current Hero of the League for Indian Super League club Delhi Dynamos, Florent Malouda, 37-years-old, featured for the side representing the land where he was born.

He did so despite having earned 80 caps with Les Bleus and CONCACAF having previously ruled he was therefore ineligible to play in the competition. Consequently, the matter has been referred to CONCACAF's disciplinary committee, which is expected to award the match to Honduras on forfeit, with the mandated 3-0 score attached.

Social media has exploded in reaction to the news. That is to say, as much as any controversy surrounding the fifth most renowned confederation tournament, among six in existence, can be termed explosive.
However one describes the furore, general consensus seems to be French Guiana should have known better. With regards to FIFA and CONCACAF's position on the matter, though, the truth is it very well might.

FIFA's rule is clear. No player may represent two separate nations in sanctioned play. Yet, the case can be made that Malouda hasn't.

The game's world governing body has another rule. It does not accept regions, departments, or other forms of national protectorates as members. French Guiana is an overseas region of France. It is, in fact, not a country. It flies the French flag, considers La Marseillaise its anthem, and uses the euro as its official currency. As such, in FIFA's eyes, it is ineligible for membership.

CONCACAF has broader, independent membership rules. It admits non-nations into its fold. Three French protectorates are participating in the current Gold Cup: Curacao and Martinique joining French Guiana in having earned the honour. Bonaire, Guadeloupe, and Saint-Martin, French governed regions themselves, are also non-FIFA affiliated CONCACAF members. In theory, any one among the six could win the Gold Cup, be recognised as regional champions, yet never play in the World Cup. Also in theory, France would be North American champions if one did. That thought ought to stir up a Trumpian tweet-storm.

More importantly, the dynamic is significant to Malouda's participation. While he has represented two international sides, there is no conflict of interest. French Guiana can never compete for a World Cup, nor France for the CONCACAF championship.

FIFA's rules regarding eligibility for representation hinge on the term nationality and the age of 21.

If a Player has more than one nationality, or if a Player acquires a new nationality, or if a Player is eligible to play for several representative teams due to nationality, he may, up to his 21st birthday, and only once, request to change the Association for which he is eligible to play international matches to the Association of another country of which he holds nationality, subject to the following conditions: ... (b) He is not permitted to play for his new Association in any competition in which he has already played for his previous Association. -- FIFA Regulations on player eligibility, Article 18

Malouda has only one nationality. He is French. He is eligible to play for two separate French associations, however. Critically, he will not be representing French Guiana in any competition in which France competes.
His being over 21 can be argued as less significant, even though it clearly rules Malouda ineligible without first having applied for permission to change associations from FIFA. Although CONCACAF plays the Gold Cup according to FIFA rules, that is technically not a comprehensive statement. Else, French Guiana, Martinique, Curacao, and the other French regions in the confederation would all be ineligible to compete because none are FIFA members.

CONCACAF therefore has the discretion, should it see fit, to ignore Article 18's age requirement, given no competitive conflict of interest derives from Malouda's participation. A CONCACAF representative has confirmed as much, admitting to Sports Illustrated, the organisation is fully aware FIFA would almost certainly have given its permission for Malouda to participate.

There is even regional precedent to support his participation. In 2007, former Paris Saint-Germain, Marseilles, and Les Bleus defender, Jocelyn Angloma. was instrumental in Guadeloupe's semi-final run. His play apparently resulted in complaints from unhappy opponents, aka bigger, wealthier countries that are also sore losers. To appease its more influential members, CONCACAF adopted a stricter interpretation of its eligibility rules.

Despite the tougher stance, the spokesman admitted Malouda could not be prevented from playing even though the confederation had notified French Guiana he was ineligible. CONCACAF could and did notify French Guiana Malouda was ineligible. Yet, it could not direct the LFG not to select him.

Thanks to that technical absurdity, it would appear the disciplinary committee must forfeit French Guiana's results in all three group stage matches, or none at all, regardless whether Malouda participates in the remaining two. Otherwise, its ruling would unfairly affect Canada and Costa Rica, the other two nations in the group. If Honduras is awarded three points rather one, Los Cotrachos would have an unfair advantage with regards to progression.

Should French Guiana be subjected to forfeit, it may feel it has a sufficiently strong case to appeal the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Or it may simply believe its point regarding silly rules that both take away from the tournament's spectacle and work largely against the federation's smaller members, whose proportionately limited talent pools may be exploited by a larger association able to offer more to a special player, such as France did Malouda, has been effectively communicated.

Hopefully, a decision needn't be made. CONCACAF would be better advised to apply common sense by ruling for the spirit of the game rather than the unfortunate technicalities in its regulations. Sadly, that seems unlikely for a group mostly comprising corporate lawyers.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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