Most people who follow FIFA’s machinations expected France to be torn out of Pot Four (the European pot) ahead of Friday’s World Cup 2014 draw. That’s what the world’s governing body did for 2006, when they pulled the lowest-ranked team (Serbia and Montenegro) away from the eight other non-seeded European teams, allocating the team so it wouldn’t get grouped with two other UEFA squads. With nine unseeded European teams replicating that problem this year, FIFA’s decided to slightly change course, a move that could be seen as a sign of progress.
Instead of relying purely on FIFA rankings to drop one of UEFA’s teams our of Pot Four, Friday’s draw will start with a team drawn at random from the European pot. That team will then be placed with the seven-team group made up by the African and South American qualifiers. If that UEFA team happens to be drawn with one of the European seeds, they’ll instead be bumped int a group with a non-European seed, thus ensuring only two UEFA entrants are together once Pot Four is drawn.
The difference between 2006 and 2014 isn’t big, but it’s a notable one for those questioning the importance of the FIFA World Rankings. Those world rankings were responsible for teams like Switzerland, Colombia, Belgium and Uruguay being seeded at the expense of teams like Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal, calling into question the viability of the system. Today, however, rather than persisting with use of that system and using it to sift one team out of Pot Four, FIFA has decided to draw at random.
The extent you see this as progress probably depends on how strongly you feel about the FIFA rankings. Or perhaps you hate the FIFA rankings but don’t see this as important. Even though I’m bringing up the possible importance of this change, I tend to fall into the “not important” camp. It’s possible today’s “change” says nothing about how FIFA’s rankings will be used going forward.
But if you’re looking for any reason to wonder if FIFA’s second guessing their own ranking system, Tuesday was a good day. It’s at least a change, one that implies some more thought’s going into the process. If we start to see the same second-guessing next time around, perhaps we’ll be spared from a team like Switzerland in Pot One.