Jack Bell reports on the outcome of a misguided offer to FIFA
Earlier this year a website called footofgod.com closed down. Hardly a unique occurrence, but this one did not die through the reckless ambition of its creators or for any lack of demand for its services. Instead it was kicked in the teeth by the football gods – FIFA. Like many websites, footofgod.com was a labour of love, not profit. This ardour belongs to Kadima Lonji, a 29-year-old native of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) working in New York as director of web development for a major US department store chain.
A fanatical devotion to football led Lonji to spend more than $70,000 of his own money to start the site. It went live on December 6, 2000 and was disconnected in February 2001. Lonji’s site evolved into an electronic repository of video clips of the greatest goals and moments in the history of the sport – the world’s largest archive of 3,000 football clips great and garish. It included English League goals dating from the early 1960s, goals from the African Nations Cup, the old North American Soccer League, the Under-17 World Championship, Copa América, European Championship and the World Cup (with footage of every tournament going back to 1934).
The site also offered some more quirky and esoteric fare: clips of famous football advertisements, such as the one from Nike featuring the Brazil team juggling their way through an airport that was broadcast during the 1998 World Cup. Endlessly fascinating and almost entirely useless.
At its height, footofgod.com received 100,000 visitors from around the world downloading 500,000 clips a week. In turn, visitors to the site were eager to ship their favourite clips to Lonji for inclusion on footofgod.com.
“I knew when I started the site that it would catch fire with the billions of soccer fans around the world,” Lonji said. “It was doing a crazy amount of traffic. I was spending all of my free time trying to keep up with the site and I knew I needed some help.”
He sought help, in retrospect fatuously, from FIFA. “I put out my plea to the group that I thought had the resources to take over the site and for whom the interest was most relevant,” he said. “I just thought that FIFA would have the common sense to see the opportunity in front of them. I was absolutely wrong and looking back I should have known better than to think that the world works efficiently. They could have had the site free so that the fans could continue to enjoy this wonderful site.”
So, as word of footofgod.com spread around the world, Lonji got a drop-dead letter from FIFA on February 12. In a rather expansive interpretation of its copyright position, FIFA said it owned all of the content of Footofgod. com, regardless of its origins, and ordered Lonji to close down the site. A specious claim, certainly, but Lonji does not have the money or time to challenge FIFA’s claims in court. “I had no choice but to comply,” he said.
He pulled the plug on February 15. The site was dead. That, however, was not the end. “I tried to run a campaign to show FIFA that I was not moving in on their territory and that fans truly wanted the site,” Lonji said. “I ran a one-month campaign to collect one million emails from fans around the world. I got more than a million messages of support.”
Right. Tell it to ISL...
From WSC 175 September 2001. What was happening this month