14 March ~ "Fayre and Square" isn't the motto of FIFA. It's the bargain slogan of the pub chain that includes the New Inn, Langstone, just off the M4 at Newport in south Wales. There's a Wacky Warehouse kids' area, two dinners for a tenner all day and everyday, and rooms at £49 a night for as many of the family as you could get in there. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) was in town for the first weekend in March, but it wasn't patronising the New Inn.
Just along the road and up the hill is the Celtic Manor Resort, sprawled across 1400 acres. There, you don't see many kids and it's nearer £152 a night in the Manor Hotel. That's where IFAB gathered for the much awaited annual meeting to decide on goal-line technology and player attire, the main items on the agenda of its 125th Annual General Meeting. FIFA's Laws of the Game are actually the product of (and authorised by) IFAB, a body made up of the four UK football associations and FIFA. The board began in 1886, FIFA joined it in a fragile alliance in 1913, and in 1958 current voting rights were approved. IFAB's 1993 constitution, though, recognised four representatives or delegates from each of the four UK associations and four from FIFA; so Great Britain and Northern Ireland 16, FIFA four. But in decision-making terms, it's been one vote apiece for the UK associations and four for FIFA; for a proposal to carry, a three-quarters majority must be achieved, six out of eight.
So while the guest list at the Celtic Manor numbered 61, for whom Friday night fireworks at Cardiff Castle provided a dazzling welcome evening, just eight men were deciding on whether the game would be better for the introduction of goal-line technology. It was no great surprise when FIFA president Sepp Blatter confirmed that tests with selected companies had proved as yet inconclusive. Turning to new FA chair David Bernstein, Blatter expressed much sympathy for the "blatant" injustice of Frank Lampard's disallowed goal at South Africa 2010 but, pressed by Sky Sports News speaking for the wronged England fan, asked for "just a little bit of patience", what actually amounted to another full year's testing. David Bernstein was smiling diplomatically, saying that the outcome was not perfect but that the principles supporting the introduction of goal-line technology were wholly accepted by the IFAB; we could be positive about its future.
Not imminently though. Any IFAB decision cannot take effect until July 1 following the date of the decision, so a 2012 IFAB decision in February or March is already too late for Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine. But roll on Rio – Sepp conceded that Brazil 2014 could herald the end of the over-the-line, in-or-out debates and legends concerning what might have been. Of ten companies, three "have a good chance" in the extended test period in live games themselves. And a newcomer, Hawkeye, was also now among the invited companies.
IFAB also ruled on snoods – not allowed, quite simply not permitted in the Laws of the Game. I thumbed through Law 4, looking for what would permit goalie's caps or anybody's gloves, neither included in the "basic compulsory equipment of a player". Sepp and IFAB were a bit quick off the mark here, the FIFA president even suggesting that snood-wearers were endangering their own deaths by strangulation.
At such absurd moments you can only wonder how IFAB has survived so long. You have to look at the rituals and protocol of the board. Blatter sits amid generally silent and acquiescent football administrators from the British associations, and guests and partners were well catered for – the Ladies' Day Agenda took in museums, the Millennium Centre and a tour of the Welsh National Opera. All gathered together again for the Gala Dinner on the Saturday night in the Celtic Manor's Beaufort Suite, where the SFA president, George Peet, toasted the Queen and Heads of State, the IFA president, Jim Shaw, toasted the Ladies, David Bernstein of the FA toasted the IFAB and host president Phillip Pritchard of the FAW toasted FIFA.
The UK men had five minutes each for these speeches; keeping the proportional principle going, Blatter was allotted 20 minutes for his response. Whatever their private thoughts on FIFA's modus operandi, the UK men weren't going to rock this lawmaking boat. Blatter ranged wide in the IFAB press conference, confirming his determination to lead FIFA for a fourth presidential term: "I'm not tired at all... just to make it clear, for my next four years I will dedicate my work to the social and cultural impact of football in society." Nobody laughed.
The IFAB is seen as the guardian or custodian of the long-established laws of football. It's a pseudo-independent body that operates essentially as Blatter and FIFA's lapdog, but allows Blatter to control access to it from within FIFA. It's the president and the general secretary who are routinely the FIFA men with voting rights, plus two others – the chair of the referees' committee and a senior vice-president. There's no transparent route to these positions, they're effectively in the FIFA president's gift. Blatter flatters the UK associations and their historical legacy, bankrolls the IFAB and does, for the most part, exactly what he wants. Alan Tomlinson