One-way mirror

The FA took a principled stance over the FIFA presidential election but they remain as equally flawed in their governance of the Premier League

For the England squad the season ended with the Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland. But it was to have gone on a few days longer. After the Swiss match the national team – or more likely a second-string – were due to play a friendly in Thailand. In exchange for seeing Bobby Zamora and Kyle Walker jogging around at half speed, the Thai FA chairman Worawi Makudi was expected to support England’s 2018 World Cup bid.

After he failed to do so in December, the FA withdrew from the game. Makudi was one of four FIFA officials accused of seeking bribes by former FA chairman Lord Triesman in evidence he gave to a parliamentary committee in May. Another of the four was Jack Warner of Trinidad, where England played a friendly in 2008, a year after his son was fined by FIFA for illegally selling tickets to the 2006 World Cup. In September last year David Beckham returned to the island to open a football academy named after him.

The FA have been widely praised for their “principled” stance over the FIFA presidential election, firstly for suggesting that it should be postponed, then by abstaining from the vote. Instead it simply looks like a forlorn attempt to make amends for having cravenly kowtowed to FIFA executive committee members.

The FA had blithely disregarded accusations of corruption in pursuit of the 2018 hosting, to the extent of trying to block investigations by the BBC and the Sunday Times ahead of the vote. Later it was revealed the bid chief executive, Andy Anson, had told journalists at a private meeting early in 2010 that up to 13 members of the executive committee were “buyable”. The vote abstention was an absurd pose. Rather than encouraging others to spoil their ballots – only 15 joined the FA and their Scottish counterparts in doing so – they should have put up an alternative candidate which would at least have started a public debate about how to reform FIFA. Instead all they have offered is peevishness.

And they hardly set an example of good governance. The FA conspired in the creation of the Premier League which has served to entrench the power and wealth of a handful of clubs to the detriment of the rest. The League still aims to expand across the world via the grotesque “Game 39” while its major teams are run by, among others, a Russian oligarch with a mysteriously acquired fortune, the autocratic rulers of a Gulf state where migrant workers are treated like slaves, and American venture capitalists who plunge clubs into debt to fund their takeovers. Football administrators around the world might well wonder why the FA don’t look closer to home when they complain about sleaze and venality.

As an organisation the FA has been in perpetual disarray for years, with various chief executives and chairmen brought down by scandals. Those who continue to wield influence include Sir Dave Richards – a one-man embodiment of the case for doing away with the honours system. Having presided over the financial collapse of Sheffield Wednesday ten years ago, Richards then became chairman of the Premier League with a side role as an international back-scratcher for the FA. Whatever his gifts are they are well hidden, yet he continues to be regarded as an asset by his colleagues. At the time of the 2018/2022 vote England were represented on the 24-man executive committee by a FIFA vice-president, Geoff Thompson, a textbook example of a timeserver who previously spent eight years as FA chairman without once doing anything that anyone can remember.

The British hegemony within FIFA is often said to have ended when the incumbent president Sir Stanley Rous lost the 1974 election to Blatter’s mentor João Havelange, but they have nonetheless clung on to prestigious positions within the organisation. The UK is always represented among the eight vice-presidents – Thompson was replaced this year by Jim Boyle from Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, representatives from the four Home Nations provide half of the eight-man international board, which meets annually to consider proposed changes to the laws of the game. These hereditary roles are a major source of rancour to the rest of football, which potential reformers would have to acknowledge.

The FA would like to think that they are showing a good example to the world by reacting against Blatter and co. Instead it can simply seem as though they want their variety of patronage to prevail. The desperate gladhanding in the last couple of days leading up to the vote in December produced a pertinent comment, possibly the first, from Prince William. Emerging from a meeting with FIFA delegates he was quoted as saying: “I don’t see why we have to suck up to these people.” Of course, it should only be the other way around.

From WSC 293 July 2011