ENGLAND WORLD CUP BID FIASCO: PRESSURE GROWS FOR PREMIERSHIP FOOTBALL & FIFA REFORM

Almost two weeks after Russiawas awarded the 2018 Football World Cup, the recriminations still hang in the air: Why did Englandreceive only two FIFA Executive Committee votes (including one from their own representative) out of a possible total of  twenty-two, especially when they’d been promised many more? The initial and instinctive reaction of the English ‘Bid Team’ was to attribute their defeat to supposedly ‘unpatriotic’ elements within the British media – particularly the “Sunday Times” newspaper and BBC TV’s documentary programme ‘Panorama’, both of whom had exposed corruption within FIFA in the days and weeks prior to the Zurich decision on 2nd December. This accusation provoked an angry response from manyUK journalists. The day before the vote, the ‘London Evening Standard’ columnist James Olley had questioned whether we should “do whatever it takes to jump into bed” with Sepp Blatter, the FIFA President, two of whose executive committee colleagues – Amos Adamu (Nigeria) and Reynald Temarii (Tahiti), President of the Oceana Football Confederation – were fined and suspended after being implicated in a bribery scandal by the “Sunday Times” investigation. Blatter furthermore seems determined to protect his vice-President, Jack Warner (Trinidad), President of CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Associations), around whom suspicions have long swirled  regarding an alleged $1 million obtained from selling World Cup 2006 tickets to touts – and then apparently profiteering again from this year’s tournament in South Africa. On 7th December, Warner admitted that he had not voted for England because he felt “insulted” by the allegations against him made in the UK press.

The “Guardian’s political contributor, Simon Jenkins, has been scathing about the “The grovelling of the Prime Minister (David Cameron) and the second in line to the throne (Prince William) before “the FIFA Zurich racket”. It was obvious, he wrote, that “these were not fit people for Britain’s leaders to be glad-handling” and that the country should have no dealings with FIFA over the World Cup until it cleansed its stables. He expressed regret that we didn’t get the World Cup, but concluded that “In losing, we had the honour of seeing British journalism do something to clean up a disreputable sport”. On 4th December, the “Guardian” reported that following the Football Association’s (FA) debacle inZurich,”The whole structure and governance of English football is to come under the scrutiny of a parliamentary enquiry”. Even the chief executives of two ofEngland’s  biggest clubs have, they say, urged the Government to implement “fundamental change”. In practice, there have already been significant moves in precisely this direction. Although the “All-Party Parliamentary Football Group” (APPFG) has been described by the ‘Daily Mail’ newspaper as a “pompous group of 150 busybodies who presumptively harbour ambitions to run the game”, many of their recommendations (published in April 2009) are now likely to receive serious consideration.  They suggested, for example, that the “Fit And Proper Persons Test “ (FPPT), which had been introduced in order to protect the sport from “people who are not necessarily concerned with the long-term interests of a club” should be revised to take into account the suitability of a new owner or director. They proposed that there should be an elected supporters’ representative on the board of all 92 clubs in the English Football and Premier League and several on the FA Council itself. Though they acknowledged that imported foreign players with “exceptional flair” had enriched the English game, “this needs to be combined with the nurturing of our domestic talent” – not least because English supporters are becoming “increasingly disillusioned with the national team’s continuing lack of achievement in the final stages of competitive tournaments”.

This was exemplified yet again byEngland’s abrupt exit from the 2010 World Cup inSouth Africa. The APPFG was strongly of the view that a measure should brought in “to ensure that a minimum number of domestic players are included in a club’s starting line-up”. This summer, the “Sun” pointed out that only 40% of the players in the Premier League were available to theEnglandteam manager, Fabio Capello, in contrast to the 77% in “La Liga” who were Spanish (and won the World Cup). As from the beginning of the current 2010/2011 season, Premier League clubs have been required to name squads of 25 players – eight of whom must be “home-grown”. The APPFG also expressed “great concern” about the level of debt in English football. Many clubs “don’t make any operating profits at all and their trading losses continue to pile up”. Stadia capacity and rich owners are two key (but not guaranteed) factors for survival.  Manchester United (Old Trafford) can accommodate 75,957, Arsenal  (The Emirates) 60,355 and Newcastle United (St James’ Park) 52,387.ManchesterCity, though, (now bankrolled by a wealthy UAE-based consortium) just 47,726; Liverpool (Anfield) 45,276;Chelsea(StamfordBridge) 41,841; Tottenham Hotspur (White Hart Lane) 36,310. The twoLondonclubs currently at risk of relegation have even less space: West Ham (Upton Park) 35,303 and Fulham (Craven Cottage) 25,700.

The APPFG quoted statistics issued by the Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance which indicate that “Premier League clubs owe £1,569 billion to external financial institutions” and an additional £900 million in “soft loans” to club chairmen and directors. Manchester United’s debts are “in excess of £750 million” (compared to none at all before being taken over by the Glazier family), Chelsea’s £736 million  (£578 million of which is an interest-free loan from Roman Abramovich) and  Liverpool’s have risen to more than £380 million. Regulations to deal with this situation have already been approved by the UEFA executive committee and will take effect from the start of the 2012/13 season. The declared objective is to force clubs to balance their books and spend only what they earn from football-related income such as ticket sales and television deals. Those that fail to comply could, according to BBC Sport, ”Be thrown out of European competition. Owners such asManchesterCity’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan will not be able to make huge gifts of cash to their clubs”. Some sceptical commentators believe that behind all the grand rhetoric lies envy of English club success  – and that the real intention of FIFA’s Sepp Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini is to undermine the power, influence and global following of the Premiership.

COLIN GORDON

www.colindgordon.co.uk

Filed under: Sports | Posted on December 13th, 2010 by Colin D Gordon

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