Sunday Times

Three days after England’s 2018 hopes crumbled, the Football Association is having to come to terms with the collateral damage of the Zurich disaster. It has thrown the search for a new FA chairman into chaos and will be the subject of a parliamentary select committee hearing early next year. The government is determined to reform football governance.

Hugh Robertson, the sports minister, said yesterday: “The coalition government has a clear commitment, laid down in the Department for Culture Media and Sport business plan, to make progress on the reform of football governance by May next year. We intend to carry out that commitment.”

His words were echoed by Lord Mawhinney, the former chairman of the Football League and a 2018 bid director. Mawhinney, who was in Zurich, said: “A year and a half ago, mine was the only voice calling for reform of football governance and finance. Now the field is getting crowded and things will happen.”

The reforms are likely to extend to the “fit and proper person” test for club owners, transparency in the running of clubs, and the question of debt as a percentage of turnover. It could even lead to a football regulator being appointed, a prospect that alarms many in the game.

The immediate concern for the FA is the decision by Roger Burden, the acting chairman, to withdraw his name as a candidate for the permanent job. He was expected to be confirmed as the new chairman at the FA board meeting just before Christmas. But on Friday evening Burden, a former chief executive of Cheltenham and Gloucester building society, said he could not now contemplate working with Fifa: “It’s not the way I am used to doing business — making promises to the future king of England and the prime minister and not keeping their word.”

Burden’s withdrawal could enhance the chances of David Dein, who has said he is willing to be considered, provided certain conditions are met. His role as international president of the bid impressed many, including government ministers.

Robertson said: “What we would like to see is the right man or woman to head the FA and strong non-executive directors. There are far too few people who sit on football boards, either in clubs or the organisations, who act independently. Most are part of the game’s vested interests.”

With English football in turmoil, here is my 10-point plan.

1 Completely reshape the FA. Do away with the FA council and bring in a US-style commissioner. The FA must not be a mere referee but must administer the game at all levels.

2 However, the FA is part horse and part donkey. It must no longer have the same people running both the amateur and professional game. There is nothing that links the Hackney Marshes football teams with Manchester United, apart from the fact that the rules are the same. There must be two separate bodies.

3 Instead of mounting a campaign from outside to reform Fifa, which would be futile, England must work inside the Fifa committee system, the lifeblood of this curious organisation, where England have been wretchedly represented. On the 34 Fifa committees, where much of the lobbying and deal-making goes on, there are only eight English names: seven men and one woman. England need to work these committees and set up the relationships that can bear fruit when a World Cup bid is made.

4 But they must be the right sort of English representative. Encourage and train high-profile ex-players to take to administration. David Beckham was a wonderful ambassador but he needs to be England’s Franz Beckenbauer or Michel Platini, inside the room to influence the decision. Encourage him to become a sports politician in the mould of Seb Coe.

5 Never go into a World Cup bid with a headless organisation. After the Triesman scandal, the FA decided to have an acting chairman until after the vote. Platini joked: “The FA has an acting chairman, an acting chief executive — is the English FA a football body or a bunch of actors?”

6 A bid like this is a golf club election. Make sure your club member is actively engaged. During this bid Geoff Thompson was a semi-detached member. England did not make the most of him.

7 Do not slavishly copy everything that seemed to work the last time Britain successfully bid for a major sporting event. Study the organisation you are courting. London 2012 made much of the capital’s diversity. The narrative was that if London won, it would help the world’s poor, particularly in the African townships, using sport to reduce crime. This storyline made a great impression on the upper-crust members of the IOC. The more hard-bitten Fifa members were less impressed.

8 Remember, the middle-aged men of Fifa are always impressed by beautiful women. The Russian presentation was full of beauties including a pole vaulter who spoke of the wonders of women’s football. Why were Victoria Pendleton and Keira Knightley not involved? A clip of Bend it Like Beckham could have worked wonders.

9 Do not be afraid of stroking egos. The Russian bid was full of such flattery. Copying what the Chinese did when they won the Beijing Games, Russia told Fifa members: “You can make history by coming to our country.” The English bid was like a very good managerial pitch, describing how they could make money for Fifa. True, England is still seen as the land of the stiff upper lip. Yet in Singapore bidding for 2012, the English displayed emotion so well that, as one IOC member put it, the English became French and made the French look stiff and unemotional. The result: London beat Paris.

10 Finally, why was Jamie Oliver not in Zurich? After the presentations, the Fifa members retired for lunch before voting. England should have offered an Oliver special. After that, could the Fifa executive members have resisted voting for England? An army marches on its stomach and in sports politics, England must learn to use its wonderful chefs.

Image courtesy of The Sunday Times

Image courtesy of The Sunday Times


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