City & Business: Time to blow the whistle

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The Independent Online
A CONFRONTATION between business and sport was always on the cards from the day Alan Sugar stepped in to rescue Tottenham Hotspur three years ago. The effect of the Football Association's spiteful catalogue of punishments has been to ensure that the confrontation has arrived.

Companies have suffered personality clashes before and it will happen again. But rarely can a difference of style have had such far-reaching consequences as that between Mr Sugar and Terry Venables, the footballer-turned- entrepreneur who has taken refuge behind the skirts of the FA after an exhausting court battle last year.

Last week Mr Sugar presented himself as the injured party, crucified for revealing the truth. As David Hellier fulsomely demonstrates, Sugar's position is a little more complicated than that. Questions remain about his motives for becoming involved in Spurs, a time-consuming burden that is hardly adding to the Sugar family fortune. And, even after three years, he still makes little claim to be a soccer aficionado. Let's hope the BSkyB deal with the Premier League has sold plenty of Amstrad dishes.

There is a broader issue for the Government to consider. The FA is clearly incapable of exercising responsible and mature control of an industry which, like horse-racing, has an inbuilt tendency towards rule-bending and under-the-counter payments.

The seemingly overwhelming temptation is to resort to backhanders at the time a player is being transferred from one club to another. The Inland Revenue has set about cleaning this up, but there is a strong case for the Department of Trade and Industry widening its investigation into Spurs to take in the whole industry.