The day the football world put the boot into England
As Blatter wins another term as Fifa president his backers attack the FA for daring to be critical
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Thursday 02 June 2011
The Football Association was on the receiving end of a succession of brutal and very public attacks as its attempt to postpone Fifa's presidential election in Zurich yesterday incurred the wrath of Sepp Blatter's football family. It leaves the FA isolated on the international stage.
Blatter was duly elected for a fourth term in charge of the world governing body yesterday. The 75-year-old Swiss acknowledged that he had been "personally slapped" by the events of the last few weeks, during which Fifa has faced an escalating crisis, but it is the FA chairman, David Bernstein and England who were on the receiving end yesterday. Alex Horne, chief executive of the FA, said afterwards they had been surprised by the level of opprobrium aimed at them.
It culminated in an extraordinary attack by Julio Grondona, a Fifa veteran, who veered off script to accuse England of "telling lies"; earlier in the day the Argentine had described England as "pirates." Representatives from Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cyprus and Fiji followed Bernstein on to the stage in the Hallenstadion and lambasted the English stance.
Later Angel Maria Villar Llona, the influential Spanish member of Fifa's executive committee (ExCo), added his voice, also swerving away from the subject he was supposed to be addressing to accuse England of sour grapes over the failed 2018 World Cup bid.
Horne said: "I was surprised [by the attacks], although not as it went on, because once a couple of people had got up and said what they had to say the [rest] followed them up and just poured more vitriol on it. I was surprised at how far Grondona and Llona went in terms of just rambling about politicians and journalists telling lies. That seemed a bit over the top."
The FA was voted down by 172 votes to 17 and, although that is more support than many had predicted it pushes England – and their backers, Scotland – to the fringes of the international game. Neither Wales nor Northern Ireland backed them. The FA is as yet unaware which other countries voted with it.
It may also give more ammunition to those within Fifa who want to see the home nations' guaranteed ExCo seat withdrawn. Grondona tellingly raised the matter in his speech. Yesterday Jim Boyce of Northern Ireland took over from England's Geoff Thompson.
Bernstein insisted the FA had done the right thing. Yesterday the Scandinavian associations pushed for an independent panel to investigate the slew of corruption allegations, without attempting to delay the election, while the German FA has preferred to work towards reform from within. Bernstein said: "We are confident the FA has played a significant role as a catalyst for change."
Bernstein spoke with Uefa members early yesterday morning before the congress. His proposal received no support and some members made it clear they did not want the FA to go ahead with its plan.
During his Congress speech Bernstein said: "I have been advised that it is better not to speak but I have decided to ignore that advice. We are subject to universal criticism from governments, sponsors, media and the wider public. With this background the election has turned into a one-horse race. A coronation without an opponent provides a flawed mandate."
It was received with applause from no more than a handful of delegates. Those that spoke after him were given noticeably warmer receptions as England were emphatically sidelined.
Selemani Omari, the president of the FA of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said: "Fifa belongs to 208 associations, not one or another. We're ill at ease with people who wield unfounded accusations. He who accuses must provide evidence. We have no lessons to take."
Next Benin's Moucharafou Anjorin said: "I'm ill at ease that this comes from a country like England with its football standing. Some people in Africa take great pleasure from watching English football on the television. This is why I do not understand why we want to create more tensions within Fifa. England should not be conveying this message. England should not divide us."
Then the Cypriot delegate Costakis Koutsokoumis took to the lectern. He said cuttingly: "Yes we are facing allegations. Allegations, what a beautiful English word that is. Someone stands up, says a few things in the press and then these things take their own body and mind, they are expanded, take a seed in our minds without most of the time a single shred of truth."
Grondona was later supposed to be speaking about Fifa's finances, but grasped the opportunity to deliver the most withering attack. "We always have attacks from England which are mostly lies with the support of journalism, which is more busy lying than telling the truth. This upsets and disturbs the Fifa family," said Grondona. "I see it at every Congress. They have specific privileges, with four countries having one vice-president. It looks like England is always complaining so please, I say, will you leave the Fifa family alone, and when you speak, speak with truth?"
It was his second outburst against England. Earlier, in an interview with a German press agency, Grondona called England "pirates" and added: "Yes, I voted for Qatar, because a vote for the US would be like a vote for England. And that is not possible. But with the English bid I said: Let us be brief. If you give back the Falkland Islands, which belong to us, you will get my vote. They then became sad and left."
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