Triesman slams FA as not fit to run the game

Former chairman says governing body has failed to stand up to the Premier League
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The Independent Football

Lord Triesman, the former chairman of the Football Association, has launched a scathing attack on the game's governing body, accusing it of "systematic failure" and "subcontracting out the running of the game" to the Premier League. The Labour peer also claimed that there was a bullying culture within the FA's board stemming from the behaviour of Sir Dave Richards, chairman of the Premier League, and that there was "no appetite for change".

Triesman was giving evidence to MPs in the first public session of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee's inquiry into football governance and, having kept his counsel since his resignation in the wake of a newspaper sting, he gave full vent to the frustrations of his two years in charge of the FA.

Appointed in 2008, Triesman was the body's first independent chairman and faced a wearying battle with the various factions that make up the FA's 12-strong board and its larger council. It was a conflict that Triesman ultimately lost but yesterday he had his moment of revenge both against the FA and, in particular, Richards, a long-time opponent.

The main confrontation came last year when the board, orchestrated by Richards' "extremely aggressive" tactics, took just two minutes to reject proposals for reform assembled by Triesman in 2009.

The FA, along with the Premier League and Football League, had been asked by the then Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, to answer a series of questions over how the game was run. The FA fell meekly into line with the Premier League but only after Triesman's proposals – which he handed over to MPs yesterday – had been rejected by its board. They included tightening the fit and proper person test to include human rights issues, the publication on the FA's website of financial information on all clubs, looking at the possibility of debt limits for clubs, better scrutiny of offshore ownership of clubs and the FA becoming a single regulator of the English game.

"The Football League were willing to engage, the Premier League was not," Triesman told MPs, who went on to describe how the professional game representatives had shot down his proposals in "a maximum of two minutes". The FA's board is divided into representatives of the Premier League, the Football League and the amateur game.

"The Professional Game Board is led by the most powerful voice in professional football because that controls such a high proportion of the money that flows through the game," said Triesman. "The point was made by the chairman of the Premier League that this [the FA's submission] should be disregarded from that point on and to simply acknowledge the work done by the Premier League principally and the professional game, and reminding the representatives of the amateur game there where their money came from."

Triesman was particularly scathing on Richards' manner of doing business. He said: "My experience is he will put his point politely in board meetings but discussions outside are extremely aggressive discussions, really aggressive discussions, points are made in a very colourful way. I wouldn't use that language.

"The reality is this is a very, very macho sport and some people think the language of the dressing room is appropriate."

The language the 63-year-old used to describe the FA was striking. He said that the way in which the governing body is set up is a "thoroughly unsatisfactory system. The FA, apart from on-field discipline, has backed out of regulating altogether." He went to on claim that he had "first hand experience [the FA] has subcontracted [the regulation of the game] and does not question the subcontractor in this key role."

The Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, last month described football as the "worst governed sport in the country". Asked by the committee about the minister's assertion, Triesman said: "In terms of our clubs we obviously have fantastic success with the Premier League. But if we look at England as a country playing international football, the outcomes are very poor. If the minister was asking if we have a good system, then we have systemic failure. The [FA] board is heavily, deeply conflicted."

Triesman, who chaired England's 2018 World Cup bid before his resignation, also told the committee that Fifa had effectively misled them. England managed to collect a single vote in December when Russia controversially won the right to host the finals. "When we set off on the bid there was a huge amount of encouragement from Fifa," said Triesman. "And there was, for those reasons, a lot of encouragement for England to go for it. Had they said at the time the aim was the break into new territories then I would have advised the FA board not to start."

He also promised in time to reveal full details of what went on in Zurich during the build-up to the vote. "I think there will be a time when the contact that I and others had with Fifa's executive should be described in detail," he said. "Because some of the processes I don't think really stand up to proper scrutiny."

The Premier League will give evidence next month to the committee next month, whose report is due to be published in the autumn.

What Triesman said

On Sir Dave Richards' conduct: "Discussions outside [the boardroom] are extremely aggressive discussions, really aggressive. It's macho."

The behaviour of some board members: "People think the language of the dressing room is appropriate."

On the FA: "There is no appetite for change."

On the Premier League's domination: "The representatives of the amateur game were reminded where their money came from."