Europe’s footballing nations will meet on Friday to discuss the nuclear option of splitting from Fifa and holding a breakaway World Cup in 2018, in an effort to force Sepp Blatter out of the presidency of the world game’s governing body.
The plan to boycott the tournament which is due to be held in Russia – revealed to The Independent by the leading Uefa official behind it – would involve European teams and some invited South American countries breaking away from the official tournament, fatally undermining it in the eyes of the fans and sponsors.
It comes as the aftershocks of Mr Blatter’s re-election as head of Fifa on Friday continue to reverberate. Last night, a judge in Paraguay placed Nicolas Leoz, 86, a former head of the South American Football Confederation, under house arrest. He is one of the indicted Fifa officials and had been accused of asking for a knighthood in return for supporting England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup.
FA chairman Greg Dyke told Channel 4 News that it was by no means certain the 2022 World Cup would be held in Qatar, and that Mr Blatter had been “dismayed” that a third of countries had voted against him.
Any European breakaway would fatally undermine Fifa’s president. Allan Hansen, 66, a retired Danish detective who sits on Uefa’s executive committee, said that boycotting the 2018 World Cup finals and setting up a rival tournament was the only way to reform football’s scandal-plagued governing body.
Mr Hansen’s plan is that instead of playing the 2018 tournament, Uefa’s nations would withdraw from Fifa and play another European championships, inviting some of the biggest South American nations to compete as well.
There was a preliminary meeting before last Friday’s Fifa election in Zurich, where Mr Hansen made the proposal to the 54 Uefa nations. A further meeting will take place in Berlin on Friday ahead of the Champions League final.
The belief is that Mr Blatter would not be able to withstand a mass boycott of the leading European nations, both in terms of the prestige of the tournament and the effect it would have on television and commercial rights, which earn Fifa around £3bn from each World Cup finals. A final decision on a boycott would be made at the Uefa conference in Malta on 17 September.
Mr Hansen described a boycott and rival tournament as “the most radical option”.
He said: “I have been in this world now for 20 years. I am really in favour of a fair and democratic process. I have to realise it is not possible because there are so many associations who don’t want to change. It’s a case of the old proverb, ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’.
“If we [Uefa] break out and run our own business, I am sure that these countries that don’t want change will realise they can’t miss Europe. I know it is not democratic but if we want in the future to have a Fifa as we know today [a global organisation] then we have to do some radical things.”
It is estimated that around 10 to 15 Uefa nations ignored the confederation’s prior agreement to vote for Mr Blatter’s rival, Prince Ali of Jordan, on Friday. Spain and France were among the European countries to cast their ballot for Mr Blatter. This presents a major challenge to the reforming European nations, including the English FA, led by Greg Dyke, who would like to unseat the 79-year-old Fifa president.
Meanwhile, the Government and the Football Association have agreed not to rule out any options in the battle against alleged corruption in Fifa.
John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary, said he had spoken to Mr Dyke and they had agreed to keep all options on the table in an effort to end the “culture of kickbacks and corruption that risk ruining international football for a generation”. He assured MPs the Government would do anything in its power to bring about change.
Mr Hansen has spent 17 years on the Danish football association (DBU) executive committee, including 12 as president, and has served six years on the Uefa executive committee. As a detective in the Danish National Police he led investigations into murder and drugs trafficking as well as white-collar crime. At Fifa he has served on the audit and compliance committee, which he believes has established a template for future good practice, but needs a strong leader to implement it.
Mr Hansen said: “We will need to say [to fellow European nations] do you think we will be able to change things in Fifa if we stay the same way? If we can convince them [of the merits of a boycott] we have a chance. [On Fifa] It’s about cultural background. If you travel around the world some countries have a different approach to what is right and what is wrong. Now we have put up an ethical code in Fifa.
“We have so many good reforms in Fifa. We have the fundamentals if we want to create a new, strong Fifa. We need a strong leader to help introduce and implement these new reforms and standards.
“I have been part of this reform process. I know we have a good set of fundamentals. I look to the scandal of the IOC [International Olympic Committee] at Salt Lake City. We need a strong man like Jacques Rogge to tell the public and the media that now Fifa will be reliable.
“It will be a difficult process. If we have a joint agreement in Europe I do believe we can change Fifa.”
Last night, the FA’s independent director Heather Rabbatts announced she was quitting Fifa, tendering her resignation from the organisation’s anti-discrimination task force. She said that it was “unacceptable” that so little had been done to change Fifa and that the last week had been “disastrous” for its reputation.
The FA's options: What can be done?
1. An independent boycott of the World Cup finals. Unlikely to affect anyone but the FA. Ruled out by chairman Greg Dyke, who has already said a one-association protest against Fifa would be futile.
2. Take part in a European bloc boycott of the World Cup finals in the hope it will force Blatter’s resignation. Talks on Friday on proposals by Danish Uefa executive committee member Allan Hansen. Will be finalised in September.
3. Do nothing. In the past a boycott of the World Cup has been seen as too radical. Even after England’s 2018 vote humiliation the mood in the FA was to “build bridges” with Fifa. No longer politically acceptable inside or outside the organisation.
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