Sam Wallace: The FA was naive to try to deal with broken Fifa


Sam Wallace
Friday 14 November 2014 00:32 GMT
Left to right: England manager Fabio Capello, FA chairman Lord Triesman and David Beckham led the 2018 bid
Left to right: England manager Fabio Capello, FA chairman Lord Triesman and David Beckham led the 2018 bid (AFP/Getty Images)

Destroy the computers, disown the man who allegedly handed out the bribes, or simply close the door on the polite American lawyer who would like to ask some questions. Truly, the Hans-Joachim Eckert report has demonstrated how the English Football Association has been taught yet another lesson in Fifa politics.

Our national team might find itself out of its depth when it turns up at the World Cup every four years, but that is nothing to the trouble our administrators get into when they deal in the politics of Fifa and the award of a tournament that earns revenues of US$4bn (£2.55bn).

In a moment of extraordinary naivety, the FA thought in December 2010 that asking Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham (“Posh, Posh and Becks” as the cover of Private Eye referred to them) to shake a few hands in Zurich would be the final push that landed the 2018 World Cup finals. It could hardly have been more wrong.

Then, after all the indignation, when Michael J Garcia, the US attorney, came to ask questions, the English thought their honesty in complying would be rewarded and the truth would out. Wrong again.

In contrast, when Garcia approached the Russians for evidence they shrugged and said that regrettably their computers had been destroyed. The Qataris said that Mohamed bin Hammam, formerly the vice-president of Fifa and their most senior football official, could not possibly have been working on their behalf when he set up a £3m slush fund.

For all the anger directed at Fifa, the sadness is that the FA participated in the 2018 bid at all. It should have got out at the first opportunity. Yet it took the calls from Jack Warner and danced to the tune of one of the biggest weasels on the Fifa executive committee (ExCo). All in the naive belief that a free Burberry handbag and a sponsored dinner might make the difference. The FA had only one option when it realised that Warner’s attitude represented the corruption of the whole Fifa bidding process. It had to get out of the race. After all, no bid can be a little bit corrupt. It either is or it isn’t. Warner’s reputation was just one of many on the ExCo that the FA already knew about.

Under Parliamentary privilege, Lord Triesman later alleged that the aides to the Paraguayan ExCo member Nicolas Leoz wanted the FA Cup named after him in return for his vote but, at the time, the former FA chairman still had his picture taken shaking Leoz’s hand.

As the FA pressed on with its bid there was public money spent all over the country, including Plymouth and Milton Keynes, to become host cities, an unforgivable waste especially given the squeeze on local authorities’ spending.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter (Getty Images)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter (Getty Images) (AP)

All along there was the unsaid suggestion that the game was to push the boundaries, to accommodate, to bend over backwards. There was acceptance that this time the FA had to box clever and that this was just the way things got done. No one wanted to admit that in reality the FA was out of its depth in a poker game it should never have been playing.

Fifa is broken. It comes under the auspices of no sovereign government. It marshals the immense power of a sport that the world is obsessed with and it does so to its own ends. It is rich beyond belief. It feels hard to imagine a day when that will change, even after Sepp Blatter is gone, when there are so many self-interested parties in so many different parts of the world.

Yet, into this war of petrodollars and reputation-laundering non-democratic states came the FA with all the worldliness of Paddington Bear. Never again. But what a way to learn that lesson.

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