Monday, 6 December 2010

English football must reform itself before it tackles FIFA

FIFA is a corrupt, undemocratic organisation which is accountable to no one, but if we have any sense we won't go to war with it - for the time being.

One of the basic tenets of negotiation is that you do it from a position of strength and, currently, English football is not in a strong position and I'm not just talking about the state of the nation's football team.

After reading the Sunday papers, my own reading of the events of last Thursday is that any number of chickens have come home to roost, most of them involving the power of the Premier League.

That the PL is a remarkable success is a given, but like a multi-national company it tramples all before it. So what I hear you cry, is it wrong to be a commercial success? Of course not, but the PL like many multi-nationals is not satisfied with its existing markets, but is always looking for new ones.

The result is that in South East Asia, in China, in India, the local population watches the English Premier League. My own mother, a Liverpool lass, tells of waking up in a hotel in Singapore and looking out of the window to see a truck full of Indian workers being ferried around in a lorry with the words "You'll Never Walk Alone" and a Liver Bird logo plastered on the side.

And, like many multi-nationals it doesn't know when to stop, witness its proposal for the 39th game to be played abroad. Of course, what has been ignored is that this proposal cuts straight across FIFA’s stated aim of encouraging domestic football leagues not just exporting the Premiership. My personal suspicion is that this behavior is regarded as little more than cultural imperialism by many of the national associations on whom we have to rely on for votes when it comes to deciding where to host a World Cup.

Of course that doesn’t even take into account the behavior of Premier League teams who regard continental academies at Lens, Ajax of Amsterdam, Fiorentina etal as ripe for plundering. The Gael Kakuta affair involving Chelsea is one of many instances where English Premier clubs have played hard and fast with the rules in order to steal continental talent. Again, this is no way to win friends and influence people.

The fact of the matter is, the way the Premier League now operates is directly against the interests of the game in this country by alienating many of those we need for support from on the international stage. 20 years ago the FA created a monster which is a massive commercial success but has no interest in youth development, international football or cultivating influence in the world.

Does it have the bottle to rein it back in? I doubt it, which is why the announcement that a House of Commons Select Committee is to investigate the failed bid was a rare shaft of light in a dark, dark week.

One final point. I was reminded yesterday that former French President Jacques Chirac refused to get involved in Paris' attempts to win the Olympics six years ago which eventually went to London. His reasoning that "the President of France pleads with no one" is one that our political leaders, and those in line to the throne, should heed from now on.


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