Britain's hold on Fifa is slipping

Herman Miller
Date Published: 
UK Guardian

Britain's vice-presidency on football's world governing body, Fifa, has survived but the stay of execution may last just four years.

As expected, the proposal to abolish the assured British representative was withdrawn by the Trinidad Football Association at Fifa's annual congress in Zurich yesterday.

Scotland's David Will, who currently holds the post, was absent from the congress as he is recovering from an operation on his spine. Will is due to stand down in 2002, by which time the proposed revamp of Fifa statutes will be well under way.

The work will be completed in 2003 and is expected to be implemented the following year to mark the anniversary of Fifa's centenary.

The automatic vice-presidency is a legacy of the prominence Britain used to enjoy in the football world. But it has come under increasing threat as Fifa continues to grow and will be subjected to close scrutiny when general secretary Michel Zen Ruffinen examines current statutes.

The stay of execution will be welcomed by the FA and the other Home associations but the continuing debate over Britain's grace-and-favour position highlights the diminishing influence wielded by the British Isles.

Recent events have underlined this with the debacle of England's 2006 World Cup bid and the revelation by Tony Banks, the Prime Minister's special envoy to the bid, that he had privately warned that the English bid was doomed well before the final vote went to Germany.

Further, the acceptance by Fifa that the World Cup should be rotated around its member federations from 2010, has underlined England's weakness.

The Zurich congress agreed to introduce a harmonised football calendar from 2002, which should help to ease the ongoing row between club and country over star players. This area of potential conflict has caused problems in the recent past with Arsenal and Chelsea players going 'AWOL' in last year's African Nations Cup and controversy over Dwight Yorke's loyalty to club and country - Manchester United and Trinidad and Tobago respectively. Now dates have been incorporated within the calendar between the middle of February and the middle of December for international qualifying matches, for which players must be released, with a further four for friendly games.

Tournaments such as Euro 2000 and the African Nations Cup must be played in a four-week block either between January and February or June and July.

Fifa has also defined the roles of four new committees, including the Football Committee, which includes Sir Bobby Charlton and Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor among its members.

In what was a record attendance for a congress, with just North Korea and Tanzania absent, Bhutan were admitted as Fifa's 204th member, accepting the official pendant in national dress to applause from the assorted gathering.

President Sepp Blatter also highlighted the work of Fifa's 'Goal' project, which has invested £40million worldwide in the past 18 months trying to develop the game through communities, with Slovakia and Bosnia the main European beneficiaries.

It was confirmed that the next Club World Championship will take place in Spain next year, with 12 countries taking part. It was the first such tournament, in Brazil last season, that caused so many problems for Manchester United. They insisted they were under strong pressure to take part from the government to back England's World Cup bid and, as a consequence, decided to withdraw from last season's FA Cup. Their decision attracted massive criticism.