Maybe, just maybe, the four British home nations should start to think the unthinkable: they should do the honourable thing and volunteer to give up the joint FIFA vice-presidency before it is scrapped in any case in the current review of the world federation’s statutes.
The history is quickly told. England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were the modern game’s four founding associations (Ireland being reduced in time, politically, to Northern Ireland but retaining the title of Irish Football Association).
As such they all joined FIFA in the early years of the 20th century then left in a row over broken-time payments for amateurs in the early 1920s. Despite being outside the family, the four continued to play national team matches against FIFA members.
In 1947 FA general secretary Sir Stanley Rous negotiated the re-entry of The Four into a virtually bankrupt FIFA in exchange for the financially-reviving receipts of a representative friendly between a FIFA XI and a Great Britain XI.
These negotiations saw Rous also write into FIFA statutes the British vice-presidency (Simultaneously the Soviet Union also acquired FIFA entry with its own vice-presidency which was converted into a European seat after the collapse of the USSR).
Ever since the Four have maintained footballing independence and their place at the top table despite not being nation states. Every now and again the arrangement has come under attack – from the likes of the South Americans or Jack Warner, for example – but the arrangement survived the last statutes review a decade ago.
Should the vice-presidency survive any further?
Critics object that the arrangement maintains a perception of British arrogance over the ‘right’ to have a vice-presidency; and that it blocks more talented or worthy European representatives coming through the political ranks.
Also the arrangement reduces, significantly, the prospect of an Englishman sitting on the FIFA executive (because the ‘other three’ tend to gang up on the FA in choosing the candidate).
Harry Cavan of Northern Ireland was ‘the man’ from 1980 to 1990. Then came Scotland’s David Will until 2007. Another Scot, Jim McBeth, was set to succeed until he made outspoken comments about FIFA and Warner. The Four were then panicked into a messy compromise which saw England’s Geoff Thompson serve four years until 2011 when he was succeeded for the next four by Northern Ireland’s Jim Boyce.
So, more than 30 years of a British vice-presidency but only four with an English representative. Not exactly democracy.
The British home associations’ own goals over the independence issue are piling up.
FA chairman David Bernstein prompted howls of anger, directed at supposed British advantages, with his intervention at last year’s FIFA Congress . . . the FA of Wales is asking UEFA to allow Welsh clubs to represent English football in European club competitions . . . Scotland’s Celtic may consider applying to join the English league system . . . and Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards reinforced all those ‘arrogant’ stereotypes with his comments in Doha last week.
Amid all of this the SFA, while officially objecting to involvement in the British Olympic team, is happy enough – conversely – to stage Games football matches in Hampden Park, which it owns.
German Theo Zwanziger, who is leading FIFA’s current statutes review, is a known critic of the British vice-presidency. Every day which passes hands him more ammunition.
Maybe England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should jump before they are pushed. After all, offering to scrap the vice-presidency could be bargained against the preservation of the independence of all four national teams.
By Keir Radnedge