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New arguments, old problems for FA

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Gordon Farquhar | 09:12 UK time, Friday, 25 September 2009

The minister for sport's renewed criticisms of the Football Association demand a response, but we haven't exactly been trampled in the rush from any of the protagonists.

A few texts have been exchanged, but our offers of a platform for the FA to counter or at least explain away the issues raised by their under-cooking of the reply to the-then Culture Secretary Andy Burnham's questions has been politely declined.

A bland two-liner is about it so far.

Perhaps what we need is the perspective of history, both ancient and modern, to understand why.

The FA's structure, created well over a century ago, and largely still in place holds the clues. The over-populated FA Council, born out of an earnest desire for democracy, has only ever changed at an evolutionary, not revolutionary pace... and then only when every white, middle-aged man has had his say.

The vested interests lurking in every problem, every challenge, have first to be overcome, persuaded and sometimes cajoled into making any kind of decision.

Any notion of making policy on the fly is about as alien as a bicycle to a fish. The reformers at the FA (and there are some, contrary to appearances) may have opened a bottle or two in celebration when the Council finally approved the reforms demanded by the Burns review... but two years on, many of the changes described as essential at the time, have yet to be made.

Chief among them, according to Gerry Sutcliffe, is the urgent need to appoint two independent, non-executive directors to the FA board, to bring in outside expertise, and to work as a catalyst for improved governance. Failure to take this step is widely viewed as holding the organisation back.

The Football League already has a non-footballing man on the top table: he's well regarded, and it doesn't seem to be doing them any harm.

The arrival of the new chief executive at the FA should help things along, but Ian Watmore has a huge task to manage a brief that ranges from the demand for successful national teams, an effective disciplinary department, running the FA Cup competition, sustaining the national game (ie the grass roots), and managing relationships with Uefa and Fifa. Limitless energy and a strong sense of humour probably essential.

I just have a feeling that in fact, Lord Triesman, the FA chairman, probably welcomes this barrage from his former parliamentary colleague.

The criticism gives him a mandate to push for change and make things happen. There might not be a better chance, and I suspect he knows that the "lever" Gerry Sutcliffe refers to - removing a tranche of public funding from the FA - would truly be a weapon of last resort.

No, this is an opportunity in disguise, should the FA, in its own sweet time, choose to grasp it.


  • Comment number 1.

    I wouldn't hold my breath...

  • Comment number 2.

    It is peculiar to Britain that its sports' bodies are hydra-headed. Decapitation, as the ancient myth tells us, only replaces each of the monsters' severed heads with two new ones.

    GB struggled at successive Olympiads because funding was distributed through multiple agencies that duplicated each other's rôles and generated running costs which far exceeded those which a single body would have run up.

    Only their destructive mutual jealousy and distrust were concealed from the public who shelled out the tax-pounds to pay for the jollies of officious men-in-blazers to the World, European and Olympic Games.

    Athletes in track and field formerly succeeded despite the system, not because of it.The virtues of a unified organisation are indisputable and have now been demonstrated and confirmed over the past decade in the UK - and for much longer in Australian sport.

    It was bad enough when soccer had but two governing bodies, of which the primary, the Football League, professional and based in the cradle of the game, England's north-west, was usurped of authority at the apex of the pyramid by amateurs from the Football Association's counties, Public Schools', Oxbridge and Armed Forces' associate members - need I continue the list ?

    The day of gentlemen and players passed long ago from cricket and rugby, but our major domestic sport remains fossilised in its Victorian era - and has spawned a third agency, the monster of the Premiership that has further crippled the core structure, the Football League.

    The long-ago-rejected Carter plan looks a model of sanity in retrospect. It serves an obvious political agenda at FIFA to retain support for the English F.A. - which is what the rules against governments intervening in sport are all about - because certain of the sports' children still resent the existence of the parent who invented it.

    Soccer remains in the grip of vested interests who, whilst professing selfless motives and issuing impeccable rules of governance to the media, treat the HQ of the sport as did those retired admirals and generals who devoured Wimbledon's profits for the best part of a century instead of redistributing them into a structure to encourage young tennis players regardless of background and income.

    Should Fabio Capello triumph in South Africa, it will be because he has out-muscled the councillors, administrators and officials who surround him. Unfortunately, such a success would be seized on by F.A. insiders as a justification that all is well, so let's carry on as usual.

    If we really want to contest semi-final and final matches at a World Cup , not just in 2010 but as regularly as have Germany, Italy, Argentina and Brasil , soccer must be rid of the F.A. - what its innumerable boards did to the great Alf Ramsey makes the merry-go-rounds at Real Madrid look like childs' play.

  • Comment number 3.

    And you only have to look at the make up of the 2018 World Cup Bid board to realise what the FA is all about. Jobs for the boys and politicians.

  • Comment number 4.

    Its easy to get carried away with lambasting an over bloated borad such as the FA but it suits the english football very well as in it is a pyramid. The majority of football PLAYED as oppossed to watched, is done by sunday lageue armed forces etc. It is their game as much as it is the game of a manutd fan living in brighton's game, the FA should be about the running of the game as a whole as oppossed to just the benefit of the professional clubs and their customers. just think the boards we have are cumbersome but with out them we would have a sepp blatter in charge of the fa effectivly picking his favorites and polticising our game more than any democratic government could. Most governenments become involved in football as a last resort ussally when things go wrong be it tragedy such as hillsborough or national reputaion such as hoolgianism they be cubersome but they are deomcratic, somtimes cumbersome is needed to protect the whole of the game.


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