Jim Boyce was a little sceptical last week, during Leaders, about the long-term future of the British vice-presidency of FIFA.
The issue has popped back up after events at FIFA Congress last June when FA chairman David Bernstein had launched his doomed bid to have the presidential election postponed. That prompted outspokenly critical responses from Sepp Blatter’s sympathetic brokers such as Argentina’s Julio Grondona and Spain’s Angel Maria Villar Llona. They widened the sweep of their attack to include the other three home countries. That revived the credibility of Irish, Welsh and Scottish concerns that any involvement with a united British team at the 2012 Olympics would be a hostage to ill fortune.
Yet the British vice-presidency is central to the very existence of the world federation.
Britain’s home nations left FIFA in the 1920s in a row over broken-time payments for amateur players at the Olympics. This was back in a pre-World Cup era when the Games were the effective world championships. Any child of the modern era can have no comprehension of how massive an issue this was at a time when amateurs claimed to be defending the true spirit of sport against the incursion of derided professionalism.
The British Four considered that a player’s amateur status was compromised if he received compensation payments for lost earnings while he took time away from work to play football for his country. Most other countries were more relaxed. By special agreement the British Four were allowed to continue playing against FIFA member nations. That was still the situation immediately after the Second World War when FIFA tried to pull itself back together.
A key figure was Sir Stanley Rous, general secretary of the FA and an international referee during the inter-war years. FIFA was on the brink of bankruptcy and Rous offered the proceeds of a friendly match between Britain and a FIFA XI … in return for the British four returning to the FIFA fold with the guarantee of four-way independence plus a shared permanent vice-presidency. At the same time he also negotiated the entry of the Soviet Union into FIFA, also in exchange for a guaranteed vice-presidency. When the Soviet Union collapsed the vice-presidency was taken over by Europe i.e. UEFA.
The British Four chose their vice-president themselves. The late David Will, from Scotland, was highly respected by his exco colleagues. After an unseemly muddle he was succeeded by Geoff Thompson after England and Northern Ireland offered to share the present eight-year term. Thus Boyce has just taken over. He does not want to be the last.
Is the vice-presidency – and the four-nations’ independence – in danger? Only if there is a three-quarters vote in Congress because that is what it takes to change the statutes.
FIFA has 208 members so 156 votes would be needed. But UEFA has 53 members. So, as long as the British Four keep their European colleagues happy, they are secure … and Rous, who died in 1986, can sleep soundly in his grave.
Keir Radnedge is one of the foremost observers of international soccer. He has reported at every World Cup since 1966 and is a regular contributor to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines worldwide. He is London-based Editor of SportsFeatures.com and is chairman of the Football Commission of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS).
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.