Isolated in FIFA, English soccer focuses on Europe

Jun 2 2011 - 6:37pm

ZURICH -- After failing to halt Sepp Blatter's re-election as soccer's leader, the country he calls the game's "motherland" is turning its attention from FIFA to focus on its position in Europe.

The English Football Association proposed that Blatter's unchallenged "coronation" be postponed amid the spate of corruption allegations facing the global body, only to fail and see him secure a fourth term Wednesday with 186 out of 203 votes.

With FIFA vice presidents speaking out at the congress to "pour vitriol" on England, as FA general secretary Alex Horne put it, the country has never looked more isolated.

"We might have made some new friends, but pushed others away," Horne said. "Taking a strong side like that will appeal to some people and we'll find out who they are in the next few weeks. ... Our tactic now is to make sure we've not damaged our relationships in Europe."

That is essential with UEFA now holding the key to a vital revenue stream for the FA.

European football's governing body has centralized broadcast rights for qualifying matches to major tournaments from the 2016 European Championship onwards, giving the 53 members guaranteed income.

"The centralization of broadcast is very important to us in terms of our revenues," Horne said. "So we have to work very closely with (UEFA) to make sure we sell our TV deal appropriately over the next four years."

But it could be tough working with Angel Villar Llona. The Spanish FA president, who is also a vice president of both FIFA and UEFA, complained at Wednesday's Congress about attacks on FIFA in the British parliament and media.

FIFA's senior vice president, Julio Grondona, told the English to "leave the FIFA family alone" after "telling lies."

"I was surprised at how far Grondona and Villar Llona went in terms of just rambling about politicians and journalists telling lies -- that seemed a bit over the top," Horne said. "Villar Llona was probably more disturbing than Grondona actually, for him to take the stage and speak like that."

But Horne believes the FA hastened Blatter into announcing a series of reforms in the wake of a bribery scandal that saw two FIFA executive members suspended on Sunday, including Asian football chief Mohamed bin Hammam, who would have been the only challenger in the presidential election.

In a major policy shift, Blatter said he wanted future World Cup hosts to be decided by a vote of all 208 federations instead of FIFA's 24 executive committee members. The congress also endorsed his plans to revamp the ethics committee and bring in more transparency.

"I think he has been pressured into going as far as he has done," Horne said. "We'll hold Blatter to account to deliver what he's promised. I'm as optimistic as I can be given we didn't quite get what we wanted. We didn't get the deferral, but pushed them on the other elements of reform."

Blatter insisted that England won't face any retribution, such as losing its place on FIFA's rule-making body The International Football Association Board.

"There's no bad feeling with any of the associations that didn't vote for me," Blatter said. "Don't worry about the English. The No. 1 national association in FIFA -- the FA founded the game in 1863 -- have the right to be called The FA, Football Association."

Jim Boyce, who replaced Geoff Thompson as Britain's FIFA Vice President on Wednesday, fears his own position could be under threat.

"There have always been threats around in relation to the privileges such as the British vice presidency and the International Board, and there were more hints yesterday," Boyce said.

While the FA may have lost friends within FIFA, its credibility back in England appears to have been enhanced at a time when the government believes football is the country's worst governed sport and is being investigated by a parliamentary committee.

"I'm getting that this will go down well at home -- on that basis I'm happy," Horne said.

A more consensual tone was struck by Boyce, a Northern Irishman.

"England as a football nation are undoubtedly one of the best nations in the world, there's no doubt about that, but sometimes some people feel that there is a little bit of arrogance there," Boyce said. "I'm just being honest."

 

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