At the turn of the century, I attended the first Fifa conference on the subject of players’ agents. It was held at the Italian FA’s technical and training centre in Coverciano, outside Florence, and the initial speech came from a man introduced as a leading sports lawyer from Germany. He informed delegates that Fifa’s rules held no jurisdiction in either international law or, indeed, in the Swiss canton where it was based. The Fifa officials present greeted this with indifference: not a comment was passed nor a question asked.
After two days, I returned to England and wrote a brief report for Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League. I heard nothing more from Fifa, the FA (which had sent two officials) or Scudamore.
In recent days, Fifa seems to have plumbed new depths of almost comic-book villainy in its alleged attempts to misrepresent Michael Garcia’s report into the World Cup bidding process. Garcia, an American lawyer hired by Fifa, has learned what many of us have learned in football: corruption in the game is so widespread and the beneficiaries of the gravy train are so many that reform is impossible while the central structure remains in place.
The FA has discovered to its cost that its hugely expensive and naive attempts to canvass support as an aspirant host of the World Cup have merely enabled Fifa to point the finger of suspicion at it. David Bernstein, a former FA chairman, has now called for England to lobby for Uefa – or at least some European football nations – to boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Most would be reluctant to do so but in Germany, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a former star player and chairman of the European Club Association, is an outspoken critic of Fifa. Perhaps by enlisting him, my client Gary Lineker and others to lobby within Europe, those of us who despair of Fifa might be able to exert pressure on associations and governments to take up the cause.
I wrote in these pages in June that the FA also needs to sort out its own issues. Why, for instance, does the Professional Footballers’ Association gain most of its income from the employers? And why have there never been adequate investigations into the many illegal payments allegedly made to managers and officials in transfer dealings?
But what if a reformed and cleaned-up FA withdrew from Fifa, supported by Germany and the US? Together, the three nations control much of the TV revenue and thus the sponsorship dependent on TV exposure, which is so vital to the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, and his ilk pursuing their interests in a game so internationally powerful that it seems above the rule of law.
As one listens to the mealy-mouthed Richard Scudamore speak of how he hopes that things will get better, one realises that those employed by the various official organisations are in too deep
to call time on the system, as flawed as it is.
It reminds me of the silence of those in the banking industry who knew what was going wrong in their trade yet stood idly by. Yet those who care for football, the players and supporters, without whom the professional game would not exist, must act.
Jon Holmes is a former football agent