The rash of complaints and criticisms about FIFA and the poppy threaten to cloud the real issue about this shambolic organisation. I've never been too fond of the Swiss, nor the country itself; wonderful summer climate, fairly clean and ordered, but not as inspiring as an Italy or Germany and the people are a strange mix. Neither real 'Swiss' but more a mixture of wealthy Germans, French and Italians who have made the country a tax haven of choice in the past. It isn't their fault that FIFA is based there, but it won't do the collective Swiss image any good. After all, as we are discussing national symbols, national pride and rememberances, was it not the Swiss that stepped out of the last great conflict and spent most of their time collecting gold from the Nazis and then fighting for more than 50 years to repel legal actions to have them return it?
But that is a nasty sideshow to this spat between FIFA and England - and make no mistake about it, this is a spat that reflects our recent disgust over the World Cup and Blatter's election. There is little doubt in my mind that FIFA is digging its collective heels in and demonstrating that they run the game. But ask yourself what would happen if England pulled out of FIFA? I read what a number of sports reporters, football writers and people who call them journalists say about this; 'can't happen' and 'won't happen.' I've always regarded most football writers as just fans with a larger audience than myself and other people in the wine bar, but some of them like Martin Samuel and Henry Winter always seem to be on the side of angels. Yet the mood among the media on this issue seems to be one of "FIFA needs bringing to book." Yet the ultimate sanction is one that the majority of commentators and pundits reject as unworkable and fanciful.
Pulling out of FIFA is the way forward if we want more control over the way the game is run. It isn't an ideal solution, but it would work with some degree of strong leadership and support from other European nations. In essence, we are under the umbrella of UEFA and FIFA, in the same way that Premier League clubs are under that umbrella and then the FA. Pulling away from an umbrella organisation is dangerous if there is little support from your competitiors or colleagues. With FIFA, the backing of UEFA would be the real key in forcing a breakaway. In reality, a FIFA without Europe would be worthless. Brazil may play all the pretty football they want and yet without European teams in the World Cup, they would be Kings of Nowhere.
It's very easy to suggest we pull out of FIFA. The reality is that too many weak associations in Europe would blanche at the idea. It would even make the FA sit up and think three times. Yet the current powerhouses of football finance are SKY , the English Premier League and the Champions' League. The Premier League has flirted with the idea of a brekaaway in one form or another from the FA as they have the financial and fan muscle. The idea of a European SuperLeague has not gone away. If it happened and UEFA and FIFA refused to sanction it, would it still happen? If SKY and Canal +, SAT 1, ESPN, Apple, SONY, BMW, Heineken and a score of high profile companies decided to back it, are you sure it wouldn't happen? Prize fund of £100 million and TV coverage worldwide? FIFA standing on the sidelines saying they will ban players and clubs from competing in the World Cup; UEFA threatened by FIFA with expulsion from the 'football family' and sanctions - you think that would frighten off the moneymen and the powerful European sponsors and clubs? The World Cup only happens once every four years and increasingly, many high profile players see international games as getting in the way of club commitments. The poorer associations that side with FIFA who pour money their ways would get more money - but to do what with? They won't be pklaying Europeans teams or their players won't be earning big bucks in Europe staying with FIFA! What could FIFA do if European associations (even UEFA) told them to get stuffed and went it alone? Europe is more powerful than any other world football body and their loss in world football events would matter far, far more than any other. The real problems come with solidarity - would the Germans agree, the Dutch comply and the Spanish assent? My view is yes and solidarity as Europeans would bind the plotters strongly together. FIFA could threaten all they like - but what with? Think about this; if Europe was 'barred' to non-European players as part of a FIFA backlash, where would they go to play competitive football? Neymar to the J-League or the MLS? Won't happen.
This sort of threat has happened in Formula 1 before. Ferrari - the name is synonymous with Grand Prix since the inception of the World Championship in 1950 - threatened to pull out of the sport over regulation changes on a number of occasions. In motor racing it was also considered that Grand Prix racing without Ferrari was not viable. The same can be said about world football without European involvement. Just look at a few of the issues in detail and maybe it clears the waters. South American players end up in Europe - if that avenue was blocked to them, would CONMEBOL find itself under pressure to pull out of FIFA? If a new World Cup organised by another body was to be shunned by FIFA teams while the rest of Europe (and maybe even our friends like the USA, Canada, Australia and parts of Africa) took part in the new event, would that prove who had the greater support? We can offer TV coverage and pots of cash. I'm not sure the big advertisers would be shunning Germany v England or Spain v France in favour of Brazil v Argentina or Ivory Coast v Japan.
FIFA operates a little like poice in society and rules by mutual consent. Revolution happens when society rebels against regimes and ideas they find unfair and unacceptable. The same could happen in football. FIFA would collapse if Europe - either through UEFA or by collective associations - walked out. My guess is that it won't happen only because as the Eurozone crisis has proved recently, there are as many self interests in European football as there are in FIFA!