Brave and courageous where no-one else feared to tread, or foolhardy and ill-timed in the extreme?
I freely admit I have mixed feelings about England’s doomed effort to have the FIFA Presidential election postponed, the latest blow to their global credibility following the 2018 World Cup debacle.
Anyone in their right mind, given the cloud of collective suspicion and skullduggery enveloping FIFA, should applause a genuine attempt to bring about change after the most sordid episode in the organisation’s history.
But was this the right way to go about it? Applause was the one thing in short supply around the cavernous congress hall after FA chairman David Bernstein’s eagerly awaited intervention.
Instead of a public show of support, England went on a lonely crusade, receiving a giant slap on the wrist following a tactical strategy which, on the surface at least, seems to have backfired.
When he took over as FA chairman, Bernstein promised to build bridges with the footballing authorities and play a greater role in reforming the game. Instead there is a case for saying he has smashed theese aspirations into smithereens and has thrown the baby out with the bathwater by calling for Blatter to be halted in his tracks.
Bernstein insists it was not a case of showboating but was starting at the top, heaping even more vilification on Blatter’s already tarnished image, the best way of proceeding, knowing – as he must have – how may nations, rightly or wrongly, support the great survivor to the hilt?
If he really wanted to forge a more mutually respectful relationship with football’s world governing body, Bernstein might have been better advised to lay low until the dust has settled and then discuss how his association could influence FIFA without losing face.
Some have suggested that giving up the British privilege of an automatic FIFA vice-presidency – a ludicrous anachronism loathed by many FIFA members – could be one forward-looking initiative.
That might be going too far but antagonising FIFA’s member nations was not the wisest way of comtributing to much-needed reform. England were never going to back Mohamed Bin Hammam, even before he was suspended for alleged bribery, so Bernstein’s comment that a one-horse race was flawed was itself flawed.
Having said that, there is a part of me that genuinely applauds Bernstein’s championing stand. He is not a self-publicist and has, at heart, the good of the game as Blatter loves to say himself. You can bet your bottom dollar that there were a load more countries who felt the same way about postponing but didn’t have the guts to stand up and say so.
According to the results of the ballot to stop the election going ahead, we know for a fact that 16 nations supported England and 17 others sat on the fence and abstained. Where were they when Bernstein needed them? Scared to put their cowardly heads above the parapet is the answer. They know who they are.
Bernstein’s approach in tackling the stench of corruption that pervades Blatter and his cronies may have been bold but it was also risky and ill-conceived. He believes he had to make a stand. One can only hope for his sake that if – and it’s a big if – June 1, 2011, does end up being a watershed in terms of FIFA’s tainted reputation, that England haven’t blown their chances of playing their part.
Andrew Warshaw is a former sports editor of The European, the newspaper that broke the Bosman story in the 1990s, the most significant issue to shape professional football as we know it today. Before that, he worked for the Associated Press for 13 years in Geneva and London. He is now the chief football reporter for insideworldfootball