World Cup boycott: churlish or pragmatic?

World Cup boycott: churlish or pragmatic?

As the beautiful game continues to be tarnished by FIFA, is it time for stronger action from the FA?

The publication of Michael Garcia’s report into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes was supposed to bring clarity to one of FIFA’s murkiest sagas, but in reality it has only added to the weight of animosity directed at the games governing body.

Garcia complained last week that FIFA’s top ethics judge Hans Joachim Eckert had grossly misrepresented his report, “whitewashing” his investigation by clearing both bidding nations of any serious wrongdoings. A response that has only added further weight to calls for FIFA to make the report public. Eckert though denies the need for the disclosure, with his comments reported by Sky Sports this week:

“I can only work with the material contained in it, and in my view, there was insufficient clear evidence of illegal or irregular conduct that would call into question the integrity of the award process as a whole.”

“However, in certain places, the report does indicate that further clarification is needed of certain circumstances. Much of this clarification work can be carried out by the FIFA Ethics Committee itself, while the remainder is the responsibility of the relevant national investigatory authorities.”

Despite a further statement today from FIFA outlining the potential for additional probes into alleged criminalities, the case against the two bidding nations is closed according to Sepp Blatter. The FIFA President said there would be “no change to Judge Eckert’s statement that the investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups is concluded.”

FIFA’s insistence on closing the case so prematurely has created an outpouring of disapproval, none more so than from the English FA. The former chairman of England’s 2018 bid team, David Bernstein, has reiterated his desire for a pan-European boycott of the competition until what he describes as ‘proper reform’ is seen to have been achieved by FIFA.

Is this a viable option? 

The SFA have already voiced their concerns, with Chief Executive Stewart Regan having the following to say to Sky Sports:

“Scotland is a small country. Scotland on it’s own, particularly when it hasn’t played in the World Cup for so many years, I think it would be rather churlish of us to stand up and say we are going to boycott the World Cup as well. 

“It’s about working together with the other 53 associations in Europe to actually come up with a plan and to show some strength.”

“UEFA is the strongest and most powerful of all the confederations and FIFA needs to recognise that it has got that strength and hopefully that might persuade people to come to the table and listen.”   

He’s absolutely right here; Scotland attempting to boycott the World Cup alone would be a pointless venture. A country that struggles to qualify as it is, any threat to snub the marquee event is unlikely to stir up the FIFA order too much. But what Regan alludes to with UEFA and the power of co-ordinated action is actually quite interesting. In an era of Euro-scepticism and unease with the European Union, the notion of a joint rebellion against FIFA may still for many seem quite appealing.

Despite Blatter’s attempts at creating a global game built out of his Zurich base, the lifeblood of our sport is still with the great European footballing powers. A World Cup without the likes of a Spain, England or Germany simply wouldn’t be the same; it would cause irreparable damage to FIFA’s reputation to the extent that its many backers would struggle to justify propping up Blatter’s poisonous regime.

Continental neighbours aside, an English decision to snub the World Cup in 2018 would send shockwaves through the game, a decision that should never be discounted. Decades away from having a feasible chance of winning the tournament, but with a reputation globally to rival any, the FA have relatively little to lose but potentially so much to gain from standing up and opposing FIFA’s dictatorship.

The decision to act though is far less a choice, much more a responsibility. Whilst England is far from the footballing powerhouse it may have once been, it remains as the great founder of the game, and it is now on the FA’s shoulders to restore the reputation of the sport.