Everyone has heard of FIFA. The international football governing body is difficult to ignore with its pomp and public proclamations. But it is a lesser known organisation – the slightly shady sounding IFAB – that controls the rules of the game.
The International Football Association Board meets twice a year and is made up of 8 members, four being supplied by FIFA and one member from each of the founding associations; England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each group can propose potential law changes before each meeting, which get discussed and voted upon. The members each get one vote with FIFA always voting as a block. 6 of the 8 votes are needed to pass a rule change. This means at least two of the home nation members must support FIFA for there to be any law passed.
IFAB is known as a conservatively minded organisation, reluctant to change from the original simplicity of the game, which has aided football in becoming so popular. Surprisingly, in recent years it has been the home nation members who have been more progressive in their voting on modifications to the laws. This was shown recently, just before the World Cup, when England and Scotland both voted for the introduction of goal-line technology but were outvoted by the four FIFA members, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Is it time that the various football associations from the United Kingdom give up their inflated powers within the game?
Some might argue that as the game was developed in the UK, we should keep a steady hand on the tiller. The past performance of IFAB gives this some merit as by taking a long-term strategy, the game has expanded. I think a principled approach has to be taken to the question though.
Football has become a global phenomenon. The scale of the powers that the home nation associations have over the game now seem unduly large. Given that none of our associations produce a top international side and haven’t done for a while, and none can boast to be leaders in development of tactics or training, it doesn’t seem quite right that they should hold such a strong hand over developing laws. Are they (we) really best placed to do that now?
The continuing presence of the football associations and mindset behind it seems to me an extension of the British colonial thinking that we know what’s best for the world. In terms of football (and politics), I’m not sure that is true anymore, if ever.
The way the voting system works, no motion can be passed without the support of FIFA. This makes the home nation members basically just an oversight – the footballing equivalent of the House of Lords (to continue the political analogy) with the same problem. Having not been elected and only answerable to a small percentage of the populace, I find it surprising in some ways that FIFA has not undertaken a coup to wrestle complete power into the more general domain.
I am no great fan of FIFA. They have shown themselves again recently to be corrupt and I would say the previously mentioned video technology vote shows them to be out of touch. I think most people involved in the game would like to see some sort of Hawkeye based technology to clear up controversies that seem to regularly plague vital games. That is a debate for another day – although I’m sure Frank Lampard would agree. I do think FIFA are now better placed and certainly better represented to deal with the issues of the modern game and now roughly 130 years after the first IFAB meeting it may be time for the British football associations to stand aside.
20/10/2010 17:00 Update: For information, it has just been announced that IFAB have reopened their debate of goal-line technology. Good timing!