FIFA has ‘ugly’ culture, claims ex-English FA chief David Triesman

Story highlights

Former English Football Association chairman labels culture of FIFA as "ugly"

David Triesman was the first independent chairman of the FA

Says FIFA needs to have change in personnel to repair image

Triesman spent time in Qatar during his days working for British Foreign Office

CNN  — 

It should be a shining light in leading football forward, but FIFA has an “ugly” culture according to one former leading administrator.

The game’s ruling body has been beset by a number of scandals in recent years, and most recently has been fiercely criticized for its decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar amid allegations of worker abuse within the Gulf state.

“I thought it was a very difficult body to deal with – I think its culture is very ugly,” David Triesman, who was the English Football Association’s chairman from 2008-10, told CNN in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

Read: No FIFA decision on Qatar dates until 2014

As part of the failed bid to bring the 2018 World Cup to England, Triesman spent countless days dealing with FIFA – an organization which he believes needs a metaphorical clearing out of the Augean Stables if it is to repair its tarnished image.

Directly in Triesman’s firing line was FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who at the age of 77 is in his fourth and, he claimed when re-elected in 2011, final term of office.

Culture change

“It’s made up of people who have been there for decades in some cases. I think the thing about old dogs not learning new tricks is true,” said Triesman, who quit his FA role under a cloud of controversy after reportedly criticizing rival World Cup host candidates.

“I must say that I think the hardest thing in the world is change a culture. You can change processes, but changing cultures is very hard.”

Triesman has some experience in fighting an established culture – he was the first chairman elected outside of the FA’s hierarchy, having previously been a government minister.

“I think to change a culture, then a significant amount of these people have to go. There has to be a fresh start. They won’t like that – they’ve never liked it when it has been said,” said the 69-year-old, who subsequently returned to politics with the Labour Party.

“You don’t change deep and unacceptable cultures by tinkering with them.”

FIFA offered no comment when asked by CNN to provide a response to Triesman’s observations.

The Qatar condundrum

The plan to hold the 2022 World Cup in the desert heat is now under a review in consultation with the “main stakeholders for the Qatar 2022 dates.”

The bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments is also being investigated.

Michael Garcia, a former New York attorney, is head of the investigative arm of FIFA’s ethics committee and will visit all of the countries involved in the process, beginning in London.

Read: Qatar defends 2022 World Cup project

Garcia has always insisted he is completely independent from FIFA and would not hesitate to take action against Blatter or other top FIFA officials if he found evidence that they broke the rules.

While Blatter has confirmed there is no chance of the tournament being taken away from Qatar, he recently admitted that it may have been a mistake to have agreed to hold it in the nation’s summer.

“The mistake was to think that we could play this competition easily in the summertime,” he said.

“There are some doubts as to whether it is a good period to play in this heat.”


But Triesman is still bewildered by the decision to award the 2022 event to Qatar.

“I’ve never believed it. I almost fell over laughing when Sepp Blatter announced he didn’t know how hot it was in Qatar at that time of year,” he said.

“There are unpredictable things in life but the temperature in the Gulf in the summer is not one of those. It’s one of the things you can bet your mortgage on every year.

“I wonder whether people are genuinely that foolish – I don’t believe they are or whether they were cynical and always knew it would have to move.

“If it does then it will cause massive disruption, not just to the football leagues but also to the other sports which come to their peaks at the winter.

“I think it’s going to be a very costly and difficult move to organize but if it’s in Qatar, it’s going to be in the winter.

“Even if you could cool the players, and I’m not 100% sure of that, I wouldn’t want to be a fan in the fan park in those temperatures.

“Anybody who tells me they can cool the fan park in Qatar, which is a country I know quite well from my days in the foreign office, I’ll tell them they’re deluded.”

Read: Can’t stand the heat?

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who led the FIFA inspection team examining the bidding countries for the 2022 World Cup, delivered his report in October 2010.

He concluded that Qatar was a high-risk option because of its soaring temperatures – but it was still chosen by 14 of the 22 executive committee members in the final round of voting in December that year.

Two ExCo members were suspended before the vote after allegations of bribery from a British newspaper, and the following year Triesman told a UK parliament committee that four FIFA officials had asked for certain favors in exchange for their votes.

“In June and July you cannot play,” Mayne-Nicholls told CNN Wednesday, when asked about the conditions in Qatar.

“It’s not for the players. The players will be OK with the cooling system but what about the fans?

“You’ll have 50,000 fans walking three, four, even six blocks or more like in South Africa where I walked 10 blocks.

“They will be walking in 40 degrees and it’s too much. One or two crucial cases will damage the entire image of the World Cup and we must be careful.”


Triesman was forced to stand down from his role as chairman at the FA after a case which he labeled as “entrapment” led to a newspaper article suggesting he said Spain could drop its bid if rival bidder Russia helped bribe referees at the 2010 World Cup.

He rebutted the claim and issued a strongly-worded statement denying the allegations.

Triesman admitted that the FA and FIFA have endured a difficult relationship over the years.

That relationship soured once more in 2011 when Triesman’s successor, David Bernstein, called for the 208 FIFA nations not to re-elect Blatter unopposed – a move which failed dismally.

Read: FIFA folly?

At the time FIFA’s senior vice-president Julio Grondona hit out at the FA, claiming: “England is always complaining.

“We always have attacks from England which are mostly lies with the support of journalism which is more busy lying than telling the truth. This upsets and disturbs the FIFA family.

“To present such a project as David Bernstein presented is like shooting a penalty because it cannot be always from the same place that the insults and problems come from.

“I see it at every congress. They have specific privileges with four countries having one vice-president. I don’t know what our president has said.

“But we have seen the World Cup go around the world, to South America and Africa, and it looks like this country does not like it.

“It looks like England is always complaining so please I say will you leave the FIFA family alone, and when you speak, speak with truth.”

No love lost

While Triesman hopes that the relationship between the two bodies has improved in the past year or two, he says there is not much love lost when it comes to his former employers and Blatter.

“My experience is that FIFA does not like the FA,” he added.

“The FA is, for quite understandable reasons, very suspicious of FIFA. Sometimes it is arrogant about FIFA and that’s not good from the FA’s point of view, although I hope in recent years we haven’t been.

Read: UEFA backs plan for switch to Qatari winter

“Here’s just a little example. Whenever Sepp Blatter used the phrase ‘The FA’ he would always do it with an incredible kind of sneer and usually use a funny, jokey voice.

“He didn’t believe anybody was entitled to call themselves ‘The FA’ even if it was the first.

“He thought it should be called ‘The English FA’ and didn’t think we should have any sort of standing that suggested that our history was that important.

“It may feel very trivial but it’s actually a view that we’re not entitled to our standing.”

David Triesman was speaking at the FourFourJew Exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Camden, London. The exhibition is open from October 10, 2013 until February 23, 2014.