Cliftonville man Jim Boyce becomes Fifa vice-president

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A Northern Irishman has become vice-president of Fifa, world football's governing body.

Former president of the Irish Football Association (IFA) Jim Boyce took his seat following the re-election of Fifa President Sepp Blatter on Wednesday.

Mr Blatter was elected unopposed for a fourth term as president.

The election went ahead despite concerns over a widening corruption scandal within Fifa.

The English and Scottish Football Associations failed in a last-minute attempt to have Wednesday's election postponed.

They expressed concern that it was going ahead whilst some of Fifa's top officials are being investigated over allegations that they accepted bribes.

Ball boy

Mr Boyce, 67, has become one of eight vice-presidents in Fifa's executive committee, taking the place of Englishman Geoff Thompson.

Mr Boyce's rise to the top of his profession is even more remarkable if we consider that his football career began at seven years of age, when he became a ball boy at Cliftonville FC.

He subsequently went on to become chairman of the club until 1998, a season in which they won their first Irish League title for 70 years.

Mr Boyce was president of the IFA for 12 years from 1995 until 2007. Upon stepping down he was awarded the position of honorary life president of the IFA.

He is now one of Northern Ireland's top ranking football officials of all time, as he takes the British vice-presidency of Fifa.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Boyce said: "It's a big honour for me, the club [Cliftonville] that I have been associated with since I was seven years of age, it's a big honour for my association and for my country to be the Fifa vice-president."

British imbalance

But how is it that such a small footballing nation as Northern Ireland can carry such influence within world football?

The answer is rooted in the historical importance of the British nations to the global game.

Fifa's executive committee is composed of a president, a senior vice-president, eight vice-presidents and 15 members elected from each of the six confederations which represent Fifa at a regional level.

However, there is an imbalance written into the Fifa constitution which allows a much greater British representation.

Five of the six confederations are allocated one vice-presidential seat on the committee, whilst Uefa, European football's governing body, receives two.

The four British associations however get a vice-presidential place of their own, and this is the one to be filled by Mr Boyce.

Historical significance

This anomaly is due to the British associations' historical significance as the inventors and guardians of the game, and has been subject to controversy in the past.

In 2000, for example, four Caribbean associations put forward a proposal to remove the British vice-presidency, but this was rejected by the Fifa Congress.

The British associations also have disproportionate representation on the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which controls the laws of the game.

This board is made up of representatives from each of the four British associations, whilst Fifa, despite representing a vastly greater number of footballing interests, only has one seat.

However, the board's decision making is more balanced, as Fifa is entitled to four votes to each British association's one.

Corruption scandal

The English and Scottish attempt to postpone Wednesday's presidential election was rejected by 172 votes to 17.

The IFA did not join its fellow British associations in the objection. Geoff Wilson, head of marketing and communications at the IFA, said the organisation was "currently monitoring the situation" and had called for an independent review into the matter.

"We've been very clear in saying that corruption has no place in football," he said.

Former Labour minister for sport Kate Hoey said: "I don't see why the IFA necessarily had to join in on this last minute thing because there was never any chance of them getting a quarter of delegates to vote."

She said it was more significant that major Fifa sponsors such as Coca-cola and Adidas have begun to voice their concerns.

"Money is the only thing that's going to make Fifa change," she said.

Mr Boyce said on Tuesday that he was upset by the corruption scandal that threatens to engulf Fifa.

"Like everyone else who cares about football, the events of the last few months have saddened me greatly," he said.

"I don't want to go into what has happened in the past and it's wrong for me to make comments on that as I was not in the position then.

"People who are in high positions have got to be whiter than white and if any of the allegations that have been flying about are proven to be correct then people have to suffer the consequences."