World Cup: Former FA chief David Bernstein calls for boycott

By David OrnsteinBBC Sport
David Bernstein calls for World Cup boycott

The English Football Association has been urged to lobby Uefa for a European boycott of the next World Cup - unless Fifa implements meaningful reform.

Former FA chairman David Bernstein said it was time for drastic action against football's world governing body.

"England on its own cannot influence this," he said. "If we tried something like that, we'd be laughed at."

He says a World Cup would be weakened without Europe's top teams and that a boycott would have public backing.

"If I was at the FA now, I would do everything I could to encourage other nations within Uefa - and there are some who would definitely be on side, others may be not - to take this line," he added.

"At some stage, you have to walk the walk, stop talking and do something."

Bernstein said he also wanted Fifa president Sepp Blatter to step down but described him as "formidable, very shrewd, very smart", conceding it would "not be easy" to bring his reign to an end.

In an exclusive interview, the 71-year-old also said:

  • Fifa is a "totalitarian" set-up that reminds him of "the old Soviet empire" and is "beyond ridicule"
  • The credibility of football is "suffering enormously" under the current Fifa regime
  • Choosing Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup was "one of the most ludicrous decisions in the history of sport"

Bernstein chose to speak out after a report into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing but was critical of England, accusing the FA of flouting bid rules in its attempt to win the right to stage the 2018 event.

Yet less than four hours of the document's release, it was questioned by Michael Garcia, the man who conducted the two-year investigation into corruption claims.

The furore surrounding the report is the latest controversy to hit football's world governing body, which has been riddled with allegations of corruption in recent times.

Now Bernstein, who led the FA for three years from January 2011, wants Fifa to change its ways or face a challenge it finds impossible to ignore.

When asked again if he was calling for the FA to unite with Uefa to boycott Fifa and the World Cup, he replied: "Unless it (Fifa) could achieve the reforms that would bring Fifa back into the respectable world community, yes I would.

"It sounds drastic, but, frankly, this has gone on for years now. It's not improving, it's going from bad to worse to worse."

He said there were 54 countries within Uefa and described Germany, Spain, Italy, France and Holland as "all powerful".

He added: "You can't hold a serious World Cup without them. They have the power to influence if they have the will."

Similar views have been expressed by German Football League president Reinhard Rauball, who suggested Uefa could leave Fifaexternal-link if the findings of the two-year investigation into corruption claims are not published in full.

As for criticism of England by the Fifa report, Bernstein accused football's world governing body of trying to deflect attention from its own failings.

"I don't think much to these accusations," he said. "I don't think we should get away from the real issue. The real issue is Fifa governance and trying to achieve real change. But it won't happen easily."

"Fifa is sort of a totalitarian set-up. Bits of it remind me of the old Soviet empire. People don't speak out and if they do they get quashed."

Simon Johnson, who led England's 2018 bid, denies Fifa claims that they flouted bid rules

Bernstein also described the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, where blistering summer temperatures means the event could be switched to winter, "as one of the most ludicrous decisions in the history of sport".

He added: "You might as well have chosen Iceland in the winter. It was like an Alice in Wonderland sort of decision. The attempt to change the timing is also absolutely wrong."

He felt the decision to choose Qatar as 2022 hosts could come under further scrutiny.

"There's also a background of political, social and employment issues that keep emerging and I think there's a danger that Fifa and football might be embarrassed by what emerges in the coming years," said the former Manchester City chairman.

"It's certainly not sour grapes. England didn't lose to Qatar, we lost to Russia. Qatar is clearly a totally unsuitable place to hold a World Cup."

Bernstein also revealed he has quit Fifa's anti-discrimination taskforce He described it as "ineffectual" and wishes to end his ties with Fifa.

Explaining his decision to leave the taskforce, which was introduced in 2013, Bernstein said: "I've resigned for two reasons.

"Firstly, the body has been pretty ineffectual. I've been on it for more than a year and we only had one meeting. Secondly, because frankly I don't wish to be personally associated with Fifa any further.

"Fifa sets up these things - and we've seen it with their regulation - that look good in theory but don't seem to do very much in practice."

David Bernstein and Roy Hodgson
Bernstein was the FA chairman who oversaw the appointment of Roy Hodgson as England coach
Fifa president Sepp Blatter
Sepp Blatter has been president of Fifa since 1998
Zenit Arena football stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia
The Zenit Arena in St Petersburg is one of the new stadiums being built for the 2018 World Cup