Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 260 - 277)



  260. I have to say in Scotland, of course, it is the game at Wembley the following year that is considered more important. The point I am making is that it was the winning of the World Cup that was so influential on English football rather than the fact it was held in this country. It is winning that will inspire more youngsters to play the game than whether it is held here, whether it is held anywhere else. That is even truer now with modern transport and with modern television where we can watch the game wherever it is played instantly and live.
  (Mr Thompson) I think that we have got to remember that the bid was held up, thought about certainly prior to Euro 96, certainly, because it was 40 years since we last held the world championship in England. Euro 96 was a great success on the back of a lot of traumas both in this country and in Europe. We had the Heysel disaster. We had been banned from European competitions. We had had the Hillsborough disaster, very close to my home. We had rebuilt the stadia, brought world class stadia to some of the clubs who moved into greenfield sites. Some of them developed the sites of older stadia. We brought stadia into the 21st century because of that Hillsborough disaster. Then we ran a tournament without any problems that was hailed at that time as the best European championship ever. It was on that, that the final decision was taken that we should bid for the World Cup in 2006.

  261. Mr McGivan said that it was an economic success. How do you quantify that for football, not for the nation?
  (Mr McGivan) I think the Government did quite well from the taxation point of view, as I recall. There were various economic reports produced after Euro 96. I think the figure of the number of foreign visitors was approximately 250,000 who came into the country and there was a figure produced for how much money they had spent. You mentioned 1966 and if England had not won would people have looked back on that World Cup? I think an awful lot of people do look back on Euro 96 as a great moment in English football and we did not win, we did not even get to the final but Wembley was packed for that final. I remember many people coming along and saying "Oh, after the disappointment of being knocked out in the semi-finals it was all going to fade" and in fact the country celebrated the end of Euro 96 in great style. People look back on that tournament with a great deal of affection and I think it did a great boost for English football, probably football across the UK. We did not actually win the tournament.

  262. Where did the money that football made go to? To the clubs, to professional clubs, to the grass roots?
  (Mr Thompson) It went back to UEFA primarily. The funding available for the FA at that particular time, and they have changed the regulations since then, in fact the organising committee of the Portuguese FA are not only getting government money to assist them but also getting money from UEFA to organise the tournament, we did not get that, we were only allowed to keep gate receipts.

  263. As I said earlier, with the television and modern transport, air transport, and Mr McGivan was making the point that FIFA is talking about rotation and that will be on a continental basis, nowadays there is not any reason why a continent should not, through its organisations, bid collectively for the World Cup. There is no reason now why you should not play the World Cup throughout Europe rather than in one single country. Therefore, it may come down to bidding for the final rather than bidding for the whole event.
  (Mr Thompson) Certainly there are joint bids emerging now. Japan and Korea obviously did not start off as a joint bid but ended up as one. We had Belgium and the Netherlands hosting Euro 2000. There are those who say let us see how Japan and Korea goes before we have any more. That seems to be the view of the President of FIFA, that he does not want any more joint World Cups until the first one is tried and tested. My own opinion, and I think it is shared by some others, is joint World Cups, as you say, are very much likely to be something for the future. Some people talked at one stage in our bidding process of England and Germany coming together. Some people raised their eyebrows and said that is politically completely unacceptable and we could not possibly go down that road, what would the tabloid press in this country say, etc, etc, but from a practical point of view it would have been perfectly feasible and it may yet be something which we will see in the next 50/60 years. Two countries like England and Germany coming together could be done. I think, as you say, the argument would be over who staged the finals, which I think the Japanese and Koreans also found quite a difficult issue to resolve.
  (Mr Davies) Mr Maxton, can I say that this was a subject that certain of us did think about at considerable length. If you did have rotation between six continents and it was strict rotation, Europe would only see it once in 24 years. You are absolutely right, were that to happen, and if you say there are basically five countries in Europe that might host it on their own, it would be in Italy, in Germany, in England every 100 years. Just to go back to the basic point, there are those who have been here this morning who have said perhaps we should not have bid at all. The reality is by the end of the year 2006 a 32 year old person who has been born and brought up in Munich will have seen two World Cups in their country; a 40 year old person in this country will not have seen any. For us not to have bid in the current circumstances would have been unthinkable to us. In terms of the future that you have referred to I think it will be very, very different.

  Mr Maxton: My concern is not so much with the World Cup or football but certainly with the Olympic Games. Bidding for the Olympic Games is possibly going to be a major distraction from ensuring that proper facilities are built for grass roots sport in this country if we spend all of our time thinking about the Olympics and facilities that have to be provided. That is not a criticism of the World Cup, I have to say.

Mr Faber

  264. Having listened to all of you this morning and Mr Banks before you expressing with considerable passion your views on what happened, we should say that you behaved with great dignity at the time because it must have been a great disappointment and you did not let it show more than was absolutely necessary. Sir Bobby, we have heard a lot from Mr Banks and from Mr McGivan about the political nature of the whole process, and they are both very experienced in actual politics but you are not and yet you were very much a figurehead amongst the team. How did you find it going around the world in what were such overtly political surroundings?
  (Sir Bobby Charlton) I felt reasonably comfortable in as much as I had helped the Japanese in their bid for the World Cup in 2002. I had a little experience of what to expect with regard to the politics of it. We did have Tony Banks, who was absolutely superb in everything that he did on the political side. I tended to work really hard on producing a picture of what people should expect in our country with regard to the state of the game, the health of the game, etc, how we would benefit helping the rest of the world, rather than the politics. Unfortunately I did get involved in the politics in lots and lots of cases and I found it okay. I tend to always go back to Sir Stanley Rous who once was having a dinner in Moscow and at dinner the Russian delegate came across and tried very, very hard to influence Sir Stanley Rous in making the decision that would be helpful to the Soviet Union as it was at that time and I remember very clearly he said "I cannot do that because it is not the correct thing to do". I think that should be everybody's yardstick in politics, especially when they get involved in sport, but unfortunately that is not the case. At the same time you have to have those sorts of principles if you want to handle the whole thing correctly, and that is what we try to do. I understand the politics of it but when we first got together to discuss the approach there was never any talk of any way that we should use politics and use politicians to help influence the bids, other than to paint the picture of what was good about the country.

  265. Ironically we were criticised for not having sufficient Government support, even though we have patently heard that was not the case.
  (Sir Bobby Charlton) Not at all.

  266. There was one other thing that fascinated me in your supplementary memorandum to us, Mr McGivan, on the issue of Government's written guarantee where you say that FIFA questioned the validity of Mr Smith's signature. Do you mean that they thought it was a forgery?
  (Mr McGivan) No. I think the problem arose, and I think it was within the bureaucracy of FIFA with their staff probably, that they somehow expected every government department to submit separate guarantees, although they had not made that clear in any paperwork to us. We did an all-embracing guarantee from the Secretary of State and that was what they then questioned. I do not think they were questioning the validity of the signature. This was why then the letter went from the Prime Minister to underline the point that this was a Government guarantee across the board and that it was not necessary for individual Ministers to be sending in documents.

  267. Mr Wheeler, you also served all over the world in the interface between politics and business, how did you find it coming in on this campaign? How overtly political did you find it? What changes could you anticipate being made to the process?
  (Mr Wheeler) Undoubtedly it is a very political environment in which one is operating. I do not think any of us were under the impression that the intrinsic merits of our bid, which were very considerable, would in themselves be sufficient to win. We were realistic about it, we realised that we had to persuade other people to our point of view to look at what we could offer. To that extent I suppose we were operating in a way which is in some ways similar to other aspects of politics. That said, I do not think one could say that this is an ideal environment. I think FIFA have recognised this in advocating a move towards rotation which might to some extent simplify the process a little bit. The realities are, of course, that when there is a big prize at stake there will be much competition for it. To that extent, politics probably would be an angle.

  268. Mr Thompson, I wonder if I can change the subject and come to the rebuilding of Wembley Stadium and the FA's involvement with that. With hindsight, do you think that greater financial commitment from the FA at the very outset would have solved a lot of the problems Wembley has had as a result.
  (Mr Thompson) It was before my time, Chairman, at the FA, as you will appreciate, but I certainly was on the council at that time. It was clear that we needed to set up a subsidiary company if we were going to take over Wembley Stadium, if you remember it was the Wembley Stadium Trust initially, and we were given assurances that the FA's money, which I am very conscious about, I think we are only custodians of it for the whole country, and particularly the grass roots game of this country, I feel very passionate about that, I come from that side of the game. Consequently our initial reaction was that the FA's funding would be ring-fenced. At that time we were making something in the region of £2 million a year profit. Over the years, of course, we have always ploughed money back into the game at the end of each financial year. Our only assets were the buildings we had at Lancaster Gate and at Potters Bar, and a little bit of liquid asset, something in the region of £3 million.

  269. By Christmas 1999 you were involved, and I wonder if we can just examine the repayment of the £20 million in a little more detail. As I understand it, the sequence of events was that Dave Richards attended a meeting or a presentation of some sort at Downing Street launching the Football Foundation, and in some way the suggestion was made that this money should be repaid. Mr Bates then went to see the Secretary of State on 22/23 December and an agreement was made. The Secretary of State then wrote to Mr Bates on 7 January formally placing those discussions on record. Mr Bates then in some way passed it on to you as Chairman of the Football Association and you wrote to the Secretary of State on 31 January. You mentioned in your letter a release of some of the commercial constraints on WNSL, can you tell us what you understood those commercial constraints were and how it would work?
  (Mr Thompson) Yes. Let me go back one stage further, if I may. You have seen the correspondence from the Secretary of State. Before that he had asked Sir Nigel Mobbs, who was Chairman of the Wembley Task Force—you may have seen the letter that the Secretary of State wrote to Ken Bates regarding the appointment of Sir Nigel Mobbs—to look into the position of athletics at the stadium. He was also asked to consider what compensation might be payable if Wembley were released of the obligation to have athletics. The figure of £20 million was arrived at by all involved and because it appeared to be fair. I believe that it is not a legal obligation. I believe that it is rightly described as a moral obligation. The Secretary of State, I believe, himself has agreed this in evidence to you previously. That is the position. We were asked by Sir Nigel Mobbs to meet to discuss the issue of Wembley Stadium and, perhaps, the removal of athletics from it. Dave Richards, you are quite right, led our delegation with our accountant. He came to the conclusion that it was right that we should do that. I asked Ken Bates to see the Secretary of State, because he had not seen the Secretary of State. They had this meeting, rather hurriedly, just before the Secretary of State was going off on holiday.

  270. My question was about the issue of release of the commercial constraints. Let me explain it in a little more detail. Ken Bates has told us that he discussed at the meeting the release of certain commercial constraints, and in particular the issue of naming rights at the Stadium. The Secretary of State said that this was not the case, that naming rights were not discussed and not agreed upon. In your letter of 31 January to the Secretary of State there was mention of commercial constraints, but there is no mention of naming rights. When the Secretary of State wrote back to you the following week he brings up the issue of naming rights. What I am trying to get at is, why does the Secretary of State claim that the issue of naming rights arose when there was no mention of it in previous correspondence?
  (Mr Thompson) I can only assume that that took place in the discussion he had with Ken Bates on the morning of 23 December. Ken Bates reported to me what had happened and that is why I sent that letter to the Secretary of State, and you saw the reply, you have seen the correspondence.

  271. Thank you for that. Subsequently the FA, and Mr Crozier in particular, decided that the whole issue of Wembley should be looked at and the decision was taken that Mr Bates should stand down as Chairman. Why did the FA feel that that should take place?
  (Mr Thompson) Let me clear the issue on that, first of all Wembley National Stadium Limited is a subsidiary company which has its own board of directors, including five independent members. Those directors of Wembley National Stadium Limited following the unsuccessful syndication of the project asked Mr Bates to step aside, which he agreed to do. They clearly wanted to still have his expertise and offered him the position of Executive Vice Chairman, which he accepted, and subsequently resigned.

  272. I was also going to raise the letter which Mr Crozier wrote to Ken Bates on 30 January which prompted his subsequent resignation from the Board. I must say, reading the letter I can quite understand why Mr Bates took offence at that time. It basically suggests that he having stepped down as the Chairman of Wembley he will still have a key role to play during the construction phase and they will continue to utilise his experience. Basically, it must have looked very much to Mr Bates that he was going to carry on doing most of the work unpaid, as he always had been in the past, but that Sir Rodney was going to come in and be the Chairman. One of the things which was, perhaps, most distasteful about the letter is that it constantly refers to Sir Rodney, it says, "He sees the role, he believes", whereas Mr Bates had been assured and he told us that he had not even seen the letter before it was sent. Do you accept that, perhaps, the FA could have acted with a little more caution in this respect?
  (Mr Thompson) My understanding of the situation is that Sir Rodney Walker did see the letter and authorised it to be sent.

  273. That is very helpful, thank you. Have the FA signed your staging agreements for the staging of matches at Wembley and the commercial agreements which you have with them?
  (Mr Coward) As you will recall from the last time we gave evidence we had at that time, as part of the Lottery Funding Agreement process, had to decide a staging agreement for a considerable period of time and that still exists. Perhaps that answers that.

  274. Does that expire in a certain period?
  (Mr Coward) It is a 20 year term. It is still going. As you can imagine, the provider of the Lottery Fund needs to ensure security and has requested, quite rightly, that that agreement keeps going until the new financing is in place. That is why, I think, the question was raised in an earlier evidence session before you as to payments being made by the FA to Wembley. That is quite right and we were required to do so by Sport England.

  275. The staging agreements will carry on into the new stadium as well.
  (Mr Coward) They would inevitably have to be renegotiated and we are doing that at the moment, because that is the process we are going through at the moment with the City.

  276. Finally, in the last year or so you have moved to new offices in the centre of London, did you at any stage consider moving your offices to Wembley, both as a show of financial and, perhaps, moral support for the project?
  (Mr Thompson) It has always been an opportunity that we may go to Wembley. We clearly needed to get out of Lancaster Gate because it was not big enough. We have taken a lease on premises in Soho Square.

  277. But did you consider moving to Wembley?
  (Mr Thompson) It is an opportunity that we have considered, we have not pushed it to one side at all, but we needed at that particular time to get out of Lancaster Gate and move into bigger offices.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. You have rounded off a very valuable morning for us.

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