KEIR RADNEDGE in BURTON: England’s new training and sports health centre became today, appropriately, the venue at which full health was restored to the relationship between the Football Association and FIFA.
St George’s Park, near Burton-upon-Trent north of Birmingham, was opened formally last month by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. This was a second, football-specific opening, undertaken by world federation president Sepp Blatter.
The overall project on the 330-acre park has cost £100m but the FA’s integrated sports science sector has benefited by a £300,000 grant from FIFA’s Goal programme.
The partnership offers evidence to FIFA critics that its development projects are not, as many cynics have suggested over the past trouble-torn two years, merely schemes to sweeten banana republics.
Hence the added value to FIFA, as well as the FA, of the formal rapprochement at St George’s Park.
FA chairman David Bernstein, who accompanied Blatter along with St George’s Park chairman David Sheepshanks, said: “There’s been considerable progress [over the past two years]. I’m very pleased. I always said that the FA had to stay within the FIFA tent and I think we’re progressing really well.
“We’ve worked quite hard at dealing with FIFA directly. I’ve met the president on a large number of occasions for one-to-ones and I think he understands we want to be in the tent . . . we want to give as much as we can.”
Blatter was happy to reciprocate, recognising that the St George’s Park grant plus a Memorandum of Understanding on knowledge sharing marked a significant step forward from the dark days of 2011 when Bernstein and the FA tried, in vain, to stall his presidential re-election.
“When there are human beings from time to time relations are not as such as they should be in a very educated family,” said Blatter. “But when you are able then to bring everybody back to the same level – and this has been done now with FIFA and the FA – we are very happy to participate in the creation of this wonderful St George’s Park.
“The FA is a much older organisation than FIFA so it has much respect from FIFA.”
Blatter shrugged off the contentious 2018 World Cup vote and past accusations of a perceived English arrogance as passé. He picked up the enormous success of the London 2012 Olympic football tournament as a possible watershed moment in the repairing of relations between Wembley and Zurich.
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