FIFA president Sepp Blatter is an amiable man who exhibits bon homie wherever he goes.
He was delighted to be at the Sleive Donard hotel in Newcastle for the International Football Associaton Board’s rule-making AGM.
But he had a political bomshell in his midst - unbeknown to the Irish FA hierachy who had every right to bask in the light of being successful hosts to world football’s cognascenti.
Having arranged a press conference for local scribes only, he was open and direct, welcoming all questions on any subject.
The one which brought a sensational element to proceedings was that which has bedivilled the Irish FA and the Football Association of Ireland, namely the question of eligibilty of interntional players.
The Irish FA were under the impression that article 16 of the FIFA statutes, had put this matter to bed and that there would be no more Darron Gibson’s slipping under the rules and regulations.
No so, according to Mr Blatter who made it absolutley clear that anyone in Northern Ireland can declare for the Republic up until they have played at under-21 level, even if they don’t have a passport!
All that is required is for the player to have a birthright to a passport - although the latter would likely follow as matter of course.
A player can’t play for two associations once he has had made his choice from the age of 21, but that will be no deterrent for the FAI to trawl for the best of Northern Ireland’s talent.
FIFA’s legal committee have made a ruling which gives the Republic game set and match on this issue. It has not been annoucned formerly - hence the IFA being caught unawares - but there would appear to be no way back because the Good Friday agreement supercedes any FIFA statute.
The committee has decreed that the GFA, a treaty “between two countries had been implemented to resolve problems between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“One section of the agreement is crucial to this matter, as it is stated that people from Nortthern Ireland have the right to choose whether to be identified as Irish or British or even both.
“This provision had led to the situation where the Republic of Ireland is benefitting from the agreement by attracting young players from Northern Ireland. This results in the sitution that even if a player was born in Northern Ireland, like his parents and grandparents before him, he still had the opportunity to play for the Republic at a later point in time, a situation which is extremely problematic for Northern Ireland.
“The legal committee undestood the issue to be that all Northern Irish playes could opt to play for both associations, given that they have a birthright to an Irish passport. Evidently, the same is not applicable to the footballers of the Republic of Ireland who do not have a claim to a UK passport.
“That means the Irish FA is exposed to a one-way situation where players can choose to play for the Republic but the vice-versa is not possible.”
The denouement on this issue is now clear and in view of the GFA, will be irreversible.
As always, Ireland is unique in the realms of sporting regulations and with this special dispensation, the game is over for the Irish FA in trying to stop players going south.
As for the rest of the AGM, it was very much to do about nothing, with sin-bins being rejected, no change in half-time intervals and further debate on the use of technology.
The prospect of further match officials at the top level of the game, will come about by 20011 once the experiment is introduced next season.