First published in The Pink, on Saturday December 4, 2010.
SURELY no-one was surprised by FIFA’s decision not to award the 2018 World Cup to England?
It’s not part of some anti-Anglo conspiracy but nor is it a failure of the English bid team in putting together the best proposal on offer.
The problem came in a lack of understanding – for whatever reason – of how FIFA works.
You see, Fédération Internationale de Football Association has only ever been driven by two things – money and ego.
It is somewhat in vogue to think that huge sporting show-piece events will transform nations. Such is all the rubbish spouted about the impact of the World Cup on South Africa this year and the ‘legacy’ the Olympics will leave on run down parts of London in 2012.
This is pure ego.
Sepp Blatter honestly seems to think he is changing the world for the better by bringing the World Cup to pastures new. It’s a sentiment we can all applaud, but let’s not think it is in any way connected with reality.
How many residents of shanty towns in Johannesburg have had their lives permanently improved by the monolithic Soccer City stadium?
How many Germans in the east of the country enjoyed an economic boom after the tournament there in 2006?
The idea of legacy is the public face of why Brazil, Russia and Qatar are getting the next three World Cups. Well in the last few weeks, Rio de Janeiro has played host to running gun battles between drug gangs and the military police, in an attempt to clean the city up in time for 2014. I’m not sure World Cups are supposed to involve para-military riots.
As we all know, Russia and Qatar are loaded, a fact not lost on the FIFA delegates, I’m sure.
The same Russia has been described in the US cables released by Wikileaks as a ‘virtual mafia state’ and Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, as is the consumption of alcohol, in all but a few hotels.
Qatar also doesn’t recognise the state of Israel. They have agreed to allow the Israeli team in should they qualify – but no word on fans.
And let’s not forget, the FIFA is a summer tournament – this summer, Qatar enjoyed 50C (122F) heat. If you remember Jack Charlton and John Aldridge in the 35C Florida heat in USA ‘94, you must only fear what will happen in 2022.
The media in England is having a knee-jerk reaction, calling for the restructure of FIFA (a good idea), the democratisation of FIFA (a better idea) or even the FA’s complete withdrawal from FIFA (a mental idea).
FIFA won’t change. It’d be like the proverbial turkeys hitting the ballot boxes in December.
The status quo suits the suits in Zurich. The only way to get in is to play the game their way.
Once you’re in, you can try to exert influence.
The evidence provided by the Sunday Times and the BBC’s Panorama suggests that yes, there is a deep vein of corruption running through football’s governing body.
Many seem to think these investigations are the reasons why Plymouth and Milton Keynes will not be hosting world cup football in 2018.
I’m thankful I live in a country where corruption is seen as shocking and bad – and our media is willing to expose it. But of course the media has unwittingly made itself a convenient scapegoat for FIFA’s decisions, neatly sidestepping any scrutiny about what decisions were made. FIFA could dispel the accusations but are unwilling to.
Spare a thought for Australia, too. Their 2022 bid was every bit as good as England’s, yet they had just one vote and were beaten by a desert nation with just one stadium and the population of Birmingham.
Essentially, Qatar is Wales with sun and sand but it has the cash. Like when FIFA suddenly introduced seeding into last year’s World Cup qualifiers, to ensure commercially attractive nations like France and Portugal made it through ahead of the likes of Ireland. If there is a dollar to be made, FIFA will find a way to make it two.
I don’t begrudge Russia and Qatar their moment of glory but, for their sakes I hope all the rubbish about legacies is true. I’m sceptical.
St Mary’s never seem to transform Northam and Chapel into glamorous destinations, so why should a stadium elsewhere do it?
The ‘secret’ guarantees FIFA place upon host nations, such as making temporary tax havens, suspending immigration laws and making new laws to protect sponsors clearly show what FIFA really think the World Cup is about.
It would have been great to have the World Cup here, but perhaps it is best that accountable nations such as Britain, Holland and Australia don’t whore themselves out for suits in Zurich to abuse and milk dry of cash and dignity.