Saturday, December 04, 2010

England, Russia, Qatar and FIFA

Russia and Qatar. The 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be going where no World Cup has gone before.

I was fairly unmoved by the whole shebang surrounding the bidding process. Certainly a fair few English noses have been put out of joint.

And many English journalists are now ranting and raving about the power of money and the questionable attitudes of the two countries to human rights and media freedom.

Fair points. But they miss crucial parts of the story.

FIFA now looks to me to be an institution so corrupt it is beyone redemption, certainly it seems beyond the jurisdiction of anyone that might like to heal the sickness that Sepp Blatter and, before him, Joao Havelange have left at its heart.

Of course, money talks to FIFA. It screams in FIFA's face. And FIFA love it.

And FIFA, like the Olympics, is brilliant at what we might call "flingin' a deefie" to anything that might be political. Of course both organisations are among the most political on the planet. And, like all politicians, the movers and shakers are brilliant at ignoring anything that they consider to be the wrong kind of politics.

Few of the journalists acting as bid cheerleaders for England would have been as quick to point out these problems had they got what they wanted. C'est la vie.

And the World Cup makes us all culpable in FIFA’s deceit. We want to watch the football so we ignore everything else. We’ll do the same again in 2018 and 2022.

England probably deserve the World Cup. They'd provide the stadiums and they'd provide the fans. But the bid got off to a bad start. And, nothing to do with media investigations or playing a typically English straight bat, England - all four home nations - just don't have enough friends at football's top table now.

A heady mix of Eton, royalty, politicians and brand Beckham was never going to change that.

And, as far as the football goes, Russia is not a totally crazy choice. It’s a massive country with an appetite for the game. The choice is consistent with others FIFA have made. And, of course, it offers a carnival of capitalism in a market that didn’t exist for FIFA 30 years ago. Growing the game is about making FIFA richer. Russia can deliver on that.

It’s the 2022 decision that is more interesting. This is a change in FIFA’s selection policy. Yes, Qatar delivers a new market and takes the tournament to the Middle East for the first time.

It’s the size thing that amazes me. World Cups have got bigger and bigger. That’s not always a good thing. But it makes the idea of a country with less than half population of Scotland hosting the tournament all the more remarkable.

There also seems little football heritage. The national team is ranked 113th in the world, 16th in Asia and have managed to beat only Yemen in their last five games. They have never played in a World Cup. It's not hard to make the argument that FIFA have been influenced by a reasons outwith football.

It’s an intriguing bid and it obviously caught the imagination of the suited and booted middle aged men who run world football. A victory, as Zinedine Zidane has said, for the Arab world.

Qatar have guaranteed that the heat will not be a problem, that stadiums will be climate controlled. They’re even likely to allow alcohol for thirsty fans.

Changing the temperature. Changing laws. FIFA have a long list of demands on any host country. A small country like Qatar, complete with an absolute monarchy, can offer complete compliance with every FIFA whim. This apparent leftfield choice could become the blueprint for the future.

But as strange a choice as it seems it reflects badly on us to dismiss it, 12 years out from the tournament, as a moment of FIFA madness.

Yet cynicism persists. FIFA are committed to breaking new footballing frontiers. The hope is that the World Cup doesn't get lost in the desert.

> An irony in attacking the BBC, and others, for highlighting corruption concerns at FIFA and attacking Russia for having a questionable on press freedom.

> David Beckham could teach many involved in the England bid a thing or two about diplomacy with his dignified reaction to defeat. Those that are throwing their toys out of the pram and attacking FIFA should be prepared to answer questions about why they were prepared to spend so much money trying to host the World Cup. FIFA’s problems don’t begin and end with Thursday’s voting.

> Let's not all turn into international relations experts. But 2022 is a long way off. Situations change, tense situations worsen. Could Qatar's defence concordat with Iran cause FIFA problems in the next decade? The combined concerns about the Qatar bid might explain the Australian's dignified acceptance of defeat - if Qatar can't host the 2022 World Cup I'm sure the Aussies will be waiting in the wings.

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