Sunday, 5 December 2010

For The Death Of The Game.

I've been a bit slack recently. I've been doing mental gymnastics for the last couple of weeks. The axe has finally fallen, thankfully I've been spared, this time. What does not make it comfortable for me is that some good people will lose their jobs and in close proximity for me. Whilst I'm relieved that my execution has been stayed for the present, it is tinged with the very real sadness that when the process is completed some people for whom I have a good deal of respect and admiration will be gone. It sucks, but that is the situation and nothing will change that, I say this in the knowledge that one day, and that day may come soon, I may be amongst their number. This is not sanctuary, it is merely temporary respite.

It is not bad news, however. My office has been reorganised and our remit and way of working completely overhauled. It is going to be challenging, and there's a lot of new stuff to learn, but I'm looking forward to it.

I mention this to explain my recent silence on here. I've not had the drive to do anything for the last few days, all my mental energy has been taken up trying to understand the lie of the land in my Brave New World.

I'm directing my attention to the big story of the week, even if a number of you will reject it as an irrelevance. We've had a former MP pleading guilty and waiting to see what his future will be, another has been stripped of his seat and banned from standing for election, the students continue to demand that money be taken from other people and given to them and some odd people have decided to superglue themselves to a clothes store in London, because they don't hand over more money than they have to. Probably because they'll see it disappear into the pockets of students.

But let's be frank, the big story has been the awarding of the world cup finals tournaments to Russia and Qatar.

The spilling of bile over this in the British media has been quite surprising, yet at the same time utterly predictable. My reaction has been to prickle at the lack of transparency and yet to remain stoic about the situation.

I can't get too animated about it as FIFA are a private club, they do not take any of my cash. However I know corruption and injustice when I see it.

Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president has now done his job, he's been the power in the game since he was FIFA Secretary General and playing nominal second fiddle to the equally repulsive Joao Havelange, the man whom he subsequently replaced as President. He is, without doubt, an Adidas placeman and has delivered on his promise to take the World Cup to places it has never been before. We only need to look at his record since his star began the rise to its zenith and where the World Cup has set up camp:

1994 - USA
1998 - France
2002 - Japan/South Korea
2006 - Germany
2010 - South Africa
2014 - Brazil
2018 - Russia
2022 - Qatar

He's always been about taking the tournament to new territories, and with the exception of France (who had not hosted the tournament since 1938) and Germany (who hosted in '74) the tournament is breaking new ground. Brazil may be an established footballing power, but it is a power base which has existed in the European leagues for the last 40 years, domestically the league is a disaster with crumbling stadia, poor attendence figures and last minute rule changes to the already labyrinthine relegation system to prevent the big names from suffering the drop. Brazil may have hosted the tournament in 1950, but it is a very different world now, and recent gun battles between a very eager police force and exceptionally violent drugs gangs highlight what a dicey place Brazil can be if you don't have serious cash to hide behind. I have yet to see any evidence that Brazil has the infrastructure to host the tournament.

The tournaments held in the US and Japan/South Korea were logistically excellent tournaments. Football is the only show in town in Korea, as evidenced by their continued qualification since the 1986 tournaments, but one would hardly call them a powerhouse. Football is far from the sport of choice in the US and Japan, and yet both have stable, successful and credible leagues which hold their own. The legacy of the tournaments being held in those three countries can be reasonably called a success.

Then we come to South Africa. Thankfully the disasters which were predicted never materialised, (and they may not also materialise in Brazil), but one wonders what the legacy of the tournament will be. One may always associate South Africa with the money rich white sports of rugby union and cricket, but football is massive in South Africa, but the national team has a patchy to poor record and their club sides, whilst attracting enormous support, do not have the same pedigree as their rivals in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. It will always be the lot of African clubs to see their brightest talents head over to Europe at the first opportunity. I don't see how the legacy of the tournament will change South African football in any meaningful sense. However, Blatter was elected on the back of a strong African vote, and having pretty much gone back on his promise to gift the finals to Africa in '06, it would have been political suicide to have them go anywhere else, and to be fair, where else in Africa could they have gone?

Blatter had hitched his wagon to a World Cup world tour, and now the increasingly bizarre circus has to follow the pattern. This is how we find ourselves looking towards Russia in 2018, no world cup in Eastern Europe thus far, so off they go. Given that Russia has recently been (unsurprisingly) described as a mafia state in the wikileaks story, you can only imagine what happened behind closed doors and hotel bars (incidentally, IOC members can no longer even accept a drink from a campaign team following the reformation in light of the Salt Lake City vote rigging scandal) to secure the tournament's journey eastwards. Abramovic was involved, and nothing he's involved in can be described as transparent.

Then we have the utterly ridiculous decision to award the tournament to Qatar in 2022. Qatar, who have never qualified for a major tournament, who have a domestic league populated by a parade of creaking hasbeen superstars making one last massive payday, who have a landmass 100 miles by 50 miles and an average summer temperature that will fry an egg in three minutes. The options are, play at 6am, play at 10pm, play in nothing but air-conditioned indoor stadia, or as has been suggested, play the tournament in January and February.

Herein lies the very dangerous game Blatter and his 23 chums are playing with their own positions, let alone the future of the sport. By choosing Russia, they've ridden roughshod over not only the English, but also the Portuguese, Spanish, Belgians and Dutch. Granted the Sunday Times and Panorama stories did not help (but then would we moan if the papers had broken the story of MP's expenses two days before the election? No, of course we wouldn't), but there is only so much the established European powers will take. Suggesting holding the world cup in January and February, slap bang in the middle of the European season (when a number of the leagues will only just have come out of an inconvenient winter break) will cause uproar, and if Blatter is trying to annoy the national federations in Europe, then he's going the right way about it.

Similar for the 2022 award, Australia had by far the best bid, and of course the world cup has never been to Oceania (yes, pedants, I know the Aussie federation is part of the Asian Confederation, but still, Australia is in Oceania), and one only has to look at Sydney's handling of the Olympics, Melbourne's Commonwealths and the regular rugby and cricket world cups to understand that the Aussies are probably the best in the world at putting this sort of thing on. To award the tournament to the Qataris in the face of this, and perfectly credible bids from the US, Japan and South Korea (bidding individually this time round) was a slap in the face to four of football's most dynamic and fastest growing markets. There is no good reason, sporting, economic, logistical or in terms of intangible 'legacy' to award the tournament to Qatar, none whatsoever, and if anything this decision is more perverse than the decision to go to Russia. I am more angry for Australia's injustice than I am for the one perpetuated against England, and get the impression that some serious money has changed hands.

So, if FIFA is so corrupt, and I believe it is (read Foul! by Andrew Jennings), and if they piss off the European powerhouses of England, Italy, Spain and Germany, and if they piss off the emerging markets of Australia, USA, Japan and South Korea, how much will it take for those federations to sit down around a table together? How difficult would it be for them to call Argentina and Brazil and form a footballing G10? How difficult would it be for them to say to FIFA 'actually, we won't be entering your world cup, we're starting our own?' How long would it take for pretty much every other federation to follow them? How long would it take for Nike, Pepsi and Burger King or Pizza Hut to come in and supplant the domination of Adidas, Coca Cola and McDonald's in FIFA?

Of course FIFA would lash out, they'd ban players, not just at international level, but also at club level. Rebel? UEFA will ban you as well, no Champions League for you. Listen to the clubs revolt, look at the sponsors leaving UEFA in droves.

The result? The death of football. We'd go from a corrupt, money grabbing and unaccountable organisation, to a corrupt, money grabbing and unaccountable organisation which would be smaller and exclude all those who don't bring anything to the table. Do you think Manchester United want to be playing Wigan, that Barcelona want to be playing Osasuna? Of course not. Do England want to play qualifiers against Montenegro? Do Brazil really want to go Peru? Not a bit of it.

They'll organise their own show, and it'll be skewed for them. It'll be every two years. It'll be on pay-per-view, and the revenues will be astronomical. The small clubs will die, the small nations will be excluded. And the death of the game will be complete.

It will all be down the corruption and self-serving attitude of those who claim to act 'for the good of the game'.

1 comment:

Mike Cunningham said...

As I posted on my own small site, we should get together with trustworthy nations, those that already view football as a semi-religion, and start our own rival competition, which shall be named the Freedom Football cup. No Arabs or Russians need apply!