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On World Cups, wheelie bags, and the disadvantages of a free media

Posted on 3 December 2010 | 11:12am

First, re the World Cup location announcements, part of you wants to say these are visionary decisions which will help two important countries build a more modern and relevant global identity, and provide two great festivals of football.

A bigger part can’t help fearing that from a fan’s perspective it is hard to think of two worse locations for the second most important sporting event in the world. And no matter how hard you try to say they must have won fair and square on the merits of the case, the nature and the history of Fifa leads great doubts to enter the mind.

Even my sons, for whom the word fanatic does not really capture their interest in football, were saying they could not yet imagine wanting to go to either country to see a tournament.

I suppose come 2018 and 2022 Russia and Qatar will be very different places, but not so different they are likely to drag us from the TV and onto a plane.

Which brings me neatly to my second point, namely the latest curse of modern flying, those bloody wheelie bags that are allowed as handbaggage.

Now I really do try to think about my carbon footprint (and I hate airports) but for various reasons I’ve ended up on six planes in the last three days.

Every single one of them was full. Every single one of them was late (and the weather was fine in Italy so that won’t work as an excuse). And the experience of getting on and off every one of them – bad enough anyway what with all the usual palaver – was worsened by the armies of people with their wretched wheelie bags designed to fit in those ‘this is how big your bag can be’ contraptions that everyone ignores.

A couple with one bag each becomes like four people, hogging space, closing gaps in corridors through which the impatient non wheelie person (moi) wants to break.  They are also ludicrously inefficient, wobbling from side to side into the owners’ ankles and, every now and then, into mine.

And of course though technically they might fit into luggage cabins, in reality they don’t, not when the owners are also piling in coats, hats, handbags and crap bought in the duty free shops. So on two of my six flights, so clogged were the overhead cabins that poor wheelie bag owners had to be separated from their wheelie bags, while sensible small rucksack types like moi could keep all our wordly goods under the seat in front. You’d have thought the poor wheelie wheelers  were being asked to give up a dog or a child for heaven’s sake as said wheelies were taken off to join the big bad bags in the hold.

Bottom line — people fly too much (me included) and when they fly they take too much stuff with them (not me included).

The one flight that almost made it on time was the last, coming into Heathrow last night from Milan. Ex Chelsea player Andrei Shevchenko was on it, playing blackjack on his phone. He also had a big shopping bag which, sensibly, he kept by his feet.

There was a stunning redhead model (I could just tell) on the flight too, who alas was seated next to a big balding Italian instead of me. She would have brightened up the journey a bit, and possibly calmed my mood.

Meanwhile when we arrived at Heathrow, we sat there for a while before the pilot announced we would have to sit a while longer because there were no available disembarkation slots.

When one finally became available after half an hour staring at tarmac, my patience had run out. I did a little ankle tap on the wheelie bag of a man who got in my way as we headed to passport control.

Final thought re Russia/Qatar. What with China motoring on to become next superpower, it is possible to discern a trend … the countries with the freeest media systems appear in the modern world to be at a disadvantage. The worldwide coverage of WikiLeaks adds to that sense … I don’t imagine Iranians will have read much their rulers don’t want them to see; same story in many of the Middle Eastern countries whose leaders have been shown to say very different things in private and public; and I see in The Guardian that Russian TV has yet to broadcast any of the embarrassing stuff about Vladimir Putin, or the notion of Russia as a mafia state, whereas countries like Britain and the US have had to take the full whack for any indiscretion or embarrassing observation of post-prandial Ambassadors.

As we sat on the plane, I recalled a recent comment from William Hague – delivered in a favourable tone – about the extraordinary pace of airport expansion in China. Here, not least because of the opportunism of the Tories in opposition, you can’t even get a third runway going. As for new airports, Qatar will have held the World Cup by the time you get through all the planning, public inquiries and media gnashing of teeth.

No, I’m not calling for an unfree media, just making the point that in some circumstances,  advanced democracies have considerable inbuilt disadvantages against absolute Monarchies, virtual dictatorships, and Russian leaders admired by Silvio Berlusconi for their authoritarian style.

So when an organisation like Fifa is making the decisions, I suppose we really should have seen it coming.

  • Eddy Rhead

    Havent you just contradicted yourself there Alastair in so much you worry about your own carbon footprint due to excessive flying (you could always so ‘No’ you know?) but you seem to desire a third runway built (im presuming you are talking about Heathrow) so other people can increase their own carbon footprints?

  • Blue

    “The second most important sporting event in the world”?

    I suspect you’d be very much in the minority if you regard the olympics as being a more important event than a world cup.

  • If freedom to expose corruption means no world cup, so be it.
    Please can we also be free to take a wheelie bag on the plane, Alastair? Have you turned into Victor Meldrew?

  • John in Leeds

    Alastair, did you see DC giving you a mention on the BBC Football site yesterday?

  • Nick Smeg Head

    Now we now that England will not be hosting the World Cup, is Arrogant Cameroon still pretending to like football?

  • David

    England lose, so it must be a fix! The England bid was not even that good, it was just gloss!

    England were beaten as they could not overcome the map Russia put up 30 seconds into their presentation of Western Europe and the number of previous host countries and a blank map of Eastern Europe.

    There is no point is talking about the stadia, now Russia will get them which will benefit their league and make them stronger…..this should be welcomed.

    The England bid was weak, the team were better presenters than sales people of any substance. They must have known the question of Eastern Europe not having previously had a World Cup was a major advantage to Russia, yet they did not overcome it.

    The so called legacy was simply a clear bribe to smaller nations for the “vague” possibility of some money from a profitable England World Cup.

    Bad, bad salesmen …and the were blown out of the water by a smarter Russian team.

  • Colin Hind

    Leave the wheelie bags alone. I have a bad shoulder caused by rucksacks.

  • Ashok

    I am beginning to shift my opinion on the free press question. Our press is free to write rubbish which does not enhance freedom as a whole. We are in danger of being left behind in so many ways and all the time we say this free press is a good thing. Is it really?

  • Pat McLelland

    Sepp Blatter is without doubt one of the most annoying people on the planet. And I thought that yesterday mornin as well as yesterday evening

  • Anonymous

    Always thought provoking

    Check out this story for Cameron’s real reaction!

    Blimey O’Reilly

  • Anonymous

    Surely he was talking about the Ashes?

  • Steve Brundish

    As for three lions for England, it was more two lions and a donkey. Never one to let a bandwagon go by without jumping on board, Cameron could not resist the media coverage that money just can’t buy. His plan might of worked if it wasn’t for money bags Putin, a man who also likes positive media coverage. The difference is Vladimir only jumps on bandwagons if he knows where they are going. FIFA’s executive committee duly showed him the way, leaving David Cameron to scuttle back to No.10 with a big question mark over his judgement and advice.

  • Richard

    You haven’t ever got over the fact that BlairForce 1 is no longer available to you, have you? All this mixing with the great unwashed is no fun. It must remind you of your roots.

    Why do you not learn Chinese or Russian, and apply to spin for their leaders: You’d probably get your own plane then!

  • Anonymous

    I have the impression AC is at least travelling business class if he is clocking footballers and models.

    Time for another social think-piece to restore his man of the people credentials.

  • Richard Brittain

    Well said. I’m disgusted by FIFA. There’s no way that the England bid should have come last. It looks like Lord Triesman was right all along, when he spoke about corruption in private.

    Not sure if you saw this Alastair, but David Cameron gave his predictions for the weekend’s results, and when told that Alastair Campbell and Lord Sugar were top, he looked very needled and said that things can only get better! He also seems to dislike Liverpool, perhaps because they’re the Reds?

  • Make camp clear

    So: “Here, not least because of the opportunism of the Tories in opposition, you can’t even get a third runway going.” What are you going on about ? The third runway was supported by BAA, and some Airlines. It was rejected by every single voter within 30 miles of Heathrow. The vast majority of its traffic would have been “transit”. No citizen / voter wanted it, but Brown (old labour), and Bliar (new labour) did. So they went through the motions of “public enquiries”, when they had already made the decision to go with the needs of big business (against the demands of voters). My goodness, that was so “old politics” – treating voters as if they were morons, “going through the motions”, when the decision was already made. Really, if you are a democrat, you should show a bit more finesse.