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.