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If Fifa were a country, it would not look like Britain

Posted on 4 December 2010 | 8:12am

Here is the piece I have done for today’s Daily Telegraph on the fallout from the Fifa decision to hand the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. The Telegraph headline is ‘If Fifa were a country, it would be Russia,’ which is not quite what I say, as you will see. My headline is more accurate, but the great thing about blog headlines as opposed to newspapers, is that they don’t need to fit a certain space! So I will forgive them this once.

The scale of disappointment at England’s failure to land the 2018 World Cup is in part so vast because of our tendency to see the whole world through a narrow, rather nationalist prism. National pride is no bad thing; nor is national confidence; but when it comes to major global sporting events, it is wise to see a much bigger, more opaque and more complicated picture.

David Cameron is not the first Prime Minister to have felt his office slightly demeaned by the lengths elected leaders have to go to in search of the approval of a collection of self-important individuals of sometimes dubious morality who are keenly aware of their power, rooted in their own machinations and in the power of sport to move people and nations alike. Qatar may seem the oddest of choices for the 2022 World Cup, not least when Fifa’s own technical analysis of the Qatari bid was negative, but you would have to be hard-hearted and nationalistic indeed not to feel something for the joy which erupted onto the streets of Doha yesterday. Here was a decision by two dozen secretive bureaucrats moving a country into a wholly different league.

And here is something to cheer up Mr Cameron as the weekend newspapers fill up with tens of thousands of words trying to answer the question ‘what went wrong?’ – an analysis of post Olympics elections shows a political bounce for the party in power in the host country at the time.  So a London Olympics delivered in large part by a Labour Prime Minister’s ability to charm and cajole may play a role in helping a Conservative successor’s political fortunes. Probably small comfort this weekend, but another indication of the near mystical power of sport; another reason, too, for him to reflect on the government’s ill-advised decision to axe funding for school sport, which were Fifa a rational organisation would have counted against England, and may have done so anyway. It’s the legacy, stupid.

But there I go again, looking through the narrow prism. Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium are feeling similarly cheated at rejection in favour of a very wartish warts and all Russia, and smelling the same suspicions of corruption and sharp practice. Also, spare a thought for poor old Australia. A nation virtually defined by sport got one paltry vote in their bid for 2022, then saw their cricketers torn apart by England.

To understand our failure, we should understand that if Fifa were a country, it would not look like Britain. It does not share our enthusiasm for democracy, openness and transparency. The narrow nationalist prism leads us to tut-tut and feel superior. Yet when it comes to China, soon to be a superpower, or Russia, whose television stations are yet to report any of the more embarrassing details for Vladimir Putin from the WikiLeaks mountain, or non-democratic, non-transparent countries in the Middle East, we are not averse to dealing with those countries as they are, not as we might wish them to be. WikiLeaks have provided ample fresh evidence of leaders saying one thing in public, and something very different in private. The Prime Minister, the future King and the country’s most famous global sporting icon have all experienced a similar phenomenon – of being told something to their face which a subsequent vote exposes as bare-faced lies. Not terribly British, maybe, but it happens, and the world moves on, to Russia, to Qatar, to countries where power is hard and ruthlessly expressed.

We like the idea of freedom of the press, even if we don’t like a lot of what the media delivers up. We would rather live in a country where the media is frank, fearless and free to delve into the secretive workings of powerful organisations. Even if no Fifa voter can be found to say that UK media reporting of its business was a factor, we can be sure it occupied a space in the back of their minds. Of the 11 countries involved in the bidding process yesterday, nine came in the top 42 in the Press Freedom Index. Qatar is placed at 121, Russia at 140. If Fifa were a country, it would be closer to Qatar and Russia than Holland (3) or England (19).

Nor does Fifa share England’s view of itself. We love the Premier League. Many footballing bodies hate it. We go on and on and on about World Cup victory in 1966, decades after most of the rest of the world forgot about it, because countries as varied as Brazil, Argentina, Holland, Spain and Germany produced greater teams and greater football since. As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, he was not even alive to see Bobby Moore raised aloft in victory, yet still we cannot let go of ‘’66’ as the greatest moment in sporting history.

‘Football’s coming home’ was one of the best nationalist prism football songs ever written, but the constant reminders that ‘we gave the world the game’ simply grate with Fifa, who are more interested in giving the game to the world, taking it to parts of the planet where it has yet to reach the saturation point it has reached here.

We either have to play the game, or change the rules of the game; and if we can’t change the rules, we may as well accept that England will only host the World Cup in the event of an emergency in Brazil, Russia, Qatar, or those awarded hosting rights theraeafter. Meanwhile, roll on 2012. Britain united, the world invited.

  • Brendan

    Extreamly well written and interesting take on the recent comings and going on in FIFA

  • Bernard Pressley

    I am a Telegraph reader, not a supporter of your politics, nor much of an admirer of your style. But I found your article hugely insightful and interesting. It made me realise that while many on the Right and in the media only see your brutishness, what Mr Blair clearly saw was an acute intelligence and an understanding of power. It is amusing to think it was an article on football that made this clear to me

  • Colin Mellor

    I couldn’t agree more. We think the world begins and ends at Dover, John O’Groats and Land’s end. We made a mistake in saying ‘we can stage the tournament tomorrow’. These Blatter types want to see their tournament and their sport changing the world. Russia will change and Qatar will change, and they both gave out the message to Fifa ‘we need you more than you need us’. england did it the other way round. Big mistake

  • Gordon Anderson

    Did you see Cameron had a little mention of you in his Football Focus predictions. Hoping you are still top of the League come the end of the weekend. And thanks for an interesting insight into football politics

  • FiFA and “Britain” look equally anti English from here.

  • Jenny

    There are also quite a few upsides to not hosting the World Cup, especially for those of us (a minority I know) who don’t see the world through a football-shaped prism despite the best efforts of our other halves. Not least, we’ll be spared an eight-year long jingoistic campaign in the tabloids, can once more walk along the road without the danger of being hit by a flag of St George flying off a passing car and maybe we’ll have a bit more tax-payers’ money left to spend on other things like school sport?

    Much more important is the worrying discrimination against those of us dependant on wheelie-cases. Can I make a plea for understanding and empathy? You obviously don’t realise how stressful it is travelling with a wheelie-case or that they were obviously invented as money-making scam by the airline industry.

    Size is important, as we all know, and once you’ve bought your case you had better hope it has the right dimensions (including wheels) because all airlines have slightly different guidelines, these change regularly and if you’ve inadvertently got it wrong when you reach check-in they’ll charge you £30 to put your bag in the hold. Ditto if you pack your copy of “Prelude to Power” and it takes your bag over the weight limit for hand baggage which also varies from time to time (I’m not making that up – must save up for an e-book reader).

    And I can tell you from bitter experience that those ‘this is how big your bag can be’ contraptions are really instruments of torture and humiliation. Torture, especially in a long queue, as you creep closer to the front and realise that you didn’t read the 33 screens of small print when you booked your e-ticket (and it’s going to cost you at least £30). Humiliation, because their other function is to give their bored check-in staff a good laugh as you try to jam your case somewhere it obviously wasn’t designed to go.

    Some of us are trying to break our wheelie-addiction, but in the meantime, please – give us as break!

  • Jenny

    By the way, was it just me or did Blatter enjoy describing England as “the motherland of football” just a bit too much in the moments before he announced Russia for 2018?

  • NEPHEW_FROM_POLAND

    The way you write is complete, totally not good.. its really poor

  • Quinney

    The FA got exactly what they deserved because they’ve runied the game in England. We paid £800 million for the new Wembley, situated in an industrial estate in north London, where there are no decent travel links, the stadium should have been built in Manchester as originally planned. (The CityOf Manchester stadium cost £90m, Millenium Stadium, Cardiff, £120m, Stade de France and Sydney Olympic Stadium both cost £250. All of these don’t add up to one Wembley). How much of that money could have been invested in grass roots football?
    The FA academy at Burton, ten years behind schedule and still not up and running, so what do we have? English talent squeezed out at the expense of foreign mercenaries, then we can’t believe it when we constanlty fail at every major tournament.
    The Germans have nearly 30,000 class one FIFA coaches, we have 2,700 and most of these coaches paid for their courses themselces, yet we wonder why there is no talent coming through.
    The FA Premier League, supposedly the best league in the world where the two biggest names, Liverpool and Manchester United were allowed to be brough to their knees by leveraged debt, where Manchester City were allowed to be taken over by a thief and human rights abuser, where Portsmouth had five owners in one year and one Premier League owner is not allowed a US visa as an undesirable. Fit and proper persons test? Not worth the paper it’s written on.
    Finally the price of tickets for PL games is outrageous. £40 odd quid for the cheap seats and in Germany 18 Euros and that includes the local tram. How can working clas kids ever hope to follow their teams other than on TV?
    The FA and Cameron should try and put the game right in this country before lecturing others.
    Finally, I couldn’t resist this: Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, John Barnes, Bobby Charlton, Andrew Cole, Andy Anson, Fabio Capello, David Beckham, Prince William, David Cameron….(the FA delegation). our boys took one hell of a beating…..

  • Dave Simons

    There are a lot of ‘other halves’ who have no interest whatsoever in football. I don’t even know where FIFA is – somewhere in the mid-Pacific? I do know that if an unelected potential monarch, a former member of the Bullingdon Club and a celebrity married to a celebrity came asking me for anything I’d give them short shrift as well! I also think the responses of a lot of UK commentators to not winning have been very unsporting!

  • Robert Jackson

    Perhaps a spell of total abstinence will help?

    I take pleasure nowadays in carrying nothing on or off ‘planes, trains and ferries other than what is in my pockets. Hands free.

    On the other hand, my definition of pockets is not entirely neutral.

    I inherited from Dad one of those canvas fisherman’s waistcoats with zillions of pockets: some zipped, some velcro, some big enough for a pack of sandwiches, some nicely passport-sized, some mapshaped or folded A4 papershaped.

    I had the zip turned around so all the pockets now face inwards to avoid that spotty oik/forest living survivalist look. Also keeps the pockets less pickpocketable.

    An added benefit is all the junk stays together in the vest in the tray in the xray machine.

    So just take it one day at a time.

    Life really is much better without carry-on luggage.

  • Tedkeene

    At last someone expresses a view on behalf of Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Holland. They were just as devastated that they didn’t get to host 2018. Their bids were every bit as professional as England’s yet if you read the British press it was all a conspiracy against England. I wanted Belgium/Holland. They deserved it!

  • Gilliebc

    I can’t believe you came onto Mr. Campbell’s website just to write such a ridiculous and inaccurate sentence as that.

  • graham

    It’s a game for goodness sake.
    England didn’t get the world cup.
    The olympics are coming here plus the Rugby,and the commonwealth games in glasgow over the next few years.
    Are other countries not meant to get a share of global sporting concerns?
    Are we really so myopic

  • Fatkev1963

    excellent

  • Quinney

    On Wednesday non league FC United of Manchester play League One Brighton in a second round FA Cup replay. Apparently FC United have already sold over 8,000 tickets for the game, the atmosphere will be electric. If you want to see what football should be like watch it live on ESPN.

  • The biggest mystery to me is why we even entered the competition. It’s clear from most of the recent choices made (and the ones made now) that FIFA wants to break new ground with the choice of locations. We’re as “old ground” as you could get.