Saturday, 4 December 2010

World Cup Failure Should Lead to Reform at Home

It seemed as if the whole of the UK lifted its arms in unison in a WTF expression, part bewilderment, part resignation.  The brutal fact was that the World Cup would not be coming home in 2018.

Neither will it be in 2026 – people have already been told not to hold their breath for that tournament.  That great bastion of democracy, China, has already been earmarked to host that event, or so it seems.

It looks very much as if England might not host the tournament until the ten year olds who cried themselves to sleep the other day have ten year olds of their own – and only then if we are lucky.

Yes, there was great gnashing of teeth and not only because of the cold snap that had overtaken the island nation.  How could we have failed?  The real question should be how could we have won?

People point at the revelations in The Times and on the BBC investigative show Panorama.  Many are saying that had these revelations about FIFA not been made then the UK may have won the bid.

I find that naive in the extreme.  The die was cast a long time before.  If anything, the decision to go ahead with the disclosures now looks to me like a great big traditional (yet prescient) finger up to FIFA. So, well done The  Times and the BBC.

As for the winning countries.  Oh dear.  Yes, Russia is now known around the world for its corrupt political system, in fact it led one British tabloid to infer that it was simply one mafia style organisation handing over a prize to a mafia style government.  Yes, Qatar has no real history of football and only one football stadium.  But it does have a world class record for ignoring the rights of its inhabitants and the guest workers who live and toil there.

Perhaps FIFA were thinking along the same terms as the people of the Olympic Committee who awarded the Olympic Games to Germany in 1936.  Who can possibly say what was going on in their minds?

To be frank, I don't give a flying f**k through a rolling donut about who is hosting the games.  So, the two countries who will host the World Cup are not perfect.  Yet, instead of pointing fingers, what people should really be doing is looking at the parlous state of soccer in the land of its modern birth.

Let’s take a look at how British football got in to the parlous state it is in now.  Over the last twenty years or so most of the top English clubs have been taken over by millionaires and billionaires whose roots are anything but British.  The clubs are treated like the playthings of the rich (which of course they are) and then thrown out of the pram when the next bright shiny new toy comes along.

Clubs up and down the UK have watched in bewilderment as their grounds have been sold off and the money grabbed by a bunch of anonymous carpet baggers.  Even the most successful of all the clubs have enormous debts which could well threaten their existence if their financial plug is pulled by those to whom they owe the money.

The media see football as just another form of reality TV and concentrate on the private lives of the players instead of provoking and promoting serious debate about the sport itself.  When the premiership is on the media coverage is at saturation point – as if every single British passport holder must be obsessed with the game (talk to my mother – you will find they are not).

Last of all the players.  Overpaid and spoiled they are at the vanguard of the media frenzy when it suits them and bleating like children when it doesn’t go their own way. Their vast wealth enables them to make morally ambiguous turnarounds without the whiff of introspection.  Their self delusional over inflated opinion of themselves means they have even attempted to stifle free speech with enormously expensive court injunctions.

The traditional values of the game (a cheap way of entertainment, a good day or night out, and so on) are gone.  Television has demanded that the sport twist and turn itself in to something unrecognizable to fit in to schedules.  The fantasy has gone – as has the community spirit.

Most of the kids I see around the streets wear Manchester United kits and profess to follow that team, despite being around two hundred miles away from Old Trafford.  I suspect sometimes that they have not even heard of the clubs whose grounds are spitting distance from their homes.

The prices have evolved with the game so that you need to take out a second mortgage to afford a season ticket.  So, instead of going to matches supporters cheer from their armchairs.  The problem there is that they usually have to buy subscriptions for that – so more money is put in to the pockets of the likes of Rupert Murdoch.

This, in a vicious circle, further drives the very exploitation of the sport that is destroying it.

There are a lot of things wrong with Russia and Qatar, both as countries and as venues for the tournament.  If England had won this bid it would have perhaps made it look (to us) as if everything was fine with soccer here.  It would have been a exoneration of the culture of celebrity, commercial exploitation, foreign investment and disregard for ordinary fans which has wrecked the beautiful game.

At least with the World Cup elsewhere, we will at least undergo our four-yearly humiliation very, very far from home.

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