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Qatar and the World Cup

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The delusionary forces of football commentary have been bringing out the scrubbers, hoping that allegations of corruption, deep in the bowels of FIFA and World Cup bids, will simply wash away.  Gavin Brown of The Metro wishes that the “football do the talking” after the “stench” of such allegations evidently made him pall in disappointment.  With the tournament now starting, the pessimists and down cast brigade had to be given their silencing orders.

Brazil is the appropriate venue for what has been termed the world game, but Brazil, if you read the appropriate sources, is entirely inappropriate for many who see a government confused by its priorities. Football, for all its visual merits, does not take people across a city. It doesn’t ameliorate conditions of poverty – at least for the vast majority of people. It has become, at least at the elite level, extortionately expensive.

It is true that South America has managed to bring the poem to football, to see its players as majestic, graceful, even libidinal. Hysterical outbursts at the scoring of a goal resonate with orgasmic potency. This does nothing to powder or conceal the ugliness that is the modern game.

For too long, the aesthetic delights of “football” have been doing the sort of talking that simply relegates the game to that of marionettes battling on a pitch. The true players, the speech givers, and the policy makers, are the ones brokering the deals and forging the agreements that whittle reserves and see other sources of money vanish. Brown assumes this to be axiomatic with big sporting events. If you want spectacles, you are bound to get some dirt in the master mix.

Qatar’s 2022 bid was one such show, and more countries are calling for a full review of the award. Australia, for instance, is seeking to recoup over $40 million expended in the bid, suggesting rather imaginatively that a clean process (is there such a thing in this sport?) would have led to an improvement in their chances. The better view is expressed by David Hill, the former Soccer Australia boss who suggested that the Rudd Government had been “mad” to throw public funds at an enterprise “when everybody knew the process was crook.”

The individual sprung in the act is bound to find some formidable excuse, though the race card is a fanciful one, even by the standards of a FIFA chief.  Sepp Blatter, who feels the FIFA crown slipping from his heavily greased grasp, did not have much time for the suggestions that the Qatar bid was mucked and tucked from the start.  The British media, noisy and vindictive with claims of foul play, have become a distinct target. “Once again, there is the sort of storm against FIFA relating to the Qatar World Cup.”

The British side of the bidding has tended to come up short, with its 2018 effort receiving the loneliest of solitary votes.  Britain might well have been a pioneer of football, but it wasn’t a pioneer of football politics, a field it remains a conspicuous amateur in.

Rarely does Blatter reflect on the labyrinthine monster that is FIFA politics, its ducking and weaving the stuff of legend. If he is right to be annoyed about anything, it is simply the fact that Qatar is a standout in a rather rotten field. Bids for the World Cup tend to find company with Olympic ones. Ample amounts of cash will carry you far, and if you do have at least some good chance of getting the stadiums up and running by the opening date, few will complain.

The other feature of such monumental bids is personal. Blatter, following the legacy of other presidents before, cultivates fiefdoms and props supporters. He will reward those who are kind to him, the only problem being that such rewards don’t tend to be his.  He is looking for a fifth term.

To be fair to Blatter, the Qatari example is more specific to Mohamed bin Hammam, who had been busy stirring up enthusiasm among African and Asian nations for the state.  It is hard to surmise that Bin Hammam’s activity was off Blatter’s radar, having been FIFA’s vice-president.  Football is business, and winning World Cups off the field is arguably one of the biggest businesses there is.

Sponsors have been muttering about money that might be going to a bad cause. In what can only be a remarkable attack of conscience, upstanding corporate members such as Castrol. Budweiser, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Sony and Visa have expressed concern.  What if these allegations were true? The overfed cat, they fear, may be out of the bag. “Anything that detracts from the values of football, the values of the World Cup, the idea of fair play,” claimed James Quincey, President of Coca-Cola Europe, “is of concern to us, yes absolutely.”

Quincey is certainly over-egging the pudding here, not least because his company can hardly come to be regarded as a paragon of equitable practice. What game he is observing, and from what standpoint, is highly questionable. Fair play is a well and truly extinct animal when it comes to the multi-billion dollar industry that is world football. Unfair play, however, is rife and king.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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