Friday, December 3, 2010
On level playing pitches and moving goal posts
So, as I mentioned a couple of emails ago, FIFA had little intention of supporting England’s bid, despite it being the best constructed, most viable and economically beneficial to grass roots football throughout the world. The 22, largely old men, who are steeped in forms of negotiation and power that are beyond the comprehension and experience of the Brits had little compunction in saying they were going to support the English bid and then reneging at the last possible moment.
Well, I am a much travelled man and what you discover when you travel is that cultural norms differ wherever you find yourself. For example, in Ghana it is likely that, whatever you suggest will be agreed by your opposite number. This is a norm. It has little bearing on what your opposite number may decide to do. People here regard it as showing good grace. But they dislike intensely any criticism, implied or direct, regardless of the justification for it. I found when working in Uzbekistan that people agreed with your strategy and then went off to find out whether it was politically acceptable. Similarly in Russia. In France there can be a nationalism that rejects suggestions, theories and hypotheses from ‘foreigners’. In Africa, generally, everyone suspects voting results because they know the likelihood of rigging and many indulge in it for themselves, anyway. Bribes are part of every day interactions, as they are in most countries outside those with an investigative free press and openness to public scrutiny.
England was on a loser from the beginning (as were the USA and Australia). Blatter’s word sways delegates from the developing world because he has the power to award funding and doesn’t really hide it. He is also known to dislike the British. He has an overblown sense of personal legacy which, in his terms means that he has raised his profile as god of football as a means to bring about social and political development in his empire. It is no surprise that FIFA decided to hold two ballots on one day, making it possible for collusion between delegates to advance the causes of Russia and Qatar to the detriment of the traditional football playing nations, despite the odds. It is also no surprise that FIFA laid down one set of criteria (which the English felt made them pre-eminent bidders) but, at the death, changed the goalposts.
So, thinking about it, the English did not stoop (in their terms) to the internecine tactics of their competitors who then gleefully walked off with the prizes. Over time more will come out (perhaps through Wikileaks) but the chances that anything will be done about it will be minimal. The English and Scottish may have invented the rules but they were the rules of football, not of football politics.
And this latter point holds in it the promise of biters being bitten. Russia kills its investigative journalists with impunity. Its mafia roam free and its institutions kow tow to the old KGB. Qatar imprisons homosexuals, restricts peaceful assembly and has different laws for foreign workers. The votes of two women are generally regarded as equal to one man. The World Cup brings with it the cultural norms of other nations and there is nothing more liberalising than the every day traveller and his/her expectations. Alphadogs and Emirs are about to discover the cost to their power and influence.
Maybe Blatter IS a god and this was his strategy all along… Why do I doubt it?