Qatar 1, the “Cradle of Football©” 0

So, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be played in Russia and it’s a topic that has dominated the sports media all week.

Am I alone in being fairly indifferent to this decision ?  If the English media are anything to go by, this is an international betrayal of Cuban Missile Crisis proportions.  All kinds of insinuations and accusations fill today’s red-tops about dodgy deals and fixes.  Sounds like a severe case of sour grapes to me.

Let’s face it, Russia has never hosted a major international football tournament.  It’s a huge country with a great footballing tradition and they probably deserve their chance.  All the stuff about Putin and the Russian Mafia, about bungs and fixes and behind-the-scenes shenanigans is just the moral panic of a sore loser.  Even if some of these stories are true, do people honestly believe that this is the first time that corruption has reared its ugly head in the placement of major sporting events like this?  How many palms did London grease in order to secure the 2012 Olympic Games?  But, of course, being English, we wouldn’t do that would we?

The real culprit here is FIFA, who like their counterparts at UEFA, have turned what should be a behind-closed-doors internal administrative decision into a three-ring circus.  Celebrities and politicians are enlisted to support the bid from their native countries and the whole thing has developed into an event that combines the worst features of the Eurovision Song Contest and the Oscars. 

And, of course, it affords that loathsome apparatchik Sepp Blatter a chance to strut his stuff in front of the world’s media, an opportunity he can never resist.

Terry Lineker – “England has nil points – send a gunboat!”

The people who seem most affected by England’s failure here seem to be media darlings like Beckham, Lineker et al.  No-one that I know has even mentioned the topic to me in the weeks of hype and hysteria that have just come to a shuddering, ill-tempered halt.  The likelihood is that people will accuse the media – and in particular The Sunday Times & the BBC of torpedoing the English bid.  I’d love to be able to suggest that it’s probably more important that the media are actively trying to root out corruption in the world’s leading football authority, but how altruistic are they in doing so?  In any case, FIFA is too opaque an organisation for anyone to truly unravel  its labyrinthine workings and the wheelers and dealers will just lie low until the journalists turn their attention elsewhere.

In the long run, the decision to award the 2022 tournament to the small Gulf state of Qatar should provoke the greater astonishment.  Here is a country with no footballing tradition and a climate that is hostile to any sporting activity more energetic than snooker.  Whilst England’s toy soldiers lick their wounds and curse journalists, the rest of the world will probably be talking about Qatar.  FIFA will no doubt come out with a load of pompous guff about opening up football in the Middle East and stressing how the stadia are going to be dismantled and shipped off to Malawi or Milton Keynes afterwards, but the tale of how this deal was done is surely the real story here.  Journalists from the BBC are no doubt booking flights to Doha even as I write.

Ultimately, the real victims of the 2018 vote are probably the Ing-er-land team, who know that they will now have to qualify for Russia – failure to do so and the already tainted reputation of the FA and the national team could be damaged beyond repair.  The question is, by that point will anyone except the media hacks give a damn?

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