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By Tony Attwood
So what does England really do about this world cup stuff?
There are some interesting options such as
1: Get deep inside Fifa and try to reform what must be the most corrupt sporting body ever seen on the planet.
2: Stay in Fifa, but have nothing to do with their coaching schemes, and their special projects.
3: Recognise that Fifa is corrupt, and be thankful that unlike many members of Fifa we have a country in which the corruption can be exposed (even if most of our media refused even to recognise it up til the moment the bid result was announced.)
Trouble is, each approach unfortunately raises more questions than it answers. If we get inside Fifa does that mean we don’t expose the deep corruption of the organisation? If we stay inside do we do nothing about the fact that England is to be discriminated against, probably for the next 30 or 40 years?
I have another idea – that we should actually just ignore the whole load of rubbish, and start trying to sort out our own problems – leaving corrupt Fifa to muck about however it wants. (Actually of course I would like England to pull out totally, but that won’t happen, so I’m not even bothering to look at that alternative.)
So, I turn my own question around and ask, what did the world cup bid reveal about what is wrong with football in England? Here’s a few thoughts.
1: We are utterly naive – as witness the fact that England put in a bid and seriously thought we were going to win – even up to the last minute. The corruption of Fifa has been outlined for years by the Observer newspaper (not a paper I like, but one that has actually kept up the assault in its Said & Done column for a long time). Goodness, you could even have got a picture about how corrupt the whole show is from the FICK FUFA articles we have published over the last few years.
So operation number 1: stop being so pathetically simplistic when dealing with international bodies. Make the starting point that this is a mafia-style organisation run by crooks often for crooks.
2: We like to blame the media. I don’t like what English newspapers do, and I am horrified by the dreadful blandness of a lot of our TV, not the mention the childishness of sport on radio. But if that is the price to pay for the occasional bouts of investigative journalism, then so be it. I don’t have to read it or watch it, and I turn the sound off when a game is on Sky TV. But I want the media to be there to expose what’s going on.
Especially at this moment when there are voices raised everywhere suggesting that Wikileaks should be banned across the internet. I want freedom of expression protected not curtailed.
Criticising the exposure of corruption in Fifa, whether it was the day before or the day after the selection of the next places to have a world cup was pathetic and an attack on the freedoms that our forefathers (or to be specific, the previous generation of my family) fought to preserve. Can you imagine a world run by Fifa? Sadly I can, and it doesn’t help me sleep at night.
3: The FA should root out everyone who in the bid process called Fifa executive members “our friends”. By and large I am not in favour of public execution, but for that crime I will make an exception. The UK is a hugely flawed democracy but it is still a democracy, and democracy is part of our national institution. At least the acting chair (or whatever he was) of the FA had the decency to resign. The rest of the suits should have gone too, and the fact that they have not, speaks volumes.
4: The FA should in fact reverse its policy, and make itself the centre for exposing the corruption in Fifa. Of course they can’t because they agreed to give tax-free facilities and services to all Fifa people during the World Cup that we wanted to hold. Plus their own car lanes (oh how the FA suits would have loved that).
5: We should abandon all attempts to do anything with Fifa – but look at other issues instead. OK, England will still play in the world cup, but let’s just do that and nothing else. Instead we should be occupying our time investigating why EPL clubs need to recruit overseas players in order to compete at the top level.
I am a 10000% believer in the ideals of the EU, and I think that the freedom of movement of the workforce across the largest economic bloc in the world is one of the most brilliant political/economic developments of my lifetime. So I have no problem with men from across the EU coming to play football here.
But I am sad that so many English youngsters who could become decent footballers don’t make it, because of the appalling lack of good quality coaches in this country. (You might remember my analysis of coaching levels, measured against population, number of players, number of clubs etc. The Guardian did me the honour of taking the story and running it – although sadly without acknowledging me – but that’s how it goes.)
I don’t argue this point to make England into world cup winners, but just because I would like the kids to have better opportunities.
6: The FA and the EPL and the Football League should get together and support the Uefa initiative on finances in football. The lower leagues have done this – I am not 100% au fait with the way the Conference works, but I believe that to stay in the Conference (the 5th division) the clubs have to be solvent, and running at a profit. Or something like that.
But the EPL has been against the new financial regulations, saying that the benefactor model has always been around and is part of the “English way”.
Yes it is, and yes, Arsenal dominated the 1930s because from 1913 onwards Henry Norris poured his entire fortune into making Arsenal a super-club. But that history does not mean we have to follow that route now.
England should become the home of economic good sense in football, not the country that is dragging its feet.
But this is the ancien régime we are talking about here.
The fact that none of the above will happen doesn’t actually matter too much since the FA is bankrupt, financially, morally and creatively (exactly like the government of Louis XVI . It needs to fill Wembley for game after game, and yet with no world cup, and a rubbish national team, it seems unlikely to be able to do that – and it has no plan B. The notion that professional qualified coaches might be needed has always been beyond the intellectual grasp of the FA, and the EPL’s stand on financial doping suggests that there are no plans on what to do when England stops being the greatest football show on earth (in league terms) and someone else takes over. (Come to think of it, it has no plan A either).
What’s more, none of the discussions that have been held about football show a recognition of the collapse in almost all of European football outside Germany. If the talk is of Spain it is to mention that three quarters of the players in the Spanish league are qualified to play for Spain, and how wonderful Real Mad v Barca was – as if that makes a blind bit of difference. Where is the commentary of the fact that Barca failed to pay their players in June, that they don’t fill their stadium for most games, and that something like 80% of their league are teetering on the financial edge – just like the national economy.
Add to this the collapse of Italian football as a spectacle and as an economically sustainable model, plus the player strike in that country, (or come to that even the ref strike in Scotland) and it is clear that this is all something that has already slipped over the edge.
And I reach that conclusion without even touching on the sheer madness of Portugal and Spain, whose economies are so far gone that there isn’t a serious economist on the planet who can see a way out for them, and yet they are spending millions (like England) actually bidding for the world cup from Corrupt Fifa. Football fans are, (in the eyes of the media), too thick to understand these pesky details. So best not to mention it.
Meanwhile back in England we actually turn the fiasco of the national football centre at Burton into a celebration – after 20 years of mucking about someone has said we are going to build it. Personally I wouldn’t bank on it – especially given the losses that Wembley will make in the next few years.
So maybe something good might come out of the world cup fiasco. The FA will continue to dither, as the ground is swept from beneath them. Had the FA won the rights to the world cup, they would have survived without any problem. Now, I really have my doubts. This might be the start of the end for one of the most moribund self-harming and inept organisations in the history of football (and that’s saying something). If it is I have no idea what will replace it, but surely it can’t be any worse.
Political note: if you are a UK resident and you agree that it is wrong that government funding should be cut while Vodophone, Topshop, BHS, Dorothy Perkins, and most recently Cadbury, should avoid UK tax by utilising tax loopholes that the UK government refuses to shut down, please visit UK Uncut
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