Hawk Eye

FIFA: Of contradictions and confusions

FIFA President Sepp Blatter

FIFA President Sepp Blatter   | Photo Credit: STEVE CHRISTO

It’s a measure of FIFA’s ability to create a mess that it claimed some of the news space currently reserved for the ICC’s apathy towards Associate and Affiliate nations.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a winter World Cup. I have never had the opportunity to snugly fit in my bed and watch football’s greatest show on the telly. I could even be in Qatar eight years later; as the years pass, there’s nothing to say that I won’t be attracted to contracts that offer exploitation and make me a slave.

Going beyond personal concerns, though, I’m all for an expansionist vision for the sport. Even if the summer is incredibly harsh in some parts of the world, it should not be held against a country when it comes to deciding who gets to host the World Cup. Geographical and logistical difficulties have been overcome before and certainly can be dealt with efficiently now.

Some say the winter World Cup will disrupt the European football season and since it’s the continent’s leagues that provide the chunk of the players at the tournament, it’s not wise to disregard their concerns. With even UEFA siding with the November-December timeline suggested by FIFA’s taskforce, there have been murmurs of a potential breakaway. That eventuality, it must be stressed, is far away.

However, as many suggested once the taskforce’s recommendations became public, altering the traditional calendar once in a quarter of century is a minor inconvenience that the clubs should suffer stoically.

Even FIFA’s inscrutable General Secretary Jerome Valcke, in typical fashion, asked without the slightest hint of apprehension, “Why should we apologise to the clubs?”

Why indeed. Obviously, the game shouldn’t be run for the rich and powerful.

The tenderness of FIFA is such that extended its TV deals with Fox and Telemundo in the USA to the 2026 event without opening the bidding process. The fact that there was no tender because the governing body wanted to avert a legal battle should be afforded little consideration.

Such minor arguments, sadly for FIFA, gain strength when dwelled upon further. “For the good of the game”, the body’s guiding sentiment, has become a statement that could rival any One Direction song for banality. FIFA’s malignant intentions have already greased the game’s reputation much; further greasing threatens to corrode football.

It’s probably a good time to accept the World Cup will be held in Qatar. No matter how many deaths occur on account of human rights violations, no matter if more underhand dealings are unearthed in the bidding process, no matter accusations of some Qataris funding Islamic State terrorists are aired every now and then. Qatar will remain the favourite of the football establishment for the business and leisure activities it offers.

The country’s links with the football industry run deep. FC Barcelona, the club that supposedly stands for idealism in football, has its jersey sponsored by Qatar’s state-owned airways. Last year, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker even went to the length of saying that the company shares its values with the Catalan club.

If one were to focus solely on the country’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup, it’s enlightening to remember that UEFA President Michel Platini spent time with then French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and the Emir of Qatar ahead of the voting that decided the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. France Football, one of country’s widely read magazines, had later alleged that Sarkozy had pressurised the former French footballer to vote for Qatar. Platini’s son, Laurent, was employed by Qatar Sports Investment fund as a lawyer too.

There have been other incidents as well that have suggested integrity is a word that means little when one considers Qatar’s World Cup hosting bid. Not to forget FIFA is yet to convince any unbiased observer that its bidding process was conducted fairly.

Obviously, the ones who question Qatar are often accused of being biased against the up-and-coming football nation. The argument doesn’t hold water. Despite the largely European hold over football, it’s the leading administrative figures from the continent that have overtly or covertly supported Qatar’s bid in the past.

As for the clubs, one can understand why they seek to avoid upheaval. A winter World Cup is likely to have a knock-on effect on three seasons. A shorter build-up period and tournament are the concessions being made by FIFA to assuage disenchantment.

It remains to be seen, however, how a 28-day World Cup would not harm the tournament logistically and quality-wise. Last year’s competition in Brazil was played over 32 days, with seven non-match days. With no format changes in the offing, the World Cup in Qatar could be left with only three such days. There exists no clarity over how the curtailed schedule would allow enough recovery and preparation time for teams at the tournament.

Those problems will be solved, or remain unresolved if FIFA’s recent form is a reliable guide, in due course. The governing body’s continuing nonchalance in face of severe criticism is more worrying and unnerving. Nothing seems to be good enough to upset the brazenness of FIFA.

“It’s happening once, we’re not destroying football,” asserted General Secretary Valcke on Wednesday. Ah, well…

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 10:29:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blog-hawk-eye/article6941767.ece

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