Just as in most other countries in the world, in England, Fifa is generally an organisation filed somewhere between the “evil” and “farcical” folders. For once, it’s not just the general British mistrust of transnational governing bodies (see our position on the EU), nor our abhorrence of the idea of a foreigner having good ideas (no country reserves as much bile for Michel Platini as we do) – no, with Fifa it’s probably that rare thing in England: a justified hatred.
Take the Qatar conundrum, for example. Not only was the decision seen as so patently corrupt that most newspapers can write as much without fear of a libel claim, the debacle over the winter versus summer debate continues to reach depressing new lows.
First we saw Blatter, in all his idiosyncratic glory, perform a hearty U-Turn over the possibility of a Winter World Cup. From a staunch opponent, he became the glorious Sometimes, Fifa’s president really does resemble less of a malevolent overlord and more an adorably out of touch little fairy, blowing happily about with the relevant winds of disapproval. That such an unpopular man is such an eager populist is one of many great mind fucks of the modern game.
Jerome Valcke’s recent booby, meanwhile, has only muddied the waters further. Fifa's Secretary General disobeyed the Party line this week, seemingly confirming to a French radio station that the decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in winter was a completed one.
The beauty of Fifa’s incessant errors is that England’s hearty selection of unimaginative opinion peddlers has a very easy line of attack. Rather than get bogged down in analysis of tough topics, with a problem like Qatar, England has license to do what it does best, and get indignant.
Ron Atkinson, for example, former Manchester United manager and unfortunate goer down in history as the man who racially insulted Marcel Desailly on live television, is a wonderful example. Atkinson enlightened us all with his view that “Fifa have no other choice. The right and wrong of the situation is whether it should have been given to them in the first place”. Thank God for good English common sense, eh? That viewpoint might never have come out otherwise. We can’t simply blame Atkinson, though. There are quite literally thousands of people queueing up to make the same point, in the same banal manner.
The more interesting development is that Richard Scudamore – the alpha male among the Premier League’s nomenclature – has not yet reacted to Valcke’s ill advised outburst. Scudamore looks like the bastard offspring of Tony Blair and Jerome Valcke himself, and is about as slimy an individual as that horrendous notion suggests.
Nonetheless, he has, in recent months, set himself up as Europe’s noble defender against the evil forces of Fifa, questioning the organisation’s right to say when their tournament may be held, fiercely arguing that the league schedule must be valued above all else, and concluding that to hold a World Cup in winter would be a “morally reprehensible” decision for Fifa to make.
To think we hold Fifa up as a bunch of power crazed buffoons. Scudamore is surely just as mad. Among allegations of political corruption and proof of forced labour on a mass scale, it is the fact that Europe’s football leagues will have to alter their schedules and therefore lose some money that Scudamore holds up as the “morally reprehensible” part of this whole debate.
So maybe it is a good thing that he hasn’t raised his voice in protest this time around. Maybe someone has had a quiet word in his ear and told him that if he can’t argue against Fifa without getting it wrong, he should probably not argue at all. Suddenly, I am filled with hope. Hope that England and particularly English football, has finally recognised its own shortcomings and decided to take a more reasonable approach to the problems of football. Hope that my nation has cast aside petty, partisan, us-against-the-world prejudices in favour of constructive debate. Hope, but also apprenhension, that England may be forsaking its raison d’etre.
Then I read a comment left underneath a newspaper article on Fifa which reads: “England should leave Fifa and rule the world once more”. Thank God for that. My dear, pig-headed nation lives on.