It did not take Einstein to understand that Qatar, a state totalling two million people with no footballing history, let alone stadia, where summer temperatures can reach 50C, most probably used more than just its impressive bid to secure the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It won with almost double the vote share of the second-placed USA, despite the latter pitching a star-studded campaign led by Bill Clinton.
The alleged corruption exposed by The Sunday Times aside, it is frankly amazing the football and political world have only just now begun to seriously consider a re-vote. Since building began, there have been 382 recorded deaths. This in itself should have been enough to prompt calls for the games to move away from Qatar. It would be difficult to strip the games from a country on the grounds of poor health and safety, but the sheer scale of death and slave labour of its workers is on a near biblical scale. The nation which gave the world football must not turn the other way when an estimated 4,000 workers are expected to die before 2022 because of what is, ultimately, just a sports tournament.
Instead, Britain, led by David Cameron’s diplomatic efforts, should take a moral and a political lead on these games. We hold a uniquely privileged position in football’s governing body.Uniquely, the four British associations have held the vice-presidency of FIFA since they joined in 1946. Combined with our history of spreading football to the world and continued global success of the domestic league, this means David Cameron is perfectly positioned to rally other leaders in calling for these corrupt games to be scrapped whilst also radically reforming FIFA’s rotten core. Ironically this could even be an opportunity to demonstrate the European Union as a force for good, should its leaders look to work together on an issue which the average person can understand and relate to, and indeed will very likely support.
Like any strong negotiating stance, we should have requests for reform backed up by real threats. England should be looking to lead a coalition of nations to threaten a boycott of these games if necessary and be willing to cut off its membership. Without this, FIFA has no real incentive to reform. FIFA needs the leading nations to step up and push home real change or else corruption will remain endemic. This is completely achievable. After all it is Europe that finances football. The Conservative Party could show few more potent symbols of being on the side of the average voter than by leading the charge to reform the people’s game.
The truth is, however, that to date, instead of leading the world and galvanising others to push forward reform, we have been guilty at times of appeasing FIFA: most notably when former FA Chairman Geoff Thompson infamously gave £230 Mulberry handbags to disgraced FIFA delegate Jack Warner’s wife. Though this placed Britain as hypocritical, Thompson’s bribe were rather pitiful compared to Qatar’s “Machiavellian expertise” – exemplified by the $30,000 allegedly given to Kalusha Bwalya, President of the Zambian Football Association, for his “personal expenditures” .
The power of football in uniting people from all different races, countries and backgrounds is incredibly precious and unparalleled in our world today. It is truly one of the few arenas where all nations can come together on an equal footing. That is precisely the reason we need to ensure that football is governed fairly and in the interests of the globe’s population, not an outrageous elite. Politics and sport are rightly often not mixed but the stakes for where 2022 is hosted are now too high. Unless our leaders begin to advocate meaningful change, then the chances of competitions being run in the interest of the world’s people, instead of a handful of the super-rich, are perhaps even less likely than the Three Lions bringing football home this summer.
Alistair Lexden: Vivid writing, voracious research. Antonia Fraser’s account of the slow story of Catholic emancipation.
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