For the first time in my life I am not looking forward to the World Cup football finals.
All the elements I have enjoyed in the past are there: England, where I was born, is playing, as are the Socceroos which, having lived in Australia for most of my life, I also wish well – and the Netherlands, whose adventurous style I have admired since the days of Johan Cruyff and 'total football'.
Yet I am unmoved by it all and find myself irritated by the endless repeats of Australian broadcaster SBS's advertisement for its coverage and its mindless slogan – The World Cup of a Lifetime – what on earth does that mean? There have been 16 World Cup tournaments in my lifetime.
I can remember 14 of them, from the flickering black-and-white images beamed into my English living room from Sweden in 1958 to the excellent coverage of the South African edition more than half a century later. In between I attended two tournaments and gained an extraordinary amount of excitement, jubilation, frustration and despair as the fortunes of my favourites ebbed and flowed.
But not this time. I am left cold by the breathless descriptions of how the magic woven by Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar will make this the greatest World Cup ever, taking place in the country that has won the competition more times than any other, in front of the greatest television audience in history etc etc.
Maybe it is the quite legitimate protests of many Brazilians who believe the billions of dollars their country has spent on hosting the competition is obscene when so many of their citizens are living in abject poverty, exploding the long-held myth that the country is united in semi-religious fervour for the sport.
Maybe it is the invasion of advertising executives, media moguls and celebrity glamour whose attachment to the World Cup rests on the amount of dollars to be made and the need to be 'seen', rather than the football. I can remember being invited in to a sponsor's box at a major game where even a goal being scored hardly raised the interest of the suits standing at the back in their endless rounds of self-promotion and deal-making.
But above all it is the sheer weight of graft and corruption that is burdening the game at its highest level. I began thinking about this article even before the latest events surrounding the flawed choice of Qatar to hold the 2022 edition of the World Cup made headlines around the world
Qatar, an absolute monarchy of just over two million people, the 164th largest country in the world with its 11,500 square kilometres so cramped the stadiums that must be built will be virtually in sight of one another; perched in the Persian Gulf with temperatures as high as 50degC during the time when World Cups are usually held.
A more unsuitable choice is hard to imagine. If, as the ruling body of the sport, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, has since lamely pointed out, it is an opportunity to bring the competition to that part of the world for the first time, why wasn't it shared among the other micro-States in the area – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman?
Now of course we know why. One thing that oil-and-gas-rich Qatar has plenty of is money – and money talks big among those who control this sport at its highest level. It seems quite clear that money 'bought' enough people who counted to see Qatar ease past far better credentialed candidates of Australia, Japan and South Korea.
But it seems Football Federation Australia's (FFA) name has also been dragged into the whole sorry business with reports, which it strenuously denies, that it did nothing when FIFA Executive member Jack Warner allegedly pocketed almost $500,000 given by FFA for a stadium upgrade in Trinidad and Tobago – which some commentators are saying was made to sweeten Australia's own bid for the 2022 tournament.
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