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World Cup makes the UN green with envy

By Rob Shilkin - posted Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Kofi Annan recently penned a newspaper column outlining how much the FIFA World Cup has to teach the UN. The Secretary General's piece was replete with noble platitudes about the importance of free trade, human migration and "level playing fields".

"The World Cup makes us at the UN green with envy," Annan opined. And well it should. For a start, people actually care about the World Cup. It is relevant, important to billions, run accountably and does not cower to players who cheat and bully.

It is gladdening that the UN apparently wishes to learn from the World Cup and not vice versa. One can only imagine what the World Cup would look like if it followed the UN's lead.


First, each player would be entitled to 11 strongly worded warnings about "serious consequences" before receiving a card, at which stage teams of international lawyers would write conflicting opinion pieces about whether the rules require the player to be sent off. (The game would be over before a decision is made.)

Each game would involve 15 officials, who would provide their non-binding views from the sidelines. There would be five on-field referees with the power to award spot kicks for infractions, but any such decisions would usually be vetoed by the Russian and Chinese referees.

Teams that persistently engaged in deliberate diving and aggressive leg-chopping would be rewarded by a place on the FIFA Rules Committee.

FIFA would set up a ticketing system, supposedly to ration tickets independently and ensure that all fans had an opportunity to attend. Somehow though, Kojo Annan (Kofi's son who was implicated in the Oil for Food scandal) and George Galloway would wind up with enormous allocations that they would scalp for triple the face value.

On the security front, at the first sign of fan violence in the stands, the police would immediately evacuate, or else remain as neutral "observers" only. Three days later, FIFA would issue a statement condemning the violence and urging rioting fans to "show continuing restraint".

Finally, when trying to defend a free kick in front of goal, the Israeli team would be prohibited from using a wall.


It is clear that, across the full spectrum of its bloated operations, the UN has a long way to go to match the international respect and enthusiasm that the World Cup generates.

However, if Kofi Annan is genuinely searching for a tangible lesson, he should study the history of the World Cup finals since he became Secretary General (France 1998, South Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006). The moral for the UN could not be more stark.

During Annan's reign, not one despotic or theocratic state has qualified for the second round of the World Cup finals. The final 16 of the World Cup is an utterly exclusive domain of democratic nations.

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First published in the Daily Telegraph on July 1, 2006.

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About the Author

Rob Shilkin is a lawyer at Clayton Utz in Sydney. His Op-Ed pieces on international affairs have been published in Australian newspapers and magazines.

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