Talking of injustice, the decision not to pick Spain and Portugal for the 2018 World Cup has, of course, gone down here like a lead balloon. The press, as in England, has called for a reform of FIFA and of the process of picking the hosts. One almost forgets, in all the hullabaloo, that the most important thing is to win the World Cup, not host it, but money speaks as loud as trophies these days.
The decisions to elect Russia and Qatar have their virtues, but they seem outweighed by the dysfunction of the whole messy process. It’s hardly rocket science to realise that if you adopt a system of individual, non-accountable secret voting, the process will be susceptible to corruption. And why elect the hosts of 2018 and 2022 at the same time? It seems obvious that decisions made towards the one will condition those made for the other. And so both Spain and England have called for ‘reform’, without specifying exactly what they mean by that word.
Well for starters, Sepp Blatter said that the world was changing. Ok – sure. But how about changing the world instead? I don’t wish to come over like Mother Teresa here, but why not hold the World Cup in Haiti, for example, so that football could actually begin to do some good?
Instead of looking around for rich and powerful countries, and then rewarding them by giving them even more money and power, why not direct the private investment that surrounds a World Cup into a poor country, so that it can begin the process of recovery? Give a country the infrastructure that it needs for the World Cup, but that it needs much more for its own survival. Haiti is just an example. There are plenty of other candidates.
And if we want ‘reform’, then the only way to bring it about is to elect a much wider judgement platform, in the shape of a multi-lobby committee drawn from all sections of society and chosen from a greater range of countries. This committee would then be charged with seeking consensus on about six criteria – six boxes that the candidate countries for a World Cup would have to tick. The committee’s job would be to decide on these criteria, arrive at a consensus, and then invite the candidates to apply. Nobody needs to vote. The whole process would be entirely transparent.
And the criteria? Well – as you know, most of them were ignored anyway by the present committee, since both Russia and Qatar ticked fewer boxes than most of the countries snubbed. But say, for example, that you insisted on some political criteria. Why not? The decisions for hosting have often been politically motivated, but not explicitly.
So why not insist, for example, that the host country have a decent record on human rights, a balanced distribution of wealth, a free press and some sort of political democracy or franchise? Because obviously, given such entirely reasonable criteria, Brazil, Russia and Qatar would have struggled to tick all the boxes. It wouldn’t necessarily exclude them from the prize, but they could then be encouraged to fulfill the criteria, although obviously I’m not suggesting (in the case of Qatar) that an Emirate become a western-style democracy overnight.
But the granting of the right to host a World Cup should always be provisional, and subject to conditions. If you grant a country the right to a bonanza in 12 years’ time, then you have the right to check, every couple of years, that the qualification criteria are being respected, even initiated.
In short, you use football to change things for the better, and exploit its enormous media power to generate wealth and democracy in poorer countries, instead of patting rich governments on the head for consistently interpreting human rights as if they belonged at the bottom of the page, as an optional clause.