Thursday, November 4, 2010

English press puts Russia in pole position

Blatter.England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup looks shakier by the day as its media turns up the heat on football corruption.

Today the BBC revealed that the Football Association's bidding team feel they have suffered a serious setback after the Sunday Times forced FIFA to act on allegations that two Executive Committee members were selling their votes.

President Sepp Blatter has already signalled his organisation's panic against the British media probes, with England's 2018 bidding team nervously praying FIFA will not take out their anger on them instead. According to the BBC, the FA believe that the recent publicity around FIFA members selling votes (hardly a surprise) has "significantly harmed" England's hopes of hosting the tournament in eight years' time, and that further revelations would deal their bid a fatal blow.

"One can ask whether such an action is appropriate, trying to set traps for people," said Blatter."We are asking ourselves why did it happen and why did it happen specifically by English journalists? We are looking at that."

With FIFA's Ethics Committee due to discuss the allegations leveled at Nigeria's Amos Adamu and Tahiti's Reynald Tamarii in a couple of weeks, the proximity of the World Cup vote on the 2nd of December will ensure the other 22 Executive Committee members stay on their guard against further revelations, with BBC's Panorama preparing another special edition.

While any spring-cleaning of FIFA's house is welcome to ensure transparency prevails, the losers could well be the FA should the 24 Executive Committee members choose to punish them by association. This would be unfair as the FA were the victims themselves when the Mail on Sunday exposed their chairman Lord Triesman's extra-curricular dalliance with a secretary, forcing him to resign ignominiously in May this year.

The UK media has long taken a lead in investigative journalism surrounding the sport's governing body for a while - David Yallop kicked it off with 'How They Stole the Game' in 1999, exposing Joao Havelange's crooked hi-jacking of the FIFA Presidency and his subsequently tainted business practices, following the civilised reign of Sir Stanley Rous.

Andrew Jennings then took up the baton four years ago with his equally explosive book 'Foul!', which shone a harsh light on Blatter's realm and his unscrupulous lieutenants, particularly the uber-knave Jack Warner of Trinidad, whom Jennings has pursued ever since.

Britain's football press has not been patriotic for years. Since the 1980s, Fleet Street's soccer hacks have never missed an opportunity to derail an England star or manager with prurient exposés of their private lives and would surely leap at the chance to show their World Cup bid was corrupt, which it does not appear to be.

Reporters will defend their investigations as in the public interest, but their primary aim is the thrill of the story. As long as they get their scoop, they will not care about denying their own country a chance to host the greatest show on earth.

The irony of this Sword of Damocles is that it will fall on England and allow Russia, the epitome of a bent country in Europe, to sneak in and steal the hosting rights to the biggest prize of all.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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