Beautiful game, dirty business
Football is a great sport, but it could be so muchbetter if it were run honestly
THE mesmerising wizardry of Lionel Messi and themuscular grace of Cristiano Ronaldo are joys to behold. But for deep-dyed internationalistslike this newspaper, the game's true beauty lies in its long reach, from east to west and northto south. Football, more than any other sport, has thrived on globalisation. Nearly half ofhumanity will watch at least part of the World Cup, which kicks off in Brazil on June 12th.
So it is sad that the tournament begins under a cloud as big as the Maracan? stadium.Documents obtained by Britain's Sunday Times have allegedly revealed secret payments thathelped Qatar win the hosting rights to the World Cup in 2022.If that competition was fixed, ithas company. A report by FIFA, football's governing body, is said to have found that severalexhibition matches were rigged ahead of the World Cup in 2010. And as usual, no one hasbeen punished.
This only prompts other questions. Why on earth did anyone think holding the World Cup inthe middle of the Arabian summer was a good idea? Why is football so far behind other sportslike rugby, cricket and tennis in using technology to doublecheck refereeing decisions? And whyis the world's greatest game led by such a group of mediocrities, notably Sepp Blatter, FIFA'sboss since 1998? In any other organisation, the endless financial scandals would have led to hisouster years ago. But more than that, he seems hopelessly out of date; from sexist remarksabout women to interrupting a minute's silence for Nelson Mandela after only 11 seconds, the78-year-old is the sort of dinosaur that left corporate boardrooms in the 1970s. Nor is itexactly heartening that the attempts to stop Mr Blatter enjoying a fifth term are being led byMichel Platini, Europe's leading soccercrat, who was once a wonderful midfielder but played awoeful role in supporting the Qatar bid.
Our cheating rotten scoundrels are better than yours
Many football fans are indifferent to all this. What matters to them is the beautiful game, notthe tired old suits who run it. And FIFA's moral turpitude is hardly unique. The InternationalOlympic Committee, after all, faced a Qatar-like scandal over the awarding of the winter gamesin 2002 (though it has made a much bigger attempt to clean itself up). The boss of FormulaOne, Bernie Ecclestone, stands accused of bribery in Germany, while American basketball hasjust had to sack an owner for racist remarks. Cricket, the second-most-global sport, has hadits own match-fixing scandals. American football could be overwhelmed by compensationclaims for injuries.
But football fans are wrong to think there is no cost to all this. First, corruption andcomplacency at the top makes it harder to fight skulduggery on the pitch. Ever largeramounts of money are now being bet on each game—it may be $1 billion a match at the WorldCup. Under external pressure to reform, FIFA has recently brought in some good people,including a respected ethics tsar, Mark Pieth. But who will listen to lectures about reform froman outfit whose public face is Mr Blatter?
Second, big-time corruption isn't victimless; nor does it end when a host country is chosen.For shady regimes—the type that bribe football officials—a major sporting event is also a chanceto defraud state coffers, for example by awarding fat contracts to cronies. Tournaments thatought to be national celebrations risk becoming festivals of graft.
Finally, there is a great opportunity cost. Football is not as global as it might be (see article).The game has failed to conquer the world's three biggest countries: China, India and America.In the United States soccer, as they call it, is played but not watched. In China and India theopposite is true. The latter two will not be playing in Brazil (indeed, they have played in theWorld Cup finals just once between them).
In FIFA's defence, the big three's reticence owes much to their respective histories andcultures and the strength of existing sports, notably cricket in India. And football is slowlygaining ground: in the United States the first cohort of American parents to grow up with thegame are now passing it on to their children. But that only underlines the madness of FIFAgiving the cup to Qatar, not America. And the foul air from FIFA's headquarters in Switzerlandwill hardly reassure young fans in China who are heartily sick of the corruption and match-fixing in their domestic soccer leagues.
It would be good to get rid of Mr Blatter, but that would not solve FIFA's structural problem.Though legally incorporated as a Swiss non-profit organisation, FIFA has no master. Those whomight hold it to account, such as national or regional football organisations, depend on its cash.High barriers to entry make it unlikely that a rival will emerge, so FIFA has a naturalmonopoly over international football. An entity like this should be regulated, but FIFAanswers to no government.
All the same, more could be done. The Swiss should demand a clean-up or withdraw FIFA'sfavourable tax status. Sponsors should also weigh in on graft and on the need to pushforward with new technology: an immediate video review of every penalty and goal awardedwould be a start.
The hardest bit of the puzzle is the host-selection process. One option would be to stick theWorld Cup in one country and leave it there; but that nation's home team would have a bigadvantage, and tournaments benefit from moving between different time zones. Aneconomically rational option would be to give this year's winner, and each successivechampion, the option of either hosting the tournament in eight years' time or auctioning offthat right to the highest bidder. That would favour football's powerhouses. But as most ofthem already have the stadiums, there would be less waste—and it would provide even more ofan incentive to win.
Sadly, soccer fans are romantic nationalists, not logical economists—so our proposal standsless chance of winning than England does. One small step towards sanity would be formally torotate the tournament, so it went, say, from Europe to Africa to Asia to the Americas, whichwould at least stop intercontinental corruption. But very little of this will happen withoutchange at the top in Zurich.
1.kick off 开始干某事;开赛
例句:The shows kick off on October 24th.
2.lead to 导致;引起;通往
例句:The bell-boy led us to our rooms.
3.attempt to 试图;企图;尝试
例句:The proposals are an attempt to rid the country of political corruption.
4.ought to 应该;应当
例句:I felt I ought to show my face at her father's funeral.