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Thursday, December 02, 2010 

That strange feeling of deja vu.

The response to Fifa deciding not to award this septic isle the 2018 World Cup has been a joy to behold. There's nothing, it seems, quite like being denied a month long carnival of bullshit and hyperbole to bring out the absolute worst in people. The sight of those who turned up to the gatherings in various towns and cities to await the decision reacting in the most petulant fashion imaginable to Russia winning, out of the same draw as booing the opposing team's national anthem at the start of England's matches does give a wonderful insight into the boorishness and false sense of entitlement which still epitomises so many attitudes when it comes to our position on the footballing world stage.

It also pretty much sums up the entire basis of the bid, which may as well have been titled give us the World Cup, we invented football. We did the whole football coming home thing for Euro 96; to repeat the entire charade gives the impression of simply not being very imaginative, which considering the dullards we had in charge of the entire thing is equally unsurprising. At the beginning of the week even the BBC were describing the lobbying triptych of Prince William, David Beckham and David Cameron as the "dream team", as though a pinhead who doesn't even live in this country, the equally intellectually challenged second in line to the throne and a former member of the Bullingdon were going to win over through sheer strength of charm and glad-handing an executive committee who were never in a million years going to give the tournament to England.

For a few moments we may as well have been transported back to the summer. All of the worst aspects of if not ourselves, then certain sections of the nation seem to manifest themselves when we're in the running for such a prize. Some, especially the media continue to give the impression that simply by turning up we can achieve absolutely anything; witness the laughable Daily Star, the same paper that put Wayne Rooney in a tin helmet on its front page on the day before the England-Germany game, putting the legend "we get World Cup today" on its cover. There's optimism, there's wishful thinking, and then there's just hubris. We seem to imagine that just because we have arguably the best football league in the world, itself built on the shaky foundations of debt, arrogance and greed we have on its own a basis for either hosting or winning the competition. It's through that obsession with the club rather than the national game that we've reached this nadir, with the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore almost sneering that the "fundamentals of English football don't alter, do they?" Except it's not English football any more, is it? We simply host a globalised league where money talks, and I say this as an Arsenal fan.

Fifa is simply following where the Premier League originally blazed a trail. For all the nonsense of pushing the game into new territories, Fifa is going where the money now is and where it can siphon the most off with the minimum amount of fuss. The pattern was started with this year's tournament, where happily the demands that the world governing body makes on the host nation could be set off against the good news story of bringing the tournament onto a new continent and to the "rainbow" nation, where the development of new facilities and money the competition would bring in could only be seen as very good things, leaving cynics and critics of Fifa's methods in great difficulty. The next tournament in Brazil is in the same vein: a nation of still great poverty and with a horrific crime and murder rate but where the gears of politics are easy to grease. Russia as nation may well deserve the right to host the competition, yet it's the political situation which has made it possible. On the same day as the US cables from Wikileaks describe the motherland as a "mafia state", another completely spotless regime decides it's the perfect place for football to journey towards. Who could possibly be surprised at an oligarchy rewarding what is threatening to turn into a full blown kleptocracy?

Things are slightly different in Qatar, the recipient of the 2022 tournament, but only slightly. As John B points out, Qatar is no more corrupt according to Transparency International than the UK is. By the standards of the Middle East, it's also by no means the worst when it comes to human rights. It does however remain an absolute monarchy and follows the usual Islamic strictures, which poses obvious problems for travelling fans unless things are relaxed for the duration of the tournament. What really attracted Fifa besides the complete lack of any potential opposition to their tax and marketing demands is simply the opulence behind the bid, which involves the construction of a number of stadia in a nation smaller than Wales where almost all the population lives in the capital of Doha. The proposal once the competition is finished is to demolish the unneeded centrepieces and rebuild them in developing nations, a selfless gesture which is only slightly undermined when you consider they could have funded such constructions in the first place and cut out the gibbering insanity of building something which will be used only for a month. As for the players who'll have to play games in the 40 to 50 degree heat of a Qatar summer, well, when was the World Cup ever about the quality of the football?

The blame game then can begin in earnest. Just as the media built up England's non-existent chances this summer, the same press that couldn't accept we lost purely as a result of not being good enough now turns on Fifa for doing what it was always going to. The Sun, the same paper which earlier in the week condemned the BBC for raking over old news unnecessarily now accuses Fifa of, err, "bunging Russia the cup". Anything to distract from the sad fact that even if corruption was involved, our bid had been just as over-hyped as England were. As long as we continue to have this delusional sense of entitlement, going hand in hand as it does with our ridiculous sense of self-importance, this ludicrous cycle of expectation, disillusionment and denial will just keep repeating.

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As a scot, I am a little dry-eyed about the tragedy as you might expect but watching the news on Wednesday night, I was struck by both the sense of entitlement you have exposed and the glib bad mouthing of the other bids. I might have thought that an expensively educated Prime Minister would have known that nemesis follows hubris.

nicely round off.

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