Applauding the English Media

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 | View Comments

by Jason Davis
If you've been following along with the World Cup bidding process and the fallout over FIFA improprieties, you know that much of the discussion surrounding England's 2018 bid involves the role of their media in "sabotaging" their chances.  On the surface, it might just seem another example of England's overzealous press torpedoing all things involving the Cross of St. George and the world of football (see: England National Team). 

But when it comes to investigations and exposĂ©s on FIFA malfeasance, the English have it right no matter the ultimate cost.  That's an easy thing for someone sitting on this side of the Pond and without his own country's bid threatened to say, of course, but I have no doubt I would say the same had it been an American outlet who caught FIFA weasels offering to trade their votes for cash and were subsequently admonished by Sepp's gang of entitled scoundrels.  FIFA's bully act may cow its member federations, who are forced to play its game, but it shouldn't keep journalists from exposing corruption when and where it exists.

It started with the sting operation run by The Sunday Times and continues with next week's BBC presentation of a Panorama investigation into CONCACAF's resident scam artist Jack Warner.  Warner is already lashing out, calling the program a "a personal vendetta" and "deliberately designed to negatively impact (the English bid)."  Warner's megalomania knows no bounds (but we knew that), his vindictiveness is well-documented, and there's a very real chance that the he'll use the public shaming at the hands of the BBC as a reason to vote for someone other than England.  He may have enough influence to convince others to do the same.  Because of FIFA's secret ballot process we'll have no way of knowing for sure, but if England doesn't win 2018, it won't be difficult to suss out why. 

Should England not win, the media will bear the brunt of the blame.  English bid leaders have called the timing of the BBC broadcast "unpatriotic", setting the table for the inevitable finger-pointing should Russia or Spain/Portugal take the prize in Zurich.  While anyone emotionally invested in bringing the World Cup back to England must rue the BBC's decision to air their Warner program just days before the vote, there should be no suggestion that it be delayed or canceled.  The BBC's mandate as a news organization is to present their findings to the greatest possible effect.  The week of the Zurich dog and pony show, with all of England's football fans highly attuned to the workings of FIFA and closely last minute happenings, is the natural time to present the program.

I've called for the US bid leaders to do whatever necessary to secure the 2022 World Cup, even if it means wading into FIFA's noxious muck.  A World Cup in the United States, even 12 years in the future, would do immeasurable good for the sport and its profile here.  If the choice is between a clean but unsuccessful bid and a slightly sullied but victorious one, I have no qualms about asking American soccer to play the dirty game.  To act with principles where none exist is either naive or stupid, and if launching the bid effort didn't implicitly declare US Soccer's willingness to adhere to FIFA's unwritten rules, it shouldn't have been launched in the first place.

That doesn't mean organizations outside of FIFA's purview shouldn't push to expose soccer's governing body for what it is.  Be it The Sunday Times, the BBC, Andrew Jennings, or any other journalistic concern, the effort to shame FIFA into cleaning up its act is necessary, worthwhile, and appropriate.  Provided those outlets and individuals act within the bounds of the ethics of their profession, they should be applauded for uncovering each and every instance of corruption they find and presenting it to a public that has an innate right to know how the custodians of their game abuse their power.  The greater the collective pressure on Blatter and his cronies to change their ways, the better.  Faith that the pressure will create any cracks is just that, a matter of faith, but cynicism isn't a reason give up the effort.

The bodies actively bidding for World Cups and the media covering the process have divergent responsibilities,  opposing raison d'ĂȘtres that are certain to put them at odds.  The former exists (and at great expense, win or lose) for one reason only: to win the right to host the world's largest sporting event.  The latter owes no restraint, due to some odd notion of patriotism or otherwise, to a World Cup bid that may or not be aided by a shirking of journalistic duties.  While it's convenient to place each in their respective boxes and forgive anything they might do to reach their goals, a cynical and pragmatic outlook on one does not invalidate support for the work of the other.

If it was 60 Minutes rather than Panorama set to rake Warner across the coals a few days before the bid vote, my feelings would be the same.  I'd worry about the possible effect on the US bid's chances while commending program, accepting that both content and timing are necessary.  American outlets should be encouraged to follow the BBC's lead, regardless of whether or not doing so might damage the American relationship with FIFA, regardless of what might hang in the balance.  A World Cup bid "sabotaged" by a zealous media, particularly in light of how rampant FIFA crookedness appears to be, is nothing to be lamented.  At this point, it's a pity that American investigative outlets have yet to take notice of FIFA, Warner, and the treasure trove of corruption to be unearthed right here in our regional backyard.

Perhaps the only reason American news organizations haven't gone after FIFA, CONCACAF, and Warner is because much of the populace has little interest or is unaware of the names involved.  While the rest of the world has a keen eye on the happenings around the bidding process, it would take the US being awarded a tournament to prod mainstream American investigative journalists into action.

It would be lovely to simply wash our hands of this mess and stop caring about the possibility of another USA World Cup.  Some in England have, and if Two Hundred Percent is right, possible English failure in Zurich will hardly make the wave we'd expect.  The unseemly business is enough to turn off even the most ardent fan of the sport, so if England is being punished because of the actions of its media, then perhaps the country is better off not hosting.  Ambivalence surrounding the England bid takes some of the sting out of FIFA's bluster, fatigue with the process and constant controversy dialing down the English desperation.

Ian of THP:

The FA should muster whatever dignity they can and keep hustling until the votes are in, and then they should look Sepp Blatter square in the eye and see if he blinks. It wouldn’t unreasonable to suggest that if they were somehow to win the bid, the England team should immediately hand the award back to FIFA and say “No thanks”, but the chances of that happening are more or less exactly zero.

Eventually, member nations will need to take drastic action if they have any delusions of forcing FIFA to address corruption and break the pattern of bully boy behavior.  It's unlikely they ever will.  Instead it's down to The Sunday Times and the BBC to inform the public and increase the pressure on FIFA, consequences be damned.

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