Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Season's Greetings

Yo  ho ho.

Well, I've been a bit quiet the past couple of weeks, mainly because I've been busy wrapping everything up in Trinidad and preparing for my return to Europe.  I did start a post about my time there, and was just about finished - the biggest post yet and a very good one, even if I say so myself - when my Fat Fingers got in the way and I managed to delete the whole thing......I was NOT amused.  I'll have to do another one in the New Year.
So in the meantime, Trinidad is all done and dusted and we're all back home.  The journey was quite arduous, especially the eight hours hanging around JFK.....the most unpleasant airport in the world, full of rude and arrogant Yanks who mistakenly believe they rule the world: I absolutely loathe it! - and getting out in the fresh air (-5C) after 6 months of 30+ came as a bit of a shock to the system.  But it's great to get back home and sleep in my own bed, eat decent Polish bread instead of the doughy shite sold in PoS, and be surrounded by the familiar comforts of KEN.

As Sinatra says, it's oh so nice to go travellin, but it's so much nicer to come home.

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Anyway, it's the end of the year, and the Christmas season is upon us again.

So I'll say no more except to wish all of my readers, wherever you are, a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year.  And if you're not Christian, so the season is meaningless to you, then may Your God be with you (as an Irish comedian always used to say).

Until the next time.....

Do zobaczenia.

Friday, 3 December 2010


Well, that was a bit of a surprise, I suppose.

Not so much that England wasn't awarded the 2018 World Cup, nor the USA that for 2022, but that people remain surprised by that.

FIFA has been considered, shall we say, questionably impartial for a number of years now.  It's common knowledge that what Herr Blatter wants, Herr Blatter gets (or conversely what he doesn't want - like goal line technology - has no chance of success).  Sepp is really desperately keen to be remembered as the FIFA President who took the Beautiful Game to the world, so giving the two tournaments to Russia and Qatar makes perfect sense.  Neither has hosted it before (Qatar has never even been close to qualifying for the Fianls), so after delivering tournaments to (jointly) Japan/South Korea and South Africa - the first Asian and African finals respectively - then adding the first Eastern European and Middle Eastern finals to his list was the obvious move.  It also offsets delivering to tried and trusted hosts Germany and Brazil (2006 and 2014).  A nice mix of the old and the new.

All the shenanigans that has been going on for the last couple of years, with countries like Australia, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal (both of whom, God knows, can't really afford the expense) and all the rest has merely been a sideshow.  A continuous treadmill of photo opportunities of Sepp and his Executive Committee hob-nobbing with Royalty, Presidents and Prime Ministers, and aging football stars in one country after another.....all on expenses of course.   We spent millions in the UK putting together what was according to most accounts the best technical bid (meaning we have some cracking grounds to play on, a transport system than runs more or less to timetable, and a decent selection of hotels) and the best commercial bid (meaning we'll be able to sell lots of replica shirts and sponsors' goods, making huge amounts of wonga for the manufacturers, our government and, most important, FIFA themselves) and only got 1 vote.....knocked out in the first round.   Bit like our team in fact.  Australia did likewise and only got 2 votes....so as we presented between us the best 2 packages that didn't count for a lot, did it?  The only good thing is that the USA, bidding for 2022, didn't do much better.

There are suggestions that there were a number of brown envelopes stuffed with Russian and Qatari oil dollars (or at least the electronic equivalent thereof) floating around and ending up in the pockets of various delegates....a practice which we English would never get involved in.  The Panorama documentary screened a couple of days earlier, accusing specific voting individuals of taking bribes in the past, or selling tickets on the black market for personal gain, whether true  or not, clearly didn't help, and nor did the Sunday Times investigation a couple of weeks earlier, on a similar topic, that led to a further 2 voters being suspended.  You can scream all you like about the Great British Press killing our chances, but they didn't really (since their allegations are almost certainly true) but that wasn't the reason we failed.

Quite simply, Blatter wanted new markets, and has sufficient clout and power to make sure the rest of the Executive Committee did exactly what he wanted and delivered Russia and Qatar.  It was all, I'm sure, decided weeks or even months ago.

Yes, it's corrupt.  But that's the way it goes when there is that many billions at stake.  Sepp sets the rules, and you either play to them or get nowhere.  Russia, being corrupt itself and awash with money and mafia, knows this.  Qatar, a Muslim state awash with money controlled ruthlessly by a single family, also knows this.  We still look for and expect fair play - as did the other "democracies" taking part, and like us losing.


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Mind you, choosing Russia and Qatar has opened up some entertaining travel opportunities.

Russia for a start is the biggest country in the world, stretching from the Polish border - or at least what used to be, near Kaliningrad - (Europe) all the way to Vladivistok on the western edge of the Pacific - thousands of miles.  Seven time zones.  Extraordinary.  And totally impractical for staging a tournament like the World Cup that relies for a significant part of its income on the sale of TV broadcast rights.   It's where the bulk of the country's wealth and modern infrastructure is located anyway.  Siberia and the Asiatic east will only participate as TV viewers, like the rest of us.  The government has promised to spend billions on improving transport links, upgrading airports, building new hotels and a dozen new stadia, to make the place more attractive to visit and save on 17hours plus journeys between matches.  Putin has promised that entry visas won't be needed if you turn up with a passport and match tickets.  He's also committed to free travel on this brand new transport system.  Good job they've got the mineral wealth to sell and pay for it all.....

As the tournament is in the summer, the weather should be good....they've even selected Sochi, on the Black Sea coast, as one of the venues.....proving that Spain, Portugal and Australia haven't cornered the market on beach resorts with football grounds.    I'm still not sure I'd want to go to Russia though, even for a World Cup.

Qatar?  Apparently it's half the size of Wales.  It's just south of Bahrain and sticks out like a sore thumb into the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia.  It has a population of about 600,000 Qataris, and about twice as many ex-pats, many of them Indian, Pakistani and other Asian migrant workers - building labourers, drivers, kitchen maids and the like.  It only has two cities (and several small towns) and isn't known for its sporting traditions - although that has changed over the past 20 years or so.  It's hosted a number of international sporting events like the Asian Games, youth World Cup football, tennis championships, golf tourneys and cricket matches, and has generally been praised for putting on a good show.  It's building a whole bunch of new air-conditioned stadia with retractable roofs to combat the summer heat that can reach 50C .  But like most Gulf or Islamic states, it's dry - no alcohol.  Homosexuality is also liiegal, so if you.you're a gay football fan who likes a beer, then this one is not for you.

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As an English football fan with childhood memories of our win in 1966, I would have enjoyed another English World Cup in my lifetime.  It would have been nice for my son Kuba to have the same experience - in 2018 he will be 13, the same age I was in 1966 - and maybe to go one  better and go to a match or two with his big brothers.  It won't happen now, which is a shame.

But not the end of the world.

I hope sooner or later someone does something to change FIFA and make it more accountable to its members and their football mad populations, rather than the corrupt oligarchy it currently is, but I won't hold my breath.  Nothing will change until Blatter retires or dies, and even then I would be surprised if his successor, whoever that may be, isn't hand picked to carry on in the same way.

I congratulate Russia and Qatar and hope their World Cups are everything they say they will be....and I really hope they are better than the last few tournaments, that have been largely shite.

Subject closed, let's all move on.