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Byron Shire
May 19, 2021

2018 is a World Cup year, but can soccer survive FIFA?

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I’ll get the patriotism out of the way before I vent, so spare me the hate-mail.

I love the Socceroos as much as anybody (except maybe Craig Foster) and will be behind them 100 per cent when they don their canary-yellow shirts in the provinces of Russia at next year’s World Cup. Go, you good things!

It’s just that the tournament, and the sport in general, has been so tarnished by those who administer it.

Among investigative journalists and informed commentators, the consensus is that FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is the most corrupt organisation in world sport, winning that malodorous title by a hair’s breadth from the IOC (the International Olympic Committee).

Both outfits are composed of suits who swan around the world at the pointy end of the plane, staying in five-star hotels while being duchessed by wannabe hosts of soccer’s four-yearly ‘big dance’.

Under the reign of the repugnant Sepp ‘I am not a crook’ Blatter, FIFA awarded the 2022 fete to Qatar, where stadiums are now being erected using the virtual slave labour of ‘guest workers’ for matches that are to be played in forty-degree heat before crowds that are only likely to be at capacity for the final.

The oodles of money that greased the deal is not likely to ever be determined accurately – suffice to say that the far-from-transparent transactions of Blatter and his cronies made the Medici look like schoolyard novices.

Australia’s superior bid, on which we spent bucketloads of dough that might have gone to little Johnny and Jenny’s junior clubs, garnered one vote of support – our own.

What utter mugs we made of ourselves.

At this point, it’s only fair that I fess up to the fact (if it wasn’t painfully obvious) that I am not a connoisseur of the round-ball game.

As a rugby league tragic, I find it hard to get excited about a contest that can run for ninety minutes (or more with extra time), only to end in a 0–0 draw.

It’s why, I suspect, soccer has never blitzed the US market, where punters (rightfully, in my view) expect more bang for their buck. And if I hear one more disciple of soccer browbeat me with the line that it is the ‘world game’ I’ll vomit.

You could just as easily say that, so ubiquitous are its golden arches, McDonald’s is the ‘world food’. But that doesn’t mean it’s any good.

Call me a Neanderthal, but I like the idea that there are defiant pockets of cultural differences were Aussie Rules, the two Rugbies, Gridiron and Gaelic football have been able to withstand the steamroller of soccer’s globalisation.

Our boys have made it to the World Cup after a hairy qualifying passage that saw us run third in our group (behind Japan and the Saudis) before scraping home against homeless Syria and then putting the might of Honduras to the sword.

As champions of Asia, you might have reasonably expected the Socceroos to make it without the angst, especially given the enormous pool of talent that is displayed in school and Saturday arvo kids’ competitions.

Between such youthful potential and the A-League, however, there appears to be a serious disconnect – and let’s face it, Tim Cahill can’t go on heading winners forever.

The first of only a handful of soccer fixtures that I have attended was way back in 1974. I caught the tube to Stamford Bridge and paid a scalper ten pounds to see Chelsea host Manchester United.

As a young Aussie abroad, I was dead keen on experiencing what I had seen so much of on black-and-white TV.

United won 3–1, but what has stuck in my memory is the language of the crowd – I had never heard ‘fucking’ spoken so loudly, so often.

A few years later I saw Johan Cruyff’s Holland beat England 2–0 at Wembley, and what I remember most from this occasion was the cold of that February night and how I just wanted to get back to the warmth of my bedsitter in Cricklewood.

The Dutch, so powerful in the modern era, will not be participating in Russia, nor will the Italians. Can you imagine the dummy spits in Milan and Rome when news filtered through that Australia would be one of the thirty-two finalists but not the Azzurri?

Oh such juicy Schadenfreude!

My own version of the Jules Rimet Trophy is in the shape of a bottle. I keep olive oil in it – the stuff is as slippery as FIFA, but not as smelly.


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