Thursday, December 2, 2010

Qatar (121), Russia (140)

Those are the Press Freedom Index rankings for the two newest World Cup host nations (thanks to Fredorrarci for pointing me to the Guardian World Cup bid live blog, 4:52 PM). The live blog ends with a link to the BBC's David Bond's tweet indicating Sepp Blatter had before the vote "reminded FIFA executive comm members about 'certain media' and 'recent media coverage'", referring to BBC's Panorama programme on the alleged corruption of several FIFA committee members.

Disregarding for now other concerns (some legit, some not) about the human rights' records of the future host nations, this was a very bad day for freedom of the press and FIFA. You can make pedestrian comparisons to various Western nations' reactions to the latest wikileaks scandal and say "all nations disregard media freedoms," but this is a false moral equivalency. The United States is not Qatar. Vladimir Putin would have already killed several members of the British media if they subjected him to the kind of questioning MPs are expected to answer on a daily basis. Amid more allegations of corruption, FIFA has sent out a startling message: we embrace nations who disregard the fourth estate. Healthy scrutiny by the observing press will be punished, so you'd better get back to writing AP match reports and avoid investigative journalism.

And if you buy the argument that hosting a FIFA World Cup could be an agent for press freedom in the two host nations, the collusion of FIFA for example with the government of General Jorge Vedela, who ensured a flawless 1978 World Cup in part by "dissappearing" suspected Marxist dissidents without any worry of press scrutiny due to heavy state censorship, should put FIFA's record on supporting press freedom to bed. The current FIFA is the monstrous inheritance of Havelange's totalitarian vision of an autocratic, billion-dollar global empire built on the world's helpless love and need for football.

FIFA, is of course no different than many powerful global institutions in that it doesn't like negative press attention. But unlike say the G20, FIFA's executive committee is comprised of unelected representatives who answer to no one except themselves. There is simply no internal mechanism to force FIFA to operate transparently, hence the image, both real and imagined, of a corrupt organization for whom financial quid pro quo's comes before the interests of the global game of soccer.

So it's up to us, and I mean all of us, from lowly bloggers to established sports journos, to force a change in how FIFA operates. I think Jerrad Peters put it best today:
If there’s any upside to Thursday’s World Cup announcements—and you have to look far and wide to find it—it’s that people are finally getting fed up with FIFA. The bidding process was largely perceived as illegitimate, much like an election in Iran or Haiti, and the results were met with as much cynicism as disbelief.
This is a good thing, but it’s still a long haul. FIFA isn’t about to reinvent itself anytime soon, and Blatter will stand for another term as president when his current one expires. But it’s a start. Like the IOC in the previous decade, FIFA will be forced to change—to alter its practices and increase its transparency—if enough people utter “howls of protest.”
We need more BBC Panorama type programmes, not less. We need more scrutiny of our own federations, particularly Jack Warner's CONCACAF. We need to share information on the best way to use the public record as a means to expose what goes on in executive committees and behind closed doors. We need to work together to force FIFA under the light.


ursus arctos said...

Excellent piece produced on deadline.

The FA's Geoff Thompson has managed to increase his already stratospheric Buffoon Quotient by continuing to suggest that "media reports" were a major factor in England's loss.

Jason Davis said...

How do I like this? Forcefully?

Russell Berrisford said...

You're right that the theory that press freedom will increase in these two countries is just ludicrous. FIFA really has sent a message that it wants to deal with nations that can "control" their media.

Anonymous said...

There were 2 countries competing to host the world cup that are nt democracy's. Guess who got the World Cup?

Sam said...

Thanks for sharing that information. Hosting such an event may be hard but it's definitely worth it.

afl shop