Whatever happens next, this has been a good World Cup for Europe. It’s not just that the Dutch and Germans thoroughly dispatched Brazil and Argentina – the latter almost a rout, presumably costing Maradona his job (Dunga has already gone) – but three of the last four are from Europe. This despite the early exit of Italy, France and England. This matters in Fifa politics, and Fifa is bigger than the UN. There are already 207 Fifa members entered for the 2014 World Cup; the UN has only 192 members. This is not just because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sneak in separately from England. The same thing goes on elsewhere: thus China is a Fifa member but so are Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau and Mongolia. And of course while the UN is always badly in debt, Fifa has billions in the bank.
The big issue is the number of the 32 World Cup finalists allowed from the various regions, currently 13 from Europe, four or five from Asia, one or zero from Oceania, five from Africa, three or four from North and Central America and the Caribbean, four or five from Latin America, and the host nation. The 54 African nations push continually for greater representation but in fact they will go from six to five in 2014 as Brazil replaces South Africa as hosts, probably also bringing Latin America’s total up to six. For in practice Latin America’s optional extra place is permanent for it merely depends on a play-off with the far weaker Central American nations: in 2010 Uruguay merely had to beat Costa Rica.
The real anomaly is the weakness of the Oceania and Asian groups on the one hand and the overwhelming strength of Europe. Among the runners-up in Europe this time were such nations as Russia, Austria, Croatia, Turkey and the Czechs, all of whom have quite distinguished histories as World Cup finalists. And there’s a long list behind that, including Hungary, Poland, Belgium and Ukraine. Many of these countries are either rich or rapidly getting richer and they are already major targets for World Cup TV. Given that all the rich clubs are already in Europe, there is no doubt that the economic, as well as the football logic would be to increase the number of Europe’s finalists even more. If soccer were run like cricket this is certainly what would happen, for since the money and the big TV numbers are all in India, international cricket increasingly revolves round India.
But that is exactly what Fifa envies because its Asian section is pathetically weak. The only decent sides come from Japan and South Korea. None of the Asian giants – China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam or Malaysia – are any good at all. Even including the Middle East in Asia doesn’t help. Moreover, the extra spaces Fifa made available for the Asian masses have gone to New Zealand and Australia, which was not at all what was intended. Sepp Blatter built his career on getting the African vote by promising a World Cup for Africa – a winning gambit because Africa has 54 votes. But Asia is the future of mankind and the world game has to grow there or not be a world game. In a way it’s quite encouraging. Blatter is paid a lot more than Ban Ki Moon, has greater resources and more real power and would clearly not swap his job for Moon’s, but he too has his problems.