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Fifa v. the UN


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.


  1. adam_burke says:

    I get your broader point – eg Taiwan can compete, even if under the ridiculous moniker of Chinese Taipei – but Mongolia has been a full blown member of the UN since 1961 …


    • pinhut says:

      Agreed, I shudder to read the wholly fictional designation of “Chinese Taipei” and to see athletes competing under a different flag than their own.

  2. gr_cl says:

    the football logic would be to increase the number of Europe’s finalists even more

    Not really. You forget that a great number of European finalists performed very badly this year. In a game as random as football, having a greater number of teams is a great advantage in having more teams perform well.

    If we assign a points system, giving 0 points for finishing last in the group, 1 for finishing third in the group, 2 for going out in the last 16, 3 for going out in the last 8 and 4 for reaching the semis, then we get a total as follows:

    SF QF 16 3rd last total avg
    Europe 3 0 3 4 3 22 1.69
    S Amer 1 3 1 0 0 15 3.00
    N/C Amer 0 0 2 0 1 4 1.33
    Africa 0 1 0 2 3 5 0.83
    Asia 0 0 2 1 1 5 1.25
    Oceania 0 0 0 1 0 1 1.00

    Overall 52 1.62

    This suggests that it is South America, by far, that deserves extra teams. Europe is just about right on the average. Africa is the great under-performer, and needs to lose at least one team.

  3. A.J.P. Crown says:

    WHY have you got it in for Maradona, Billy? He’s a lot better manager than England’s, but you didn’t immediately say that Germany thrashing England would “presumably” cost Capello his job. Apart from you, the only one who wants Maradona to resign is Diego himself — in contrast with Capello, who made damn sure it would cost the FA too much money to fire him. Really, if you’ve got anything against Maradona, apart from that he’s a fat, foul-mouthed former drug addict, let’s hear it. England should be so lucky as to have a manager like him.

    • A.J.P. Crown says:

      Alf Ramsey wasn’t just fat, inarticulate and disagreeable, he probably voted Conservative.

    • Daniel Soar says:

      AJP, perhaps this is editorial stuffiness speaking, but calling R.W. Johnson “Billy” is pretty disconcerting. How about a friendly RWJ?

      • Martin says:

        I agree, especially as he calls himself “Bill” in his correspondence with Khehla Shubane in “Business Day”.

        Interesting to note that RWJ believes that Asia is the future of mankind. Whither womankind?
        There’s a little “editorial stuffiness” to add to Daniel’s.

      • A.J.P. Crown says:

        I’d be delighted to be addressed as Arthur by anyone except Ms Pennyfeather, as I said elsewhere she must call me “Sir Arthur”, but AJP is fine if you’d prefer.

        I’m calling him Bill mostly in response to other commenters using the form “Mr Johnson”, as if he were our headmaster. Surely calling someone by their first name is no longer a sign of disrespect in Britain? If it isn’t, then you’re being stuffy; and if it is, then the country is being stuffy — rather like Germany still using the Sie form.

        I do think it’s a shame that the only time you bother to make a comment on this blog is in order to shield your contributor on a subject as trivial as this, Daniel. At least Bill responds to the meat of the comments. Stuffy is a good word for it, why not stop?

        • Daniel Soar says:

          I agree with you about “Mr Johnson” but, as Martin says, “Billy” isn’t the same as “Bill”. But sure, I’ll stop.

          • A.J.P. Crown says:

            You & Martin are right, of course. Well now I’ll be too self-conscious to call him anything at all.

            Please don’t stop commenting completely! We like you.

        • Camus123 says:

          So, Arthur, you have owned up. Should it not be Alan?

          • A.J.P. Crown says:

            No, three initials in common don’t make me into AJP Taylor or even into a historian. Your name is hard to pull apart, do you go by Camus or 123?

            There was an American philanthropist called Robert Wood Johnson, I think he founded Johnson’s Wax.

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