Orientalism is a term that may not be familiar to those who do not study literary or international politics, yet its representations are viewed regularly by the masses. The Palestinian theorist, Edward Said is the architect of the ‘Orientalist’ concept. Said’s concept centers on non-European cultures being regularly perceived in negative connotations by Western cultures which generally depict them as backward and uncivilised.

The World Cup has become sport’s biggest competition. Steeped in history and grandeur it is vital to billions the world over. The tournament provides a platform that allows all cultures and nations to compete regardless of status or wealth. Nations can compete free of politics and conflict. It is designed as an instrument to detract from Orientalist sentiments. However, the reaction to the decision to award the tournament to Qatar and Russia, particularly in the British media has seen Orientalist sentiment become commonplace.

Conservative MP Damian Collins has described the bidding process and handling of the subsequent investigation as a ‘whitewash’. Nevertheless, the same analogy can be attributed to the British news coverage of the process as a whole, whose coverage has gone beyond the salient issues to an illustration of sour grapes.

I should categorically state that I wish to offer no defence of FIFA; the organisation is in need of imminent reform and the winning bidders’ actions were no doubt dubious. However, those calling for transformation are happy to scrutinize FIFA but refuse to look closer to home as the media coverage is conducted under a cloud of Orientalism, bias and hypocrisy.

The blinkeredness of British media outlets centres on two elements; the constant focus on corruption, but in a very selective way by focusing on the Russian and Qatari bids which are accused of bribery, intimidation and even using their extensive energy resources to curry favour with the voting delegates. Yet the undeniable corruption of England’s bidding process is left untouched. This is followed by the unceasing ridicule of the winning bids:

‘Smaller than Yorkshire, boasting temperatures of over 50C in June and July, and with no footballing tradition to speak of, Qatar was always an unlikely choice to host football’s World Cup’. These remarks in the Guardian illustrate the constant focus on inadequacies.

What these critics have failed to grasp however, is that FIFA has a responsibility as a world sporting body to bring the competition around the world.

The organisation’s mission statement dictates this imperative. Their first pillar considers FIFA’s primary objective is ‘to improve the game of football constantly and promote it globally …’ . Whilst the second pillar states that ‘FIFA’s goal is to touch, unite and inspire the world through its competitions and events’. FIFA in the twenty-first century has complimented this mandate, combining the two pillars to promote the game outside traditional regions, demonstrated by awarding the World Cup for the first time to Asia (2002) and Africa (2010).

British tabloids are constantly filled with sentiments that are exemplified by the Daily Express –’Fifa President Sepp Blatter is coming under intense pressure to stage the tournament in another country, possibly England’. Why should England, whose abundant venality in the bidding process is without doubt, be rewarded?

England’s attempt to host the tournament is riddled with the lack of morality British journalists have been happy to decry when it relates to other countries. FIFA has admitted that staging the bidding for two World Cups simultaneously was a mistake, as collusion was ripe. However FIFA created guidelines that unequivocally state: ‘the member association agrees to refrain from collaborating or colluding with any other member association or any third party with a view to unfairly influence the outcome of the bidding process’.

It was England that broke these rules. Firstly colluding with the South Korean bid, promising their support and vote for 2022 in return for Korean support for England in 2018. Furthermore, England arranged a friendly to sway prominent FIFA delegate Worawi Makudi, by organising a controversial friendly with Thailand. This friendly was set to be monetarily beneficial locally; nonetheless, following the decision not to award England the World Cup the game was demonstratively cancelled.

The murkier elements of England’s bid are epitomised by its association with disgraced former FIFA Vice President, Jack Warner. As with Makudi, the English team attempted to curry favour with him, so he’d use his considerable influence to sway delegates in North America toward England’s bid. England set up a huge international friendly in Warner’s native Trinidad, and paid thousands of pounds for a Caribbean Football dinner.

Furthermore, the Football Association arranged for a family friend of Warner’s to be given a job within the UK – an act naturally ruled to have ‘violated bidding rules’. Warner has become the epitome of ‘corruption’ within FIFA, and has a long list of corruption allegations connected to him both in and out of football.

With the connection between the shady Warner and the England bid being unmistakable, it illustrates the corruption of the English bid. While certain media outlets have reported these sentiments, which in itself does nothing to promote balance as these events are impossible to ignore, coverage of them is limited and drowned out with constant focus on the deficiencies of the Russian and Qatari bids.

One can only hope that this enduring story will begin to be handled in a less myopic and farcical way, however evidence so far suggests that this is highly unlikely and sour grapes will continue to dominate the narrative amongst Orientalist attitudes.




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