FIFA’s challenges, the rich US, and those poor countries

As the US Department of Justice extends its reach as the global enforcer of law, order and justice, the world is not at a loss for expertise and confident solutions that emanate from even US experts who are but passingly familiar with the sport of football.

To make the obvious blatantly obvious: when the US media, almost on cue, can give blanket coverage in a feeding frenzy of demonisation and vilification to a sport it routinely ignores, one does not have to be an expert in reading tea leaves, especially when its Senator McCain launches his own broadside. Something is rotten in the state of, where?

Now, then, to launch into a marine metaphor. A very good swimmer in a pool, indoor or outdoor, can often be at sea in the sea, and less so against an average sea swimmer in the sea. Knowing and understanding one’s environment does make a difference.

For example, a statistician with expertise on the politics or sports in one country can fare well elsewhere – with the requisite knowledge and insights in that new environment. Otherwise, a fool’s errand becomes apparent, and unbecoming. One dares hope that such an ill-considered foray is not born of that sense of exceptionalism.

Nate Silver, rather successful statistician of the US in his areas of expertise in the US, has set out to examine the problems of FIFA and to propose solutions. He falls short, far short, and ends up at sea, far out to sea. Again, that lack of understanding and basic insight – experience. In the sea, there are currents, cross-currents that can bedevil and sweep away the unwary – so too in football, one must have more than just a clue before dangerously tossing around statistics.

Branko Milanovic who had an earlier post on the FIFA scandal, has a follow up article that also addresses Silver’s intervention. The title of his post, The age of open financial imperialism, says it all. Milanovic eschews niceties to make an observation that is not lost on the non-Western countries. This excerpt should entice further reading.

But a totally unacceptable global metric is the one Nate is proposing: Money. As simple as that. I am not surprised that he proposed it so baldly because it is an idea that has been in the air for a while. Rich people are annoyed that UN seems to give too much power to small countries. In an era when money alone matters, would it not make more sense to get rid of these obstreperous small countries and just let a couple of rich and powerful nations decide all?

Anyone who has had to endure coverage of the sport by badly prepared US announcers would immediately understand. Money (and authority) compensates for ignorance expressed with great enthusiasm.

And as many a football fan would recount, it is not seldom that a very small, and poor, Concacaf country has prevailed against its very rich and powerful adversary.

If the corporation-inspired ‘free trade’ agreements do not cover FIFA, then what? The US orders FIFA to move its headquarters to the US? Then stage a Non-Exceptional World Cup for the non-exceptional countries, which, in any case do not attract big advertising or big spending?

Cricket or rugby fans can rejoice that the US is not up to that sport. Then, again, not lots and lots of money there.


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