Pompous Fifa bosses, Twitter hypocrites and my Ikea trouble
In England, at least, there's more than a touch of self-interested whingeing in the fuss about Fifa, football's international ruling body. The gripe - the rest of the world seems less upset - is that we lost out on the 2018 World Cup because of bribery and corruption. To my mind, the fewer big international sporting events we hold, the better, as the costs nearly always exceed the supposed benefits by many billions of pounds.
That aside, we should get into our heads that inducements are always involved, with bosses of sports bodies being offered the best stadium seats for themselves and friends, rooms in top hotels and sumptuous dinners. We promised suites at the Dorchester during the 2012 Olympics to Fifa delegates - until we lost the bid to Russia and told them to find B&Bs in the Old Kent Road instead. The truth is that we lost because we didn't offer enough. Where there's serious profit - as in selling arms to Saudi Arabia - we forget our scruples and pay what's necessary.
The wider question is why so many men's sports are run by people who, if not corrupt, are pompous, quarrelsome and incompetent. Think of the cricket world cups that take so long - presumably to allow the bigwigs to maximise their freebies - that everyone loses interest. My theory is that sports governance attracts people who themselves wish to compete but were never good enough or are now too old. Their frustrations cloud their view of what's best for players and spectators.
Perhaps international sport should be organised by players' co-operatives. That was how Australian cricket tours to England started in the late 19th century. Players selected the teams, appointed captains and managers, raised money for upfront expenses and shared profits. Only after a mighty struggle in the 1900s did the cricketers relinquish control. The Australian boss class took over and, for the next 70 years, treated the players like an industrial proletariat. But those early tourists created one of the most enduring sporting institutions, Anglo-Australian Test matches.
Sharon Shoesmith, director of Haringey children's services when Baby P died, has been excoriated for her triumphalist tone after the Appeal Court ruled that Ed Balls, then children's secretary, was wrong to order her summary dismissal. But one aspect has not been widely considered. Shoesmith occupied a new post created by the merger of education and children's social services. This was the result of New Labour legislation and it has been a disaster. Schools used to pick up the phone to warn social services of problem children. Now that they are all under the same giant bureaucracy, teachers have to complete eight-page forms.
More importantly, education is the dominant partner in the new local authority departments, taking most top jobs and setting priorities. That is hardly surprising. Schools are the subject of constant political and public attention. Children's social services stir interest only when a child dies, and not always then. Shoesmith, a successful former head teacher, focused on education, which she knew about, not abused children, which she didn't. That doesn't excuse Haringey's failings, but perhaps Labour politicians could briefly interrupt their denunciations of Shoesmith to admit that the merger they enforced was a mistake. Mergers often make sense on paper, but rarely on the ground. You could merge almost everything in theory: children live in houses and cross roads, so why weren't housing and transport included?
While we're on the subject of Sharon Shoesmith, I note that Ayatollah Dacre, "editor" of the Daily Mail, has declared a fatwa against her. His writers denounce her almost daily and abuse the Appeal Court judges for supporting a woman who failed to prevent a child's death and, as the Ayatollah rules, lacked sufficient contrition. The court reached its decision on legal grounds, arguing that Shoesmith was denied natural justice. It wasn't judging her morality and character. But ayatollahs apply their own laws.
As rows about adulterous footballers, injunctions and Twitter continue, newspaper columnists - including my old friend David Aaronovitch of the Times - debate whether the modern British public is less liberal about sex than we thought. In the blogosphere, they observe, there's an awful lot of indignation and this suggests the "liberal metropolitan elite" is out of touch. The commentators miss the point.
Newspapers have always treated adultery as a crime of biblical wickedness, but journalists, themselves part of the metropolitan elite, are hardly moral paragons. They know that everyone likes gossip about who's shagging whom, and the virtuous stance is a cover. Now almost everyone is a quasi-journalist, blogging and tweeting, and has adopted the same twisted and hypocritical moral code. Has nobody noticed its inherent absurdity? If, as we are told, the concern is that "role models" may set bad examples to the young, we should keep their sexual behaviour secret.
Psychologists, it is reported, have discovered a new condition: dyscalculia, which explains why some children can't do arithmetic, just as dyslexia explains why others can't read.
I'm OK at arithmetic but can't wire an electric plug, hammer a nail straight or assemble Ikea furniture. A psychologist once tested me on
visual-spatial skills and advised that, because parts of my brain were in poor working order, I should become a journalist. But he didn't offer any name for my condition and, wishing to take my rightful place among the afflicted, I still seek one. Can anyone help?
Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005
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