Politics and sport make uneasy, if unavoidable, bedfellows. This has been underlined plenty of times in just the past few months and is now being highlighted once again by tensions in the Gulf centred on Qatar, host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
As the biographer of Foinavon, it should come as no surprise that I think the late-1960s was the greatest period in the history of sport. And on Thursday, another landmark 50th anniversary falls – that of the 1967 European Cup final, the night of the Lisbon Lions, the match that made household names of Jock Stein and Billy McNeill.
If I were FIFA, I think I would be just a little concerned about this week’s 12-year sponsorship deal between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Let’s be clear: the McLaren Investigation Report, the second part of which was unveiled in London last week, poses no threat to Russia’s World Cup.
I know what you’re all thinking: it’s hard to imagine anything the world needs more right now than a new 32-team international club football competition. Believe it or not, however, there are two entities that need this innovation even more than you do: one is FIFA, the world football body; the other is Gianni Infantino, its bashful new President.
In September it was reported that Javier Tebas, showman President of La Liga, had given conditional support to the notion of a breakaway European Super league. Well, to judge by his bravura performance at Sportel Monaco last week, the newly-re-elected Spaniard has undergone an evolution in his thinking.
If 2016 has taught us anything, it is not to kid ourselves that we can see too far into the future. With that proviso, it looks ever more probable, almost a decade before the first ball is actually kicked, that the United States will have a leading role in hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
There is a very important fact worth bearing in mind when seeking to make sense of Gianni Infantino’s FIFA: the 46-year-old Swiss-Italian new boy faces re-election in less than three years’ time.
By David Owen
Thursday’s group stage draw provides the perfect illustration of why the Champions League needs reform.
Jérôme Champagne has come out swinging in these final days of the FIFA Presidency campaign, claiming that spending pledges tabled by UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino are “very dangerous”.
Manchester United exec Ed Woodward sees the newly-acquisitive Chinese Super League (CSL) as “another useful market if we are looking to sell players”. And the recent £20 million-plus deal that took Ramires to Jiangsu Suning, to the considerable benefit of Chelsea’s bottom-line, surely demonstrates that he is right.
Even the slickest, best choreographed media events – and I have attended few slicker than this week’s descent on Wembley by FIFA Presidential candidate Gianni Infantino and his footballing legends – have revealing moments.
‘Oh shut up, silly woman,’ said the reptile with a grin
‘You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.’
From The Snake by Al Wilson
My social media threads at the start of this week were full of the sarcastic indignation that is part of the medium’s stock-in-trade.
United States attorney general Loretta Lynch may change FIFA, but old school football politics is likely to prove an altogether tougher dragon to slay.
By many yardsticks, 2015 must go down as a pretty rotten year for sport. The crises at FIFA and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) have put doping and governance issues squarely at the top of the movement’s agenda, highlighting how it has struggled to cope with the full consequences of the financial windfall which the digital media era has delivered.