Thursday, 4 November 2010

Good Intentions

First of all, welcome back to ShareSport blog. For those of you don't know who I am, I'm the editor of our fledgling magazine and today's blog is, hopefully, the first step on a long and successful road for me and my team, who hope to bring our magazine to the forefront of online sports publications.

Anyone who would have logged on to the BBC Sport website this morning would have already seen the main headline of the morning so far surrounding England's World Cup 2018 bid.

BBC Sport understands that England's bid has been "significantly harmed" by the newspaper allegations made by The Sunday Times, that two of the FIFA committee members were willing to sell off their vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.

This sort of incident follows a string of allegations that at times reek of hypocrisy by our national newspapers who have been well known for reporting stories regardless of their ramifications in areas that, they claim, they support. Case in point, England and the World Cup.

I'm sure that, for most, memories of disappointment still linger following England’s abject performance in the 2010 World Cup. This sense of failure is fostered by the sense of optimism that surrounds the England team going into every major event, but unlike other major events in the past - with the exception of Euro 96, perhaps - a sense of destiny seemed heightened ten fold, and who were the main co-conspirators for this hype and expectation? The media. Most notably the national press.

The national press didn't just close themselves off to just using the print media either. Television adverts appeared with former England manager Terry Venables singing "I believe" in an advertisement for The Sun, constant pull outs, magazine articles, public appearances, all building to a crescendo of expectation that even the most experienced of England fans couldn't help but get caught up in.

But cast your minds back a few months before the team had even landed in South Africa, when The News of the World revealed that the then England captain John Terry had had an affair with the former partner of a former team mate and fellow England international, Wayne Bridge.

Subsequently Terry lost his captaincy, the England camp, momentarily, was thrown into disarray and manager Fabio Cappello - who, let's face it, had had a comfortable, at best, ride so far as England manager - had a major decision to make and a camp that, so close to a major finals, had a crack that could fester into a major split.

Fortunately, on this occasion, Bridge took the high road and retired from international football, Cappello stripped Terry of his captaincy in a meeting at Wembley that lasted a matter of seconds and the issue eventually got buried under a tsunami of optimism, but not until every national newspaper reported the incident to death.

This incident is just one example of many that have gone before it where the national press shows how fickle it can really be.

You only have to look back to the previous World Cup in 2006, and look at the sting campaign that caught out Sven Goran Erickson just months before the England team set off for South Korea and Japan. Again, with the team saddled with the expectation of a nation the same national newspaper - on this occasion it's sister paper, The News of the World - being the catalyst in some sort of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ agenda.

The ultimate goal of a newspaper, obviously, is to sell, and stories like these that grace the front pages as well as the back pages of the paper will get copies sold, but when you see articles like those that followed England’s exit out of the 2010 World Cup, headlines like "You've let your country down" adorning the front page, you have to question the right of the press to criticise when they are the first in the queue to bring the whole thing crashing down.

These incidents are normally synonymous with the tabloids, with the broadsheets like The Times, The Guardian and The Telegraph tending to be thought of as on a higher moral plane than the rest, but the exposé on the FIFA delegates by The Sunday Times has potentially gone one better than the tabloids had ever managed before, potentially throwing a spanner in the works of a tournament England haven't even got close to getting to yet.

It could be argued that what The Sunday Times found when investigating these is to the benefit of football's governing body, FIFA. Exposing corrupt individuals that have no place in the running of the beautiful game. However, FIFA, under the tutelage of the mercurial Sepp Blatter, is far from a straight edge governing body. Whereas we may see this incident as a positive, drawing out the corrupt and the irresponsible, the rest of the FIFA 'family' may see it another way, with one member of the 2018 bid team suggesting that "FIFA members feel they are being persecuted by the British media."

'You don't crap where you eat.' A blunt turn-of-phrase which best sums up this saga. The Sunday Times' intentions may have been good, but this has to go down as yet another own goal by the British press.

Considering the amount of pressure and expectation that is generated by our national press, you would think that they would do what they can to assist the team they laud so often and expect so much from. But as Blatter intimated last Friday, "one can ask whether such an action is appropriate, trying to set traps for people. It is a deeply rooted problem."

For once, I agree with him.