Sunday, 8 June 2014

A new ally in the Land of the Silver?

If you're a member of the Tartan Army watching the World Cup you're maybe wondering just who to be cheering on in Brazil. Well don't be surprised if you see some Saltires fluttering around the stadium when Argentina step up to face Bosnia. Argentina is a country that will be looking on with intense interest at what happens on Peter Shilton's 65th Birthday, the 18th September - maybe they will be celebrating a Yes victory by doing a sort of Hand of God salute!

The reason why Argentinian fans would be so enthusiastic about a display of Scottish solidarity is not difficult to consider. The rivalry with England is something both Scotland and Argentina share on the football pitch. Both rivalries with England of course produce a classic display of world football notably in 1966, 1986, 1998 and 2002 for Argentina and 1996, 2013 and many others before for Scotland. Then of course the blue and white lends itself to a mutual support although for Scotland's strip it's dark blue compared to Argentina's midday shade. And of course, let's not forget, Scotland's fondest memory of the World Cup is their trip to Argentina in 1978 with THAT goal by Archie Gemmel against the Netherlands.

That goal.

Off the field, if many in Argentina's football fraternity are as entrenched in their views about the Falklands, or the Malvinas, as their political leaders in Buenos Aires then without doubt they will see Scotland's opportunity for independence as a chance to complete the quest for decolonialisation of the British state. The President of Argentina will be watching closely what happens at the other end of the Atlantic in September anticipating a Yes vote with eager anticipation.

Personally I don't agree with Argentina's posturing over the Falklands. It would be wrong not to want self-determination for the Falkland Islanders having wanted it so much for Scotland. They do not typically identify with Argentina, they prefer to turn to the British state for their citizenship and being descended from Anglo-Celts it's hard not to share their view. But it does mean, for people living here in Britain, relations with Argentina leave a lot to be desired. And for those Scots that want to see a good relationship with Argentina a Yes vote would they feel be exactly what they need.

With Scotland removed from the British state, Argentina can form a new bond with at least one part of the island of Great Britain that is refreshingly less acrimonious. And with that could potentially come new opportunities. For example if Scotland were to follow the Republic of Ireland's lead in 2008 that might include a Visa agreement which would allow Scottish citizens the chance to work in Argentina. Of course there's plenty of places around the world to work but why not Argentina? Many Scots in Scotland would love to be associated with that kind of foreign policy of reaching out and shaking hands. The UK's foreign policy appears so much to be stuck in the 19th Century. But that's Westminster's issue, Scotland can choose a different direction. Diplomatic disputes between Argentina and the UK over the Falklands are likely to have an unwanted negative effect on bilateral trade but this would not be an issue with trade agreements between Argentina and an independent Scotland who would have no responsibility for the Falklands.

So in the land of the silver (that's what Argentina literally means) could we find a new ally? Well hopefully a much more positive relationship with Argentina. But Scotland cannot be seen to take sides on the Falklands issue. One person who probably will have a strong opinion is Veterans Minister Keith Brown MSP. He himself saw action in the Falklands and if he is to hold a defence or foreign affairs brief in an independent Scottish Government he will be all too aware of the importance a good diplomatic relationship with Argentina. If Holyrood is not put under too much pressure to take Argentina's side on the Falkland's issue while refusing to aid Britain's watch over the islands, then there's no reason why Scotland can't strike the right balance in how it's government interacts with a country who really should be our friend not our foe.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing an England v. Argentina Semi-Final hopefully with both Rooney and Messi gracing the floor having scored their first finals goal. Why it will have taken them both three World Cups to get to that stage of being a goal scorer in the greatest show on Earth I can only wonder. But what I can tell you is.... I can't wait!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Move World Cup 2022 to another country for the sake of football and sanity

It's the moment you dread. A little known or unremarkable country winning an honour that really belongs to someone else. Like Greece winning Euro 2004. You'll see these nations biding for something and feel insecure that they're even in the process. But you just don't expect the worst.

Yet I could have dropped whatever I was holding when I heard live on radio the announcement of the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts. Minutes before, I had been left disappointed that England lost out to Russia in the bid for 2018. Now I was left in complete disbelief that Qatar had been given the right to host the 2022 World Cup ahead of Australia, Korea, Japan and even the USA. At least Russia has the size and international profile to match a competition of this scale but Qatar - this was probably the moment people had even first heard of the place.

Qatar - where?

It got you wondering, like with the allegations in the 2018 bid, if Qatar had also won hosting rights on the back of bribery. I have always believe they did. And now the Sunday Times has uncovered evidence that proves my and many other people's suspicion. That FIFA executives were involved in a major instance of corruption. Because there is no sensible reason on this earth whatsoever for Qatar hosting the World Cup and even if it was only a 22-man committee that decided on Qatar it is rather telling that so many of them managed to back this tiny emirate.

Qatar doesn't even need the World Cup, it doesn't need it for any great economic gain, there's already plenty going for it as a country of only 1 million people. It is a small and insignificant nation that lacks the image that bigger countries have and that appeals to fans of the World Cup. Italy, USA, France, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Brazil - these are all countries people know and love and want to visit. Who's particularly interested in visiting Qatar? It has hardly any history to make it a remotely interesting place outside of it's material artificial fa├žade. It has no football culture and most or all of the stadiums will have to be built from scratch. Of course it's got the money to sort all that out and it can easily put in place a strong infrastructure, one thing Qatar would have to its credit. But the experience of being in Qatar for the World Cup both as a player and as a fan would be incredibly uncomfortable. If it's not rescheduled for the winter at considerable disruption to domestic seasons across the world it would have to take place in the unbearable heat of an Arabian summer. Of course they would have to install air conditioning but it still may not be adequate and playing standard could suffer considerably as a result. For fans the time before and after each match would also be exhausting and alcohol can only be bought in specific fan zones. If this tournament takes place here in a country with so little a soul where few people will find any real joy from the experience it will be a real denigration of this most wonderful of tournaments.

But what is really getting the international community to take note of this controversy are the human rights issues. Migrant workers. They come from Nepal. They're offered a better future but they arrive at Qatar, have their passports confiscated and are forced to work in labour camps so the new venues can be constructed quickly. In a climate they're far from used-to. The total squalor of the conditions they face amounts to nothing short of slavery. And there's one death a day. Think of the misery this is causing not just themselves but the families they've left behind in Nepal. They can't even escape and return home! To describe this horrifying con where migrant workers were legally trapped having been assured of good salaries as a human rights abuse is possibly an understatement. That FIFA is allowing the World Cup to be held here shows just how far the organisation has sunk. If the World Cup continues to be held here, I for one may refuse to watch it. Had the decision to host the World Cup been made by representatives from all 209 countries then it is very unlikely Qatar would have won.

The ghastly plight of migrant workers in Qatar 

Fortunately because it's still a whole eight years away, there's still time to move the World Cup to another country. Mexico is the country that hosted it twice with the shortest interval, 16 years. The second time came after Colombia was stripped of the right. The USA hosted it 20 years ago and in 2022 will have been 28 years previously, not far short of the time between when West Germany hosted it in 1974 and when they hosted it as a unified country in 2006 (32 years). America would have everything in place in time no problem, three years is probably the most they will need to prepare if Qatar could be stripped of the hosting rights. Korea and Japan who also lost out to Qatar will only have held it last 20 years previously though neither on their own. And Australia, the country that should have won the bid, would be a fantastic place to hold the World Cup. Although people love to go there for the sun it will be their winter so cooler but more pleasant for the players much like in South Africa. But would they have the stadia prepared in time? That will depend on when any announcement is made concerning World Cup 2022 being moved elsewhere. So either the USA, Japan or Australia for hosting the 2022 World Cup.

But not Qatar. This country does not deserve to stage the greatest show on Earth. Not now, not ever.