The August Riots


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Reality Britain: How long until reality television shows dominate our television scene?

The past decade has seen a sea change in television broadcasting. Shows such as Big Brother, X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent and Strictly Come Dancing have begun to define television as we know it. Whatever side of the debate you consider yourself to occupy, it is almost undeniable that the traditional programmes to which viewers became accustomed in the 1980s and 1990s are gradually being phased out. Time Magazine critic James Poniewozik asserts that, rather than being an anomaly in the televisual field, reality shows are "simply another genre", such as sitcoms or dramas. Indeed there are those, such as Today online contributor Michael Ventre, who believe that 2011 will in fact sound the death knell for reality programming. Big Brother has already fallen by the wayside, fortunately in my view, for over the past ten years it has promoted all that is wrong with society; vanity, undeserved fame, banality, selfishness and egregious self-promotion. Yet X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent, arguably ITV's flagship programmes in its current malaise, are still going strong. Indeed X-Factor, with the significant weight of media mogul Simon Cowell behind it, has come to define the musical, particularly chart, agenda in the United Kingdom with winners and runners-up rarely failing to break through into the 'big-time' and achieve significant commercial success. The major worry would be that original broadcasting is being supplanted across the board, and the programmes that are really valued, creative and memorable, will soon cease to exist in the face of the incessant march of reality television.

As mentioned earlier, some believe that reality television is in fact on its way out, although what form of programming will replace it is unclear at present. In the United States there has been criticism of American Idol and Dancing With The Stars, both of which attract a high proportion of viewers, but perhaps this is merely a sign of the times? Perhaps the public on both sides of the Atlantic have become sick of reality programming, a staple of television schedules for at least a decade. Perhaps what we are seeing is a public looking to the past for a solution to the problems of the present, and potential difficulties of the near future. I for one certainly hope so, for I believe Britain's monumental cultural heritage, of which a large part is owed to the various original, innovative and relevant programmes produced in the United Kingdom over the past half century, rather than the recent influx of cheap to produce, endlessly viable and largely creatively-moribund shows such as X-Factor. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with such programmes, my only complaint is that as time goes on far less energy goes into ensuring original and creative broadcasting, and quality is substituted for financial viability. For where would television in this country be had producers, television companies, executives and creative divisions not taken a chance on shows such as The Office, Only Fools And Horses, Yes Minister and Blackadder? Although perhaps risky at the time, each of the above has achieved significant critical acclaim and an enduring popularity that reality shows often fail to obtain; for most it is more a case of the latter, if only in a somewhat fleeting sense, than the former.

One could argue that what has been happening to our television over the past decade or so is merely an almost-exact reflection of the phenomena which has drastically altered the British music scene. In the early-mid 1990s the chart was far more unpredictable, varying in its winners and losers, and based primarily around artists producing original, creative music that they had written themselves following an extensive period of touring and a variety of attempts to 'make it' in the 'big time'. Whereas nowadays chart music is dominated by mass-produced, heavily advertised music catering primarily to one specific style which more often than not is forced upon the buying public by the various interests that the music companies represent. One could say in recent years, music has become less about art and creativity, and more about art and instant gratification, that is to say, temporary and fleeting chart success. Sadly the same has happened to British television. By no means am I trying to suggest that the 1990s was some sort of 'golden age' in television, although some may argue that the flourishing of British popular music in that particular decade was something out of the ordinary, and indeed rather special. However television appears to be going only one way; in five years’ time, although Michael Ventre vehemently disputes this point of view, I predict that we will have far fewer programmes of the calibre and originality of Peep Show, The Inbetweeners, Outnumbered and Gavin And Stacey, and more shows along the line of X-Factor, television designed to make millions overnight with little creativity involved. Now I certainly do not want to get rid of programmes such as X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent, in fact I must profess to have watched both somewhat regularly. I am merely lamenting the demise of the sitcom, a television genre often subjected to some criticism and under-representation, and the dearth of original programming available to the viewers of today. With the current, and possible future cuts to BBC funding we may be about to say goodbye to a whole host of 'risky' programmes in favour of shows guaranteed to engineer a high proportion of the prime-time audience, that are both commercially viable and sometimes creatively thin, the rest of the time bankrupt of originality.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Bee Hive City, Share TV, The British Comedy Guide

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

It's snow joke: Winter worries and festive fury, why does the snow always take us by surprise?

The past few days have seen hundreds of flights cancelled, many roads either closed, clogged, or impassable, and the travel plans of millions left in tatters. Suffice to say the conditions have been challenging, extremely so in many cases, with temperatures of -19 degrees a reality for a number of areas across the country. However the frustration of those who, since the beginning of the weekend, have been stranded at Heathrow, an airport accustomed to managing tens of millions of passengers per year, is perfectly understandable. I raise the following question: why does the snow always catch us out, and when will this country finally take the necessary precautions to avoid any repeat of the present disaster. Prime Minister David Cameron today expressed his "frustration" at the current travel problems, but in reality his words will be of little consolation to those who have been trapped, in a manner one particular news programme referred to as akin to 'refugees', in the various terminals of London's airports, particularly Heathrow. The so-called 'weather excuse' is often wheeled out by the transport, particularly the aviation, authorities during such times of travel chaos. But how long will this continue to provide an adequate explanation for such an unprecedented level of disruption?

One could plausibly argue that given the events of recent years, Britain's airport and railway operators, particularly the much maligned British Airports Authority (BAA), should have put in place an appropriate structure to deal with circumstances that were in fact easily anticipated and warned of for a number of weeks by those with the ability of foresight. Yet the failures of the past few days have been a most unimpressive cocktail of short and long-term factors. On the longer term side of the debate, for an airport known to have flown 66 million passengers during the previous year, to not have the necessary snow-clearing facilities to ensure that the runway can be kept as clear as possible during times of intense snowfall, and quickly and effectively cleared following such downpours in order to continue an 'adequate', not even full, level of operations, is outrageous. It seems to me that complacency has long been the order of the day at the busiest airport in the United Kingdom and the European Community. Corners appear to have been cut, and necessary checks and balances to guard against total collapse of flight output seem to be non-existent. The fact that, as revealed earlier today on ITV News, there are no processes in place to rate airports on the manner in which they deal with snow and ice, shows the extent to which the problem has been swept under the carpet and quietly ignored until, of course, the recent debacle.

Yet the worst part of all, for my mind, has been the short-term events which have characterised the passenger misery of the past few days. Passengers and prospective fliers have been provided with almost no information as to whether or not their flights will be going ahead; for those stranded in the terminals one would imagine that such information, however seemingly minor and insignificant, would have been akin to manna from heaven. Yet sadly the response of the authorities and those 'managing' the crisis has simply been to disregard the needs, and concerns, of the troubled and concerned passengers confined to the terminal walls in West London. Furthermore, when one takes into account that it has taken four days, three since the snowfall ended on Saturday, to bring the airport back to even limited capacity - estimated to be around 1/3 - BAA, its requisite staff members and relevant associates should be highly embarrassed. Lessons may have been learnt, but I highly doubt that an aggrieved British public will permit such a frivolous 'learning curve' to repeat itself, or that those who have seen 2010 end on a sour note will pay any regard to pleas for leniency and calm from those who may not have caused this crisis, but have undeniably exaggerated it.

The British transport network has long been a thorn in the side of the plans of millions of Britons throughout the festive period, with extortionate fares, inadequate timetabling, frequent delays and sometimes cancellations anathema to many sick of paying for such an unreliable system. Add snow to this mixture and it becomes positively toxic. One would expect, whether rightly or wrongly and I suggest that it may be a mixture of the two, that should Britain's airports fail to cope with the seasonal weather, the trains and motorways should be able to step into the breach. Alas, for this Christmas at least, it's a case of no such luck. The suspension of the East Coast Main line is by no means the end of the misery. Dozens of train companies across the country have cancelled train services at a time when those attempting to undergo domestic flights are turning to rail travel as an answer to their prayers. Eurostar passengers have been equally affected, being informed that they could experience anything up to an astonishing six-hour wait upon arrival at the St. Pancras Terminal. Southwestern Trains, Arriva Trains Wales, and many services in the North and South-East of England have been severely affected, and are not yet back to capacity.

When you consider the possibility of the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail network being factored into this debate, and the potential for greater disruption becomes monumental unless a frank and full change of attitude takes place amongst those responsible for our transport infrastructure. Roads are always a problem in snow and ice, and few can really complain about constant snowfall stretching grit supplies to breaking point; it is simply the combination of road, rail and air that has so devastated Britons heading home or to visit relatives over a festive period which, let us not forgot, comes just once a year. We can only hope that the authorities get the message, and take on board the message of this simple adage: 'fail to plan and plan to fail'. Whilst nobody is suggesting that the hold-ups, cancellations, and transport collapse have been planned; they certainly appear to have been exaggerated by the inadequate preparations, shortage of necessary equipment, incompetent and unsympathetic 'crisis management’ and failure to take into account the needs of passengers.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Frui, Tree Badger, Reuters, The Telegraph

Monday, 20 December 2010

Festive Football Forecast - Who will be snowed under this Christmas, and who will plow through their rivals to reach the top of the tree?

Scottish football supporters might well be accustomed to having their Christmas and winter schedule decimated by excessive snowfall and adverse weather conditions. However for those of us south of the border the mass postponements which affected 32 fixtures across all four divisions were both unprecedented and unexpected. Only three Premier League fixtures, miraculously including tonight's game at Eastlands, went ahead. Thus the table is currently rather skewed, with Manchester United currently sitting top of the three by two points, following the failure of their neighbours City to capitalise on the weekend's postponements, suffering a shock 2-1 home defeat against Everton. Following tonight's result, United are in a remarkably strong position going into the Christmas period. City will struggle to close the gap going into 2011, facing a tricky trip to Newcastle United on Boxing Day, despite very much winnable home ties against stuttering Aston Villa on 28 December and Blackpool on New Year’s Day. United also face a Christmas period which shouldn't be all too taxing, with Sunderland the visitors on Boxing Day, followed by a jaunt around The Midlands to face Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion in the space of five days. City's form so far this season has been patchy to say the least, but with Roberto Mancini's side unbeaten in the Premier League since 30 October, and two of three festive fixtures at Eastlands, they cannot be ruled out despite tonight's result. United meanwhile, have been buoyant in recent weeks, the 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers a consummate mauling which, combined with Chelsea's stuttering recent form, has instilled a sense of belief amongst the United supporters and players alike that they can open a gap at the top once their games-in-hand come around in January. Chelsea and Arsenal are by no means spectators in this title battle; The Gunners indeed are United's closest challengers, but only on goal difference. Chelsea lie a point behind, and the winners of this Monday's colossal showdown at The Emirates will likely emerge from the Christmas period as the main competition for Sir Alex's side during the remainder of the season. United's tendency to up their game in the second half of the season, plus Arsenal's disposition to implode sometime in the final few months of the season, means that Chelsea and Manchester City will need to find some form and quick, to prevent the league leaders running away with things and pressing home their advantage.

Outside the top four positions, the top flight is as open as it has been for a while. Tottenham Hotspur, enjoying a vintage season in European competition, having won their Champions League group against all odds, currently occupy fifth place on 27 points. However with this season's overachievers-so-far Sunderland equal on points and goal difference, and Bolton just a point behind, Harry Redknapp's side must put their European exploits to one side and take advantage of the Christmas period to put some distance between them and their less-illustrious challengers. Spurs have a fairly simple sequence of games between now and 2011; a trip to Aston Villa and a couple of home games against Fulham and Newcastle all that stand between Tottenham and a full festive points haul. Bolton, for their part, have been in exceptional form; Owen Coyle has transformed the Trotters into a side playing football the right way, combining a ruthless determination to succeed with an egalitarian flair that has seen them win plaudits across the footballing spectrum. Sunderland's rise has been rather more inconspicuous, but Saturday's victory against Bolton illustrated the quiet effectiveness with which Steve Bruce and his side have firmly cemented themselves as challengers for a Europa League place. The Trotters will be up against West Bromwich Albion, who themselves have over-achieved under Roberto Di Matteo, on Boxing Day. However away games at Chelsea and Liverpool will provide a far stiffer test of the Terriers' mettle, and they will do well to maintain such a lofty position by 6pm on 1 January. For Sunderland the festive matches shouldn't be quite so troublesome; few supporters will be expecting a victory at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, particularly in light of the ease with which Blackburn were taken apart just a few weeks ago. However with Blackpool and Blackburn themselves visitors to the Stadium Of Light, a veritable fortress where the Black Cats have been unbeaten thus far, Sunderland may well be right on Spurs' coat-tails in a fortnight's time.

Just two points separate the teams from eighth-14th place, and for any of those within these particular parameters, two wins from three over the Christmas period may just be enough to entrench a top-half position. Overachievers Blackpool, Newcastle, Blackburn, Stoke, Everton and West Brom may not face the wrath of their supporters should they fall out of this closely-packed group, but for Liverpool and Aston Villa, ninth and 15th places respectively won't be enough to impress fans used to far higher league placings, and may just cost Roy Hodgson and Gerard Houllier their jobs. As for the final five, particularly bottom of the table West Ham United, it will be anything but a Happy Christmas. Hammers boss Avram Grant was allegedly handed a simple equation recently by the board at Upton Park; win one of the next three games, or face redundancy. Having secured a battling 1-1 draw at Ewood Park against a wasteful Blackburn, Grant may well argue that fans have already seen an improvement. Of course, the alleged 'ultimatum' may simply have been an invention by the press, but the old adage of there being no smoke without fire may well ring true in this scenario as well. Failing to achieve victory in either their trip to Fulham and a home showdown against tonight's heroes Everton, and the Hammers may well have lost likely the most proficient manager they could ever hope to have in such a predicament. For Wolverhampton Wanderers and Mick McCarthy, excuses of misfortune, which are indeed justified, will only wash for a certain amount of time. West Ham, Wolves and Wigan, all of whom have vastly inferior goal differences to the sides above them, face an uphill struggle to dig themselves out of the relegation slush. Fulham's position is almost equally precarious; the West Londoners lie just outside the relegation zone, level on points with third-bottom Wigan, and spared the ignominy of being in the bottom three at Christmas solely by dint of the abysmal goal difference of Roberto Martinez' side. A tricky trip to Stoke City and London Derby at Spurs will be difficult to gain any points from, so the pressure is on for the Cottagers to put another nail in the coffin of West Ham United on Boxing Day. Expect a gritty, determined performance from both sides, and a nervy, yet expectant crowd. One can only hope that even if the Hammers fail to triumph, as I expect them to, the West Ham board keep the faith with Avram Grant as he tries to unite a disparate, underachieving squad, and trim the fat accumulated by his predecessors as well as improve on a lacklustre season to date.

England's second division, The Championship, unlike its more illustrious counterpart, remains unpredictable, exciting and surprisingly resilient against the festive freeze. Just two games failed to go ahead at the weekend, although league leaders Queens Park Rangers will have wished that their trip to Elland Road had fallen victim to the snow and ice. The R's slumped to a dismal 2-0 defeat, Max Gradel scoring twice to condemn Rangers to their second defeat in a row. Things aren't set to get any easier for Neil Warnock's side, despite returning to Loftus Road on Boxing Day. A scorned Swansea City, 1-0 losers against Sheffield United on Saturday, will provide another test of QPR's promotion credentials, which have already been subject to significant doubt by supporters and pundits alike. Cardiff City will be hoping to get their season back on track with a home game against high-flying Coventry City on Boxing Day. Expect the Bluebirds to re-establish themselves as QPR's main challengers over the festive period, with poor home performers Watford and Bristol City unlikely to be capable of coping with a resurgent City side, featuring the attacking weight of Craig Bellamy, Jay Bothroyd, Peter Whittingham and Michael Chopra. Leeds United, meanwhile, who achieved what Cardiff were fundamentally unable to at the weekend, could well reach the summit themselves. Home matches against underachievers Middlesbrough and mid-table Portsmouth are the best Simon Grayson's side could have hoped for going into a 2011 which may just see Leeds reclaim their often exaggerated 'right' to play in the Premier League. Dark horses for the next few games could be Norwich City, who will play two of three festive games at home, one against faltering QPR, Reading, and Hull City, who look to be finding some sort of momentum to drag themselves away from the relegation dogfight. Leicester are another side to watch, with their 3-0 away defeat to Ipswich during Saturday's blizzard in Suffolk likely to be a blip for Sven Goran Eriksson's improving side. Doncaster are also worth a mention; having stopped the rot following a last-gasp comeback victory against Middlesbrough on Friday night, and facing visits from underperforming Ipswich and second-bottom Scunthorpe United, and lying in 11th place, just four points off the play-offs with a game in hand, Sean O'Driscoll's side look set to force themselves into the top six come the New Year. Whatever the results over the next two weeks, the onus is on the bottom four and the top six to ensure that the crucial gap from those above and below them remains. For those in the middle, the time is now to ensure whether it will be a festive flurry, or a case of brand new year, same old form.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Purse And A Glove, Who Ate All The Pies?, Football

Saturday, 11 December 2010

World Cup Vote - Has FIFA been exposed for what it is, or simply tried to honestly further the global game?

With a week having passed since FIFA's decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, the time is ripe to analyse the reasons for this unprecedented decision, and finally settle a debate which has seen FIFA accused of rampant corruption and collusion in bribery. The future of the global game is subject to consistent debate and wildly diverging views; some believe it has been, since the advent of huge television revenues and multi-million pound sponsorship deals, lamentably moving away from its reputation as the sport of the working man to a detached, billionaire's playground and a shameless self-perpetuator of wealth, whilst others merely see the its on-going development as natural and fluid, and merely an example of 'moving with the times'. Whatever side of the debate you find yourself on, there can be absolutely no doubt that the aforementioned conclusion, reached by the panel of FIFA voters on 2 December, has mired the organisation in controversy and resulted in a barrage of criticism being aimed at Sepp Blatter, FIFA's eighth President, who has often been a target for the growing 'goal-line technology' lobby, with the direction in which international football has been going since he took on the role in 1998 always a hotly-contested topic. Many of the various polemics have come from the English tabloid press, for whom FIFA's rejection of England's 2018 Bid has, perhaps rightly, been taken as a personal insult and a slight against the reputation of the country.

Now the English are often seen in a rather negative light overseas, whether this is fair or not, and their reaction to the decision, which was to emphasise the extent to which an 'anti-English' feeling within FIFA hampered England's bid, could be interpreted as a typical reaction and nothing more than sour grapes. Yet I personally do not feel this is a fair assertion. When you look at the core elements of the Russian bid, and the political, economic and social structure of Russian society, they provide an almost-perfect contrast to the central tenets of English socio-economic and political life, and the country's infrastructure? Why therefore, was a nation lacking any adequate, let alone significant or stand-out, stadia and transport infrastructure, able to defeat another whose bid was described as 'technically excellent' and 'low-risk' by FIFA analysts? Here in lies the key point of the debate: should the World Cup be used as a means to further the reach of the global game, at the cost of the passion, history, legacy and supporters who have helped it to expand throughout the world? FIFA clearly believes it ought to be a tool for socio-economic development, as the awarding of the 2022 tournament to Qatar clearly demonstrates; in doing so, one must presume that the organisation feels that by hosting the World Cup a footballing fanbase will simply 'spring up' in the tiny Emirate. However beyond all the romantic rhetoric and promises of a 'better future' the facts appear to have been entirely ignored. Qatar, since 1825, has been ruled by the Al Thani dynasty, in the form of an absolute monarchy. The Emir of Qatar is both the Head of State and of Government.

The story is similar for Russia, the beneficiary of FIFA's generosity for the 2018 tournament. Vladimir Putin, Russian President from 2000-2008 and since Prime Minister under Dmitry Medvedev (2008-present), has a rather ambiguous position in terms of the 'balance of power' at the pinnacle of Russian politics. As somebody who has studied the current Russian political system in some detail, I feel I am not only qualified but disposed to comment upon and, if I can, clarify the situation. Now in theory Russia is a democracy, ruled by an elected President who represents a political party which is part of a wider free, multi-party, pluralistic system. In practice it is rather different. For many international observers believe that, since relinquishing the Presidency in 2008, Vladimir Putin has essentially remained firmly in control of Russia's economic and political direction, which has remained more or less unchanged. Indeed, due to Russian political law stipulating that a President may not serve two consecutive terms, but stating that said person can, should the situation arise, serve an indefinite number of periods as President, that he will return to power in 2012 and remain there until 2028, should he triumph in the popular vote, which has been changed under Medvedev to be held every six years, rather than four. Therefore if you believe the doom-mongerers and often-accurate analysts, there exists in the Russian Federation a situation in which the Head of Government, Mr. Putin, is to all intents and purposes also the Head of State, due to the measure of control he enjoys over Mr. Medvedev, a man who rose to his current political rank solely due to the clientalism and influence of Mr. Putin, to whom Mr. Medvedev owes his career and, rather portentously, his position.

Therefore it may be convincingly and factually argued that both Russia and Qatar boast undemocratic, unrepresentative political systems, in which a single individual or 'clique' enjoys an unquestioned monopoly of power, in spite of any 'democratic legislation' or meaningless assurances which may exist to that effect. Now you might be thinking that I've done both nations a disservice and condemned both without providing sufficient evidence. Well in Russia there is definitely ample evidence to provide for further analysis; United Russia, created in 2008 and the current 'ruling party' in the Russian Federation, is arguably little more than a country-wide mouthpiece for Putin and, should we consider Medvedev to have his own, independent opinion, the President as well. It is backed by the multi-billion pound corporations, which include the likes of Gazprom, from which a significant amount of the support for the Putin-Medvedev 'consensus' comes. Other, truly independent political parties do exist, but are subject to significant repression, suffer from wholly disproportionate representation in the Putin-controlled media, and are often forbidden from campaigning fairly and equitably, with the same freedom afforded to United Russia. Civil society is barely tolerated, let alone allowed to flourish as it is in this country. As with the Soviet period, dissent is rigorously clamped down on, as the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkoyskaya will attest to. Whilst state involvement in her murder has never been proven, a significant number of analysts are convinced of, if not its ultimate guilt, it’s almost-certain complicity in the assassination. A free media barely exists in the Russian Federation, and perhaps this is why FIFA chose its bid over that from England; the likelihood of any investigative television programme along the lines of Panorama being allowed to exist, let alone screen a thoroughly anti-FIFA, anti-corruption special a few days before the crucial vote, is inconceivable. Therefore I would argue that FIFA has afforded the World Cup, the highest sporting accolade one can bestow on a nation, in my view, to an intolerant, undemocratic, clientalist, repressive, controlling nation ruled by a 'one-man dictatorship in all but name'.

The news doesn't get any better for the Russians; with an appalling human rights record, their recent history as an independent state blighted by aggressive wars of expansion, destruction and unforgiveable violations of human rights in Chechnya and, more recently, North Ossetia, and huge socio-economic disparity between the state-sponsored 'nouveau-riche' and those struggling below the radar of Mr. Putin, FIFA's reasoning seems less and less justifiable. Add to this the inherent problem of racism in the Russian game, something England managed mercifully to stamp out of football some years ago, and continues to make concerted efforts to prevent, and FIFA seems to have positively betrayed the principles of fairness and equity upon which it is supposedly founded. The egregious treatment of Peter Odemwingie, a Nigerian-Russian winger previously with Lokomotiv Moscow, who was subjected to 'monkey chants' and 'banana jokes' and was afforded absolutely no support from any footballing authority in Russia, and the manner in which he has been able to ply his trade in the English Premier League with West Bromwich Albion without such abuse demonstrates the gulf between the two nations in terms of tolerance and respect. Furthermore the following statement from Oleg Blokhin, the Soviet Union's all-time top goal scorer and both a role-model and a hero for millions of Russian children even nowadays, suggests that such attitudes are indeed as widespread as I fear them to be: "The more Ukrainians that play in the national league, the more examples for the young generation. Let them learn from [Andriy] Shevchenko or Blokhin and not from some Zumba-Bumba whom they took off a tree, gave him two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian League. [...] I remember when I played football, if we lost a game, it was not easy to walk the Kiev streets – there were many friends out there who could beat you up for that. But is there any sense in beating up a foreigner? Okay, you beat him up – next thing he does is pack up and go." Sickening, I'm sure you'll agree, and an affront to the progress which has been made, at least in this country, in stamping out such antiquated and hateful attitudes and creating an equal game which can be played by all, without fear of prejudice, racism or any other intolerance.

Qatar, for what it is worth, is hardly a tolerant, democratic state either, certainly not along the lines of those such as Spain, Portugal, Belgium, The Netherlands, and even England. No political parties are allowed to exist, there are no elections, and the ruling party retains power courtesy of the huge revenues derived from the sale of Qatar's extensive natural resources. Furthermore, although some may consider this a 'non-issue', alcohol is legal but only with a permit, somewhat difficult to get hold of during a tournament attended by thousands from across the globe, and forbidden to be drank in public. Whilst Qatar is by no means the most repressive Islamic state in the Middle East, a status which hardly deserves applause, and women are permitted to drive and not kept subservient to quite the same extent as in many of the states bordering the Qatari emirate, FIFA are certainly pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a progressive, democratising, forward-looking state with its awarding of the 2022 World Cup. Yet the main problems with Qatar lie in its almost entire lack of any sort of meaningful infrastructure. In time for 2022 transport networks, entirely new cities, and a daunting array of stadia need to be built; indeed, once they are constructed, most will be located within a sixty-mile radius, with many cities concentrated in one single city or locale. Now from a purely pragmatic point of view, this sounds excellent, with journalists, teams, supporters and other observers being subject to fewer 'travel headaches' than those of this year's tournament in South Africa, for example. However, it does certainly seem that in 2022 a situation will come to exist whereby the 'haves', already enjoying luscious lifestyles in the largest Qatari cities, will be able to enjoy the tournament, whilst the 'have-nots', living in the countryside devoid of the benefits brought to 'the few' by the 'oil boom', will not, thereby perpetuating the sort of inequitable social strata FIFA's rhetoric suggests it wants to remove. It is also worth saying that with so many stadiums and the vast majority of the infrastructure concentrated in a handful of cities, the demands on the emirate's limited accommodation and transport resources will in all likelihood be unlikely to be fulfilled. In a final flurry of common sense I would also like to raise another point; how much of a 'footballing culture' and 'fanbase for the future', presumably only cynically designed to generate even more wealth at the pinnacle of 'our' global game, will be able to be generated by a country with a minuscule population of two million? At least in Russia, a country with a population of 141 million, there is potential for commercial expansion. Although I highly doubt any of this will benefit Russia's many 'little people', who presumably weren't factored into FIFA's 'common sense voting' and the minds of the Russian delegates in Zurich.

Thus I now feel I am able to provide a summary as to why Britain was denied the opportunity to host the 2018 World Cup, which will take place 52 years since the country which invented football last hosted the tournament. Firstly, FIFA has clearly decided to turn away from the democracies of the world such as England, which enjoys a media, despite subject to criticism, outside the control of the state, and a flourishing, vibrant civil society. In this country we don't just sweep corruption under the carpet, as presumably occurs in Russia. The Panorama show was indicative of this fact. England's bid team didn't want the programme to go ahead, and implored the producers to prevent it being aired. I would imagine that the vast majority of hopeful children and adults alike across the length and breadth of the country, would have preferred to be postponed or possibly abandoned altogether. But it wasn't, for in a democratic state you have to value the right of free speech. The recent protests over the Government's decision to raise the current cap on tuition fees provide the starkest contrast possible to the situation in terms of civil society, popular democracy, and free speech in Russia. Protests such as these simply would not be allowed to occur, and in the end FIFA clearly decided that they preferred law and order to freedom of speech and integrity. Secondly it appears that England's already vast array of appropriate stadia, and mass legions of 'football mad' supporters weren't 'appropriate' to host the World Cup. Evidently stadia such as Anfield, Old Trafford, Wembley and Stamford Bridge, despite being perfect in terms of facilities and boasting rich, long legacies of triumph and disaster, were not the image FIFA wished to portray to the world of this 'global game of ours'. Finally I genuinely do believe that England is a name to be scorned around the world. To say, 'we didn't get it because we're English' could be termed an easy and wholly exaggerated solution, but one cannot deny that the lack of consideration given to England's bid, which was commercially, technically and I would argue 'morally' and 'historically' the best, raises questions about the attitude taken towards this country by the FIFA voters.