Fifa's own goal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 July, 2000, 12:00am

THE selection of Germany to host the 2006 World Cup has resulted in nothing short of an own goal by Fifa. The delight of members of the German campaign team has been submerged by the angry recriminations and downright disbelief brought about by the mercurial behaviour of Oceania delegate Charles Dempsey.

Mr Dempsey's decision to abstain in the final round of voting gave the tournament to Germany by one vote. Had Mr Dempsey voted as he had been mandated by his regional confederation, the vote would have been tied between Germany and South Africa. The casting vote of Fifa president Sepp Blatter would then have gone to South Africa.

It has since emerged that Mr Dempsey decided to abstain because he felt intimidated by 'unsustainable pressure' to vote for one of the two main candidates. He described frequent phone calls from the bidders' associates, personal lobbying from football dignitaries and politicians, death threats and offers of bribes. One letter offering a bribe was later revealed to be a hoax from a German magazine.

Whatever Mr Dempsey's reasons for causing such a furore - and he will have some explaining to do in his native New Zealand, where the sports minister described him as an 'international embarrassment' - his actions are likely to have far-reaching consequences. Amid all the fallout, Mr Dempsey made one comment that stands out: 'Football's no longer a sport, it's a political scene.' And, of course, he is right. So much money is now involved in the game that political involvement is almost inevitable.

For South Africa, the loss of the chance to host the World Cup will potentially have a devastating effect on the sport domestically. The exodus of top-flight players to Europe, where the highest salaries are on offer, is likely to be exacerbated. The decision could well set the sport back years in that country.

Just as the International Olympic Committee was forced to reform following a series of corruption scandals, so too must Fifa look again at the whole process of selecting who hosts the World Cup.

The idea that will undoubtedly find most favour with everyone concerned to see a fairer system employed is to rotate the tournament among continents. Each region would then put forward a single candidate, agreed in advance. Only this way will such a selection fiasco be avoided in the future.