What cost are we willing to pay for a World Cup?
Agendas. Surely they’re the one thing a journalist shouldn’t have. Yet, so many do. It was a topic of conversation between a bunch of Australian and foreign journalists in Cairo recently.
Sitting around a table at an Egyptian restaurant the day after the Young Socceroos had made their exit from the U20 World Cup, the point was made to me that so many of the old guard of football journalists in Australia have agendas because “you can’t be around for as long as they have and not pick up a few”.
It’s an understandable reason, but to me, not a justifiable one. It may be idealism but I believe that as a journalist, once a reader feels you’ve compromised yourself, even fleetingly, they will forever think of you as such.
That’s why it was a surprise to find that an article on Football Federation Australia’s new World Cup ‘strategist’ was running as the lead piece on The World Game, a site which I contribute to, on Saturday.
On the surface it would seem reasonable to be excited by any case where “England’s loss (becomes) Australia’s gain” unless you know about Peter Hargitay, the man at the centre of all of this.
I’ve been aware of the Hungarian for quite some time but he really splashed onto the Asian Football scene earlier this year during the Asian Football Confederation’s messy and controversial elections. Despite that, it was only last week that I met him and it was a meeting that was as intriguing as one might have expected.
So who is Hargitay?
In 1984 a chemical factory in Bhopal, India released 40 tonnes of the highly toxic chemical methyl isocyanate into the air.
It caused the deaths of at least 3,000 people in the following hours and days. The figures of how many people eventually lost their lives due to this incident will never be known but at least another 15,000 people died from related illnesses.
It was the worst industrial accident in human history.
The company responsible for the disaster was Union Carbide and the spin-doctor they hired shortly afterwards was Peter Harigtay.
Following his time with Union Carbide, Hargitay moved on to work with Marc Rich, a man who is famous for two things: being at the top of the US Justice Department’s Most Wanted International Fugitives list and breaking UN sanctions against the South African government that was enforcing a policy of apartheid.
Towards the end of their campaign to host the 2010 World Cup, South Africa broke out Nelson Mandela as their trump card. Meanwhile we’ve got a man linked with those who put the former South African president in jail in the first place.
So all this has had me thinking, what price are we willing to pay for the right to host a World Cup? And I’m not just talking about the $45 million of taxpayer’s money.
It’s a question I’d like you to ask yourself. Are you happy to be represented on the global stage by a man who has worked for a negligent company that killed thousands?
Are you comfortable with your money going to a man who as recently as three years ago had to move his offices from London to the legal safe haven of Cyprus (not Zurich as the article on The World Game purports – that is only where a branch is) to avoid paying the US$2 million dollars a court order found he was responsible of owing.
These questions are important because with our World Cup bid it’s the path we are now heading down.
The corridors of global sport politics are messy and few walk away from them with clean consciences and pure reputations.
We’ve started our journey through these very corridors and at the least we must understand that the price we will pay wont just be in dollars and cents.
I’m genuinely curious to know how you feel about it.