Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Hoping for a new start

    11 September 2001 changed the world. It changed my life. It changed all our lives. It changed football, and it changed the World Cup. Forever.

    This should not be the place to go into the ongoing ramifications of the terrorist acts, and yet strangely a website about the World Cup cannot really focus on anything else. What is this site about? The World Cup is the biggest and most significant cultural, political and sporting event in the world, and this site is about reporting it in detail. So how can we ignore what happened in the United States less than a month ago?

    Looking back to the start of September is now like staring at another planet. The fact that England beat Germany in a game of football dominated the news, and I was writing about how we had to wait for future events to unfold before we would see the significance of that victory. I imagined that we would have to wait years to be able to understand what the game meant. In reality it took less than two weeks.

    England versus Germany will now mean for me a time when I knew it was relatively safe to watch football; when I did not watch a football match wondering if the next time an aeroplane flew over the stadium it would be crashed into it.

    Now I am not trying to be offensive or sensationalist here. There now must be a real threat to the security of globally televised events like the World Cup. Think about the figures for a moment. The 2002 World Cup final will attract a television audience of around 3 billion people. Three thousand million people will be watching; three thousand million pairs of eyes will be staring at Coca-Cola and Philips advertisements; three thousand million people is the perfect audience for terrorists seeking an image that will burn into our retinas and consciousnesses like those planes crashing into the World Trade Center did.

    And don't say such a thing won't or can't happen. September 11 changed all that remember.

    Football is I think far too complacent about such things. FIFA is more than happy about the way its product is the sporting equivalent of McDonalds or Coca-Cola in our globalised world, but like these multinational companies it must take responsibility for the image it is selling. While statements linking the September 11 attacks to American cultural imperialism are at least fundamentally flawed (and probably plain wrong), the idea that people were so angry with all things American that they wanted to strike at its heart have to be taken seriously. Now I am not suggesting for a second that because the World Cup is surrounded by Budweiser and McDonalds signs it is going to be attacked by terrorists. But by so actively linking up with such companies FIFA is happily buying into a brand image, and more importantly, is selling its own brand to those companies and us. Now I don't think it takes a massive stretch of the imagination to start to link the activities of FIFA with the activities of the multinationals that sponsor it so richly. And regardless of whether those activities encourage people to commit mass murder (which I believe they don't), there is undoubted evidence that some of those activities are exploitative and need to be monitored much more closely.

    FIFA has an opportunity to move away from such companies and use its unique position to help bring understanding amongst different people. Joao Havelange was fond of telling people who interviewed him how powerful he was, and how his organisation had more members that the United Nations. Why therefore is FIFA not being more active in using the real power it has? Japan/Korea 2002 could be a new dawn for football. It could be one where our World Cup is stripped of the advertising sideshow it has become and becomes the one event that truly unifies all races and creeds.

    My favourite memory of France 98 is the Iran-USA match. At the time I was ecstatic that Iran had beaten the USA, and loved seeing the most powerful country in the world beaten by one of its biggest enemies. But looking back, I now see that the result was utterly redundant. It was the occasion that needs to be celebrated. Where else in the world would 22 high profile Americans and Iranians be meeting in celebration and friendship, while the rest of the planet watched? This is the power the World Cup has, and this is the reason why the Austrian footballers who are refusing to travel to Israel this weekend are wrong. It has nothing to do with them being unpatriotic or cowards, because in a way they are correct - if they are being expected to play a game of football so FIFA can sell advertising they simply should not play. And here is in essence what FIFA do wrong on a daily basis - instead of encouraging the Austrian squad to travel to show that football bridges the gap between nations, they come across as being more worried about TV companies losing income.

    This I think is the only way football should continue after the attacks. On that horrible day, Liverpool (the team I have been obsessed with since I was six) were playing their first European Cup match since 1985. The game should not have been played. I would like to be able to say I had no interest in the result, but I can't. Almost without thinking, I found myself turning on Teletext at 8pm to find out the latest score even though since I had first found out about the attacks I had been watching any reports I could find, and had no intention of watching the game. In the days after I virtually ignored football, as most of us did I suppose. But as some sort of 'normality' returns my thoughts have turned back to the game. One of the things I have noticed is just how little I missed the type of football I was 'missing'. If anything The Champions League is even more turned over to its multinational sponsors than the World Cup. But being a Liverpool fan, one thing I know is that football needs to go on, like it did after Heysel and Hillsborough.

    I am not na´ve enough to think that FIFA will read this article, and fear that the opportunity football has to help heal the enormous scars left after the attacks will again be wasted, but just maybe if enough people who love the World Cup start to think about what it really represents, then we can take it back, and use it properly.



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