|Super Injunctions And The FIFA Scandal
by SHAHED SADULLAH
The Asian mind can only sit back and view with shock and awe as democracy – the genuine article as opposed to the sham most Pakistanis are fed with – moves in strange and mysterious ways its wonders to perform.
Over the recent past, the issue that has consumed British society and the media has been the one revolving around 'super injunctions'. Very simply, these are injunctions obtained from the courts by the rich and famous – the two terms being usually synonymous – barring the publication of their names with regard to certain stories in which they might have been caught, as the phrase goes, with their pants down. The issue revolved around a famous footballer who was said to have obtained such an injunction over an affair he is alleged to have had.
The argument against such injunctions was two-fold. On the first level, it was argued that such injunctions are largely pointless because social networking websites carry the news all over the internet and the injunction therefore only serves to deprive newspapers of what would be a very juicy story.
On a more political level, the argument was that such injunctions do not sit well with the idea of freedom of speech; the other side argued that freedom of speech was all very well but the individual was within his rights to try and keep private matters private which in turn, led to a discussion on when a private matter should rightfully be made public; in other words, when does the public interest become so paramount that it is desirable to make a private matter or a private misdemeanour public.
There were, of course, no easy answers. Television and radio programmes as well as newspapers devoted much time to the debate but the answers left most none the wiser. What emerged was that the public interest has to be differentiated from public curiosity. The private life of a footballer was a matter of great public curiosity, but certainly not of public interest in so far as it could not be deemed to be affecting public welfare one way or the other.
Matters got even murkier when a Member of Parliament chose to mention the name of the footballer concerned in the House of Commons. He could not be proceeded against because he was exercising his parliamentary privilege, and that led to considerable disquiet whether this was the sort of thing for which parliamentary privilege had been envisioned.
The point here is that while super injunctions and parliamentary privilege are both well within the limits of British law, that was not deemed to be good enough. That means that the mere legal validity of a thing does not make it right, a concept that simply has not developed in most developing democracies. What one could go on to conclude from that position is that right and wrong are perhaps also matters of democratic judgement and in the end, democratic will as expressed by parliament; and if law, as reflecting the will of parliament is at odds with the will of the people, parliament must bow to the will by changing the law – which is probably what will happen to the courts' powers to grant super injunctions.
While on the subject of football, by some distance Britain's number one sport, England has been left with a fair dollop of egg on its face after trying to take on Europe in a battle that appears to have stemmed largely as a result of England's bid for the 2018 World Cup having been rejected by the game's governing body FIFA. The story started to unfold a few months ago with allegations appearing in the media about the susceptibility of some FIFA members to bribes. The insinuation was that the Brits lost their bid because they, of course, were too principled to stoop to bribery.
Matters came to a head just before the election of the FIFA chief, a post that has been held for donkey's years by a Swiss national, Sepp Blatter. Blatter gave a very belligerent press conference on the eve of the election in which he was the favourite to be re-elected for the umpteenth time, as he was running unopposed. He denied that FIFA was in any crisis and any problems it was facing would be sorted out by the FIFA 'family'. England announced its exclusion from that 'family' when it promptly made a demand that the election should be postponed to give time for a rival with a 'reforming' agenda to contest. FIFA has some 208 members and a three quarters majority would be required in the FIFA Congress to carry the English proposal through. Till the day before the election, only Scotland and Liberia had backed the English proposal and although the proposal did rather better when actually put to the vote, it did not come anywhere near being a source of any worry for Blatter or his countless supporters. Blatter won the day by 172 votes to 17 and the English FA, which had been backed in its demand for a postponement by the recently wed Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, ended up with egg dripping all over.
Blatter has a lot of support from the developing world which has done rather better under his presidency than when an Englishman Stanley Rous was the head of FIFA – and they probably remember that. Rous, who trained as a teacher and was a non-commissioned officer in the British Army during the Second World War, was president of FIFA from 1961 to 1974.
During the vote, it is reported that the all-powerful FIFA executive committee took it in turns to ridicule English football. Some reporters described the views expressed during the meeting as a 'tidal wave of anti-England sentiment'.
The arrogance and the power of England's premier football league, to be honest, does not go down too well with Europeans. English Premier League clubs, because of their financial prowess, can buy the best players in the world to the extent that some of these sides hardly have any British born players. The English are not slow to flout their league as the best in the world – though that did not stop Barcelona from thrashing Manchester United in the UEFA Cup final – and the same arrogance surrounds the national side with the England manager perhaps getting eight times the salary of Blatter himself – although that again did not help England much in the World Cup when they got thrashed 4-1 by Germany.
The behaviour of the English football authorities after the failed World Cup bid has been likened to that of a baby throwing his toys out of the pram after failing to have his way. A friendly in Bangkok was cancelled after Thailand failed to deliver the vote they had promised; the entire attitude has been one of petulance over being treated 'most unfairly'.
For all that, England's conduct of its World Cup bid was rather less white than the driven snow. They bent over trying to please one of the FIFA members on the World Cup Committee, Jack Warner, by sending the England team to Trinidad and Tobago to celebrate the country's centenary. The famous English footballer David Beckham was further dispatched on a coaching trip to Warner's homeland to cement the backing for 2018(which never came) from one of FIFA's main powerbrokers.
Warner is now one of the accused.
Even apart from the bid, the English Football Association (FA) has had its due share of scandal, one even involving a beauty of Bangladeshi origin, Fariah Alam.
The entire episode brings into focus another important issue, namely, how does the media keep itself above popular sentiment, for popular sentiment is not always right. It is a question very relevant to Pakistan for if the Pakistan media had been able to keep itself above what was seen as popular sentiment, the country may not have been in the hole in which it finds itself today.