Edition number 75; dateline 15 July 2014
Building a team around Wayne: the FA’s strategy for the next World Cup
Few would confuse the Fifa president with a shrinking violet so it was odd that the great man was so rarely spotted at his own World Cup party. Most were only alerted to his presence at the final by the swift crescendo of booing that greeted the arrival of the Fifa family to their seats and so it was only at this late stage of the competition that the most crucial question of Brazil 2014 occurred to me: I wonder if Sepp Blatter watches Masterchef?
Sepp’s a busy man so it seems unlikely that he is a Masterchef fan but he had to do something during those evenings when we were all left without a match to watch so perhaps he settled down to catch up with the contents of his TV hard drive like everyone else. Here he would have found the celebrities earning their Masterchef aprons, which rarely finds the programme at its best but at least offered a group of the UK entertainment industry’s finest doing a fairly good job of winding down their natural tendency to emote while confirming that cooking to a high standard is a difficult business, particularly in a professional kitchen when the pressure is on.
Sepp may not have immediately recognised Wayne Sleep and, in common with a number of younger viewers, may have had to ask a grown-up to explain Wayne’s place in Britain’s cultural firmament. Whatever Wayne’s culinary prowess – and he did a lot better than many in my house thought he would – it was his final dish in the semi-final that should have caught Sepp’s attention. The plate presented to the judges (a bit like the refereeing team, Sepp) was an appetising interpretation of a paella inspired, Wayne explained, by his partner, Jose, who is Spanish.
Now at this point Sepp would probably still have been struggling with the whole idea of actually cooking your own dinner instead of sitting at a table, waiting for someone to bring it to you and then leaving while someone else sorts out the bill, but let us assume that he had watched the earlier rounds and had by this point got to grips with the premise of the show. This would have left him time to notice the reaction of the Masterchef judges, the other Masterchef competitors and, if he was watching it with his British mates (who else?), the other people sat on the sofa watching the telly with him when Wayne’s partner was revealed to be male.
While Sepp’s eyes may well have bulged, in the studio and on the sofa the information that one of the contestants happened to be gay would have been completely unremarkable. The journey from illegal via tolerance and acceptance to unremarkable has been long and painful with many battles and many casualties on the way but, as well as being an important part of British social history, it is now an important part of British culture. It is, unlike our much of our national football offering, something of which we in the UK can be proud. The story of Wayne’s life and career would probably offer an interesting case study of this profound cultural shift, with many uncomfortable and unedifying stories of living with the realities of homophobia along the way, but at least no one felt it necessary for the Masterchef contestants to read a prepared statement before each episode saying that he was welcome in the kitchen.
Fifa’s idea of getting a representative of the players to read a pre-match statement stating their commitment to article three of the Fifa statutes, which declares that “discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason” is unacceptable, was one of the most outlandish aspects of a tournament that specialises in absurdity. As Sepp bit his nails wondering whether Biggins would get the nod over Wayne for a place in the final, it may slowly have dawned on him that the selection of Russia and Qatar as the next venues for the World Cup, states in which discrimination are enshrined in statute, made Fifa’s pre-match statements the most egregious and most public acts of hypocrisy and institutional folly ever witnessed.
Perhaps as Wayne made his way from the Masterchef kitchen and (spoiler alert!) headed out of the competition, Sepp may have been moved to reach out to salve the disappointment of this ballet virtuoso by inviting him to join him at the next World Cup, before realising that in Russia Wayne stood every chance of being attacked and arrested, while in Qatar there was every chance that he would not be allowed into the country but he could be arrested if he were.
I can only be thankful that Masterchef remains a mystery to Sepp Blatter otherwise he would never sleep at night. And as I have no idea whether Wayne Sleep is a football supporter I am unable to judge whether he has any interest in being Sepp’s guest at the biggest football event on the planet.
What I can be certain of is that if Wayne Sleep wants to go to the World Cup he should feel free to go. And if he, or any other England supporter (or any supporter of any national side) feels that, despite the very public commitment of article three of the Fifa statutes, he would not feel safe or welcome, then the World Cup should not be held there. And if it is to be held in such venues then organisations, such as the FA, that purport to adhere to similar values of inclusion and anti-discrimination, should make early, public and unequivocal statements that they will not be going either.
At least that will give Sepp something to think about as he straightens his apron and lays out his ingredients.
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