Saturday, 30 May 2015




THE FIFA FOUL UP


It has been a long standing belief, especially amongst British football fans that FIFA (Federation International de Football Association) was allegedly corrupt. One of the British complaints was that they were denied the World Cup in 2022. Whereas Qatar - who, to be honest, don't even know what a football looks like, and where, in summer, it's 110 degrees in the shade - got awarded it. 

On Wednesday, the fans got the confirmation that FIFA were allegedly corrupt after seven FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich in connection with wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies involving $150 million. This was ahead of a FIFA meeting. There is also a chance they will be extradited to the US where a raid was done on the offices of CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football).

This has shaken up the wider football community, even though no-one is entirely surprised. 

A lot of European countries are threatening to boycott the 2022 World Cup. The President of UEFA,  Michel Francois Platini has asked the President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, to do the right thing and step down. David Cameron has also made the same request. Blatter has made the excuse that he can't just resign like that.  President Putin of Russia has also decided to put his ha'penny worth in to tell the USA that this is absolutely none of their business. But then he can say that; he has the World Cup in 2018. He is probably afraid that if he sides with the USA against FIFA he could lose it. 

Of course, he  - Blatter - is saying it has absolutely nothing to do with him, because "We - or I - cannot monitor everyone all of the time". He says it is the fault of individuals, and "we have to earn trust back" etc, etc. When he was asked if he feared arrest, his reaction was, "For what?" Well, for not doing your job and stopping the corruption for a start off. Saying he is not responsible for this is clearly nonsense. Being the head of FIFA is his job and he has been doing it for 16 years! If he can't monitor his people and stop corruption in his organisation, even though he has been at the helm for that long, then something is seriously wrong. 

Of course, the whole thing is so unsurprising that it has provoked lots of humour from a lot of people. On Morning Joe, my hero, NBC's Bill Neely sarcastically called Qatar "that hotbed of soccer - literally!", because it may be hot, but that's it. And on Mitchell Reports, he said, "Maybe [Blatter] has a sign on his desk that says, 'The buck doesn't stop here!' ". Even the New Yorker joined in with their satirical Borowitz Report article saying that Senator John McCain was proposing military action against FIFA. And this old Daily Mail piece is amusing too:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1393330/Sepp-Blatter-speeches.html

As I write this Sepp Blatter has - not surprisingly - just been voted back in. Well, almost. They actually needed a second vote, but the other candidate, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, withdrew before they had the chance and was gracious in his defeat.

This whole thing is a disaster for International Football. 

The questions we need to be asking are: why did the investigation and subsequent arrests take so long? Was Sepp Blatter so blind that he couldn't see what the hell was going on under his nose? No. And saying, "I cannot monitor everyone all of the time" and "it's certain individuals" etc, doesn't excuse anything!

Also how many teams will now boycott the World Cups in both Russia, because of Putin's stance; and Qatar, because they should never have got it?

Will UEFA move away from FIFA altogether? And will FIFA as we know it now become non-existent?

And what are the wider implications to football in general? How deep does this corruption actually go? 

One thing is clear. Blatter can give the fans and UEFA his bluster about "we will root out any wrongdoing and regain trust" and so on, but football fans the world over will be unlikely to trust FIFA, or Blatter, ever again.


On 02 June 2015, in a move that totally shocked everyone, Sepp Blatter suddenly, and for a reason no-one can understand as he was so determined to stay, quit. I suspect it wasn't as simple as him just saying, "That's it, I quit!" So what the hell did happen?

 It's just another mystery in the world of FIFA, and I suspect this story isn't going to go away anytime soon.









Saturday, 2 May 2015





"WHO THE HELL IS OLAF PALME?"




Good question. I didn't know either. I later found out he was a former Prime Minister of Sweden who was assassinated.

I found this out via a wonderful and informative interview that I did with my friend and colleague Bill Neely of NBC News.

I loved every minute of it and thought you would like it too. 


As Bill had just run his sixth London Marathon for the charity he is Patron of: Cardiac Risk in the Young (see my blog "Volunteering For CRY"), it seemed appropriate to ask him about the aims of said charity.
The Symbol of CRY - the charity Bill is patron of. 


Bill: The amazing and terrible thing is that about a dozen people die of undiagnosed heart complaints/defects in the UK every week. And in the US, there are more than 4,000 a year. And it will be the same in France, and Spain and Germany. These are young people between let's say thirteen and thirty-five. So when you think about the world wide death toll, it's horrendous. And a dozen young people in the UK alone is bad enough. What CRY tries to do is a number of things; it tries to raise people's awareness of these - about a dozen - heart defects that can cause sudden death. It tries to counsel people who've been bereaved; whose sons, nephews, grandchildren died as a result of this. And I think the most important thing it does at the moment - for me - is, it screens - all around the country now. And I know that this year, the screening will be even bigger than last year, because this charity, which is small, is growing. So it's hardly an exaggeration to say that any money you give to CRY could possibly save a life. I know that's probably true for most charities, but it's certainly true for CRY. For me, it's a charity that I have - pardon the cliche! - taken to my heart. Because I really believe in what it does and it has wonderful people leading it.

Previous to our interview I had four very cold hours at mile 18 cheering my voice out! But it was worth it. Especially as I got blown a kiss for my trouble. So my next questions were, "How was the run today?" and "How did you get into running in the first place?"

CRY President Alison Cox interviews Bill about
his 2015 marathon run done in 3 h 18m 


Bill: The run was....it was fine. I did the time that I wanted to do, in fact I did better than that - I did it in 3hrs 18m. But I found it.....I've done six runs so far and this was definitely the hardest I've done. The last six miles were VERY painful and just sheer will power gets you through. But I didn't stop once, which is good, and I didn't pull up with injury, etc, etc. How did I get into running? I had a Golden Retriever called Max, who's sadly  dead now, who needed a lot of exercise. Max loved to run. I've always been quite sporty, and one day I thought I might put on some shorts and run with him, I got puffed out after 400 yards. And it kind of grew from there, so we went running together, Max and I, and then I did a 5K and then a 10K and then a half-marathon and then I end up being in a crazy place like this!


A while ago I wrote a blog called "If you have tears......" I asked Bill if he had ever been moved to tears or got sick by a story and how did he deal with it. How does he feel on the issue of Emotion in Journalism



The Droppin' Well - As Others See Us



Bill: That's a good question (or three!)! When I was a journalist in Northern Ireland - and I grew up during The Troubles - I started as a journalist covering bombs and bullets. There was a particularly awful attack on a pub called the Droppin' Well Inn in Ballykelly. Where 17 people were killed in a bomb attack,  including eleven soldiers from the Cheshire regiment. And I went when it happened, which was about 11.30 at night. I worked through the night. I worked through the day. got a few hours sleep, then worked through the following morning. at 6pm that night I went back to my hotel room and I burst out crying.  I was on the bed weeping like a baby because - it's partly the tiredness - eventually the stories that you're hearing; the sights that you're seeing, got to me. It was a very important lesson that those are the emotions that you both have to keep in check, and yet you have to draw on in order to be a better journalist. You need to draw on your sense of compassion, your understanding about what's happened, but, obviously, you have to keep it in check. There's always going to be a time when it's quite okay just to let it out. But you don't want to do that on camera. There have been occasions where  newsreaders have choked, broken down; very famously, when Kennedy's assassination was announced in 1963, Walter Cronkite read the wire copy, took off his glasses, and you can see him gulping. You can see him desperately trying to keep his emotions in as he announces the bulletin that president Kennedy has passed away. So, you know, it will happen at all times. In the field when you're covering the story, you don't want to be going around weeping. A surgeon who is operating on a little child, who has multiple bullet wounds, or he's trying to save that child's life, cannot let his emotions get in the way of his work. They can go home afterwards and cry. But during the actual work that you do, you've got to be as strong as you possibly can. But we're all human beings. Journalists do their job like a surgeon, and you might blub and that's fine.


Sounds like I will need to develop a thicker skin then because I am incredibly compassionate and the slightest of bad things make me sad and angry.

Of course, Bill has been to many places around the world; some of them incredibly dangerous. So I was wondering if he had been close to death, or been threatened by anyone.

Bill reporting from Homs, Syria


Bill: Oh, people have threatened me with violence on many occasions. I've been under fire from any number of warplanes, gunshots...! But was there ever a moment where I thought, "I am quite likely to die"? No! To be absolutely honest. Maybe that's just me being ultra-optimistic. It probably is. I think things change. At the beginning of your career as a journalist, if you're a young person, you sort of feel you're immortal.  You know, "I'm a journalist. I'm sure they will not want to kill me!". I think - as you lose people you knew as friends, from covering wars - I think that changes. You develop a very strong sense that they're out to kill you. Look at ISIS today and you can see they want to kill journalists.


Following on from this, I asked how he felt about being a war correspondent after the murder of several journalists by ISIS

Bill: I think every time something like that happens, it gives us pause. It's no exaggeration to say we are more cautious about going into certain areas - for example Northern Syria. Most companies will not send their journalists in there. Most big networks are very, very careful anyway about the security of their correspondents. I think that has increased. Every story you do, you balance the risk against the reward. If you're going into a conflict zone, the risk is high, but usually the reward is very high as well. And also the reward simply as a journalist that we have to cover things like that. It doesn't mean that we will stop covering wars, but it does mean - sadly - that we will be more cautious and trying to find clever ways of reporting that.

There was a light-hearted moment here when a runner arrived back from the marathon and - as is the custom - they were given a cheer and applause for a job well done. Bill joked, "Obviously that was a very good answer, because everyone is applauding!" Nice!

We moved on to the subject of Syria,which Bill has covered from the very beginning. Is there a solution to the war in Syria, especially now that ISIS are involved?

"Assad is literally trying to 'shoot' his way out of trouble"


Bill: Phew...! The war will end when (pause) it ends. War weariness often ends wars; or when one side simply runs out of the will, the ammunition, the men or the exterior support for their cause. We shouldn't write Assad off just yet. We've been predicting for years "It's not a case of 'if' President Assad will go, it's a question of 'when',....!" Well, he's still there. So, we "clever journalists" who say things like that can sometimes have it thrown back in our face. But, I do think the regime is weaker today than it was a year ago. Does that mean it's going to fall? No.


Recently, almost one after the other, Bill has reported on some horrific stories: a school massacre in Pakistan, the MV Sewol disaster in Jindo, South Korea, the shooting of journalists at Charlie Hebdo and subsequent aftermath, Germanwings and the Kenyan university shooting. Does Bill ever get despondent about all the bad news?

Bill reports on the tragic sinking of the MV Sewol

Bill: That's a very good question! There was a newsreader called Martyn Lewis, and he wanted more good news in the....well, news. He has a point! If you are constantly covering stories where jobs are being lost, but you're not covering stories where jobs are being created,  you're not giving the public a true understanding of what's happening. Clearly, at the minute,we are -all of us - in a long, horrible war.  We may not have troops on the ground, but we are engaged in something, and we have to report it. There are days when I feel I do too much of that kind of thing (bad news). You know, everything I do involves death. And they are often such horrible stories: Charlie Hebdo, Kenyan University massacre, something terrible in Syria..! I was nearly off in Nepal this week doing an earthquake, but at least that was an act of God, rather than an act of man. I think there is a lot of truth in your question, The problem is: how do you convince the public that good news stories are the ones that they should be interested in, because everything suggests the public is interested in terrible events; "Woman falls through a hole in the pavement" gets so many clicks on a newspaper website. it's a terrible thing, you know. She may have been lucky enough not to have died. 

I chimed in with the point that "bad news sells newspapers". He pointed out:

Bill: Yep. Sometimes good news stories can sell newspapers too. Princess Diana sold the Daily Express for years and years and years! And celebrities sell newspapers. It's not always bad news, but there is a lot of justice in your question. 

Thanks! Lets pray there is more good news around in the near future. 

I was suddenly curious. I admire Bill and Kate Adie, but who does Bill admire? Who inspires him?

Bill's inspiration - the amazing Martin Bell



Bill: I admire a journalist who used to work with Kate Adie:  Martin Bell. He is my role model and my journalistic hero.


I agree. Martin Bell is amazing. As we are journalists I was interested in his view on the #FREEAJSTAFF campaign. He had this to say on it.

Bill and I totally agree!!


Bill; I think they should have been freed a lot earlier than they were. Journalism is not a crime. But...! There are regimes around the world who believe that people who either dig into stuff the regime considers is none of their business, like the workings of the state, are criminals. The Egyptian regime clearly considered that the Al Jazeera journalists, or - at least - Al Jazeera itself, was a biased channel against Egypt. I couldn't possibly comment on that. What I do know is that the people who they charged are professional journalists and the evidence that was presented against them was absurd. It was absolute nonsense. And therefore, not only should they not have been charged in the first place - you know, even if you arrest them on suspicion and you need to question them. Fair enough a state can do that - but to charge them and then put them through a farce of a trial, and then to keep them behind bars for the hundreds of days that they did, was just wrong. And the basic thing - again - is journalism is not a crime!

I think that's something that all journalists believe, and we need to keep believing it.

Bill has always said that the fall of the Berlin Wall was "The best story I ever covered - bar none!". Here he explains why:

Celebrations for the fall of the Berlin Wall


Bill: Interestingly it was a "good news" story, which is what we were talking about earlier. At least we in the West thought it was. Obviously for the communist regime of East Germany it was NOT a good news story. For those of us who were news consumers in the West, it was a great news story. It was something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. It was hundreds of thousands of people who were overjoyed on the street. And to see the joy of all of those people was infectious, and therefore it was a nice story to do. It was astonishing to see how the story developed day after day. So, on day one, we were at the wall, watching it being chipped away. On day two, they were pulling it down. On day three, they were driving cars through the rubble. On day four, it was kind of obvious that what this really meant was the reunification of Germany. So, every day the story moved on to something that just made your jaw drop. It was the trigger for so many things. It was the end of that period of history: 1914 - 1989.  And we're now into a new period of history with a lot of things that make people nostalgic for those days, because we've now got religious war, which we - generally - didn't have before the fall of the Berlin Wall. So, if I died tomorrow, that would be the best story I've ever done. 

Sounds incredible. I then asked Bill about his background in Northern Ireland and how he feels the situation has improved there.

My visit to Bill's hometown


Bill: As someone who comes from Northern Ireland, it's fantastic that there is peace there. It may be a peace that some people think is not perfect, but it's a hell-of-a-lot better than when I was growing up, when - in 1972 - there were close to five hundred people killed per year. 1972 was a bad year. I lost friends, I knew people who were killed. I used to hear explosions and gunshots, etc. So, frankly, the situation is great now. As a journalist, it was a wonderful place to work because every story was a big one. It might not make national news, which usually depended on: Did the police officer die or not; did the soldier die or not; how many of them died? That was the kind of horrible logic of what made front page news. But as a young journalist, going off and making sure that you've got your facts right...! If you get your facts wrong, sometimes it can kill. False statements, false words, inaccurate words in a divided community, where there's virtually a civil war going on,  can be very, very dangerous. So, you learn very, very quickly. Most journalists do flower shows, and they do local controversies about hospitals, or whatever. This was about life and death. And it was about a huge issue within the UK and it was world-wide news. So, again, it was amazing to see American correspondents, Japanese correspondents, French correspondents, etc. It was a great place to get a grounding as a journalist.


We then moved onto something a little more light-hearted. My favourite anecdote of Bill's was the story of an American journalist who visited the BBC in Belfast (see Reflections - Frontline Club). I then accidently put Bill on the spot by asking him if he had a favourite anecdote about himself or someone else? I put him so much on the spot that his first reaction was:

Bill: You mean the funniest thing that's happened to me? I would need some time to think about that...!

He finally came up with this cute and funny story:

Olaf Palme - the former PM of Sweden


Bill: I've got a good friend at the BBC - who shall remain nameless - who was phoned up early one morning. He was a foreign affairs correspondent. The kind of people like me, who are supposed to know all the countries, all the Prime Ministers and the Presidents and so on. Someone down the other line said, "You've got to get up. You've got to go to the airport straight away. Olaf Palme's just been shot dead". He was just waking up, "Okay, what time is the flight?" "It's in two and a half hours. Can you get there?" "Yes, I'll get there!". And, as he was having a shower and getting dressed, he was desperate to work out who the hell Olaf Palme was!! And this was in the days before the internet; before Wikipedia. So, he's going to the airport and he thinks shall I phone a friend? Shall I phone the newsdesk and try and say, "Where exactly did this happen in the country?" He decided Olaf Palme was probably a Formula 1 racing driver. Olaf Palme, of course, was the Prime minister of Sweden, who had just been assassinated on the street. Which this reporter found out quite quickly, but it's just one of those moments where someone throws something at you, and you think: Formula 1 racing driver? President? Pop star? Member of ABBA? So that's one of them. I really like that story. And it exposes us as well, because by 6pm or 10pm in the evening we sound like we know a lot. We're quick studies. You read very quickly and then you learn to regurgitate. It's a bit like a barrister. A barrister doesn't know anything about "this", but two weeks later, he/she knows everything about it; stands up in court and sounds incredibly learned. And that's the same with journalists. But we have our flaws. Many, many flaws! 

I told Bill he didn't have any flaws as a journalist. His reply was, "Yes, I do! Plenty!" Bill you are too modest.

It was time to ask him one final question (sadly, as a I could have listened to him all day!!), so I asked him something light-hearted  - and obvious. If he had the chance, would he ever go back to ITN/ITV News?

The symbol of ITN
                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                                        
Bill: Yes, I would. I spent twenty-five very happy years there. I think it's a first class news organisation which is...underfunded? At least, it's not funded to the same degree as the BBC and Sky News.  It gives both of them a run for their money. 

He was right there. ITN win all the BAFTAs, despite having less money, which to me says something about how exceptionally good ITN is. Bill continues:

Bill: Exactly. So the short answer to your question is yes. At the minute, I'm very happy with my current American network NBC, so I shan't be going back anytime soon. But, yeah, if the opportunity arose and they made the right offer, of course, I wouldn't say no.

Excellent! I'm sure a lot of your colleagues at ITV News (and certainly myself!) would love to see you back.

Honoured to interview Bill Neely


I would like to thank Bill for his kindness, his patience, and for taking the time to answer my questions. Thanks Bill!!