Jan and Jelena

10257371_10152422279344291_4134466331600695234_oCharming is rarely an adjective you’d use about an event with an open bar. Nor could you say informal about most weddings. But you could here. The event itself was not the formalities of most weddings but the vows of Jan and Jelena and the bringing together of not just two souls but the whole family of friends around them.

The church service was quaint and endearing. After the brief vows, during which Jan generally affirmed  at the right times, the Orthodox priest excused his humble English and proceeded to give some brief life advice in near-perfect English. The gypsy band outside the church blared their trumpets, we took photos and chatted and then off to the venue, an open restaurant across town.

There were no speeches. There was no seating plan. There was no waiting for the menu to be laid out for us. We sat where we liked, talked to who we wished and ate regularly from the updating buffet. The outside seating gave us an option to still be in the party but not overwhelmed by it.

For it was a party. We danced silly and happy, abused the bar for shots at closing time and caught a local bus in our best gladrags from the venue to old town for more shots. It was getting less charming by the minute and descending into a shambles later but we held our own for most of the important times.

A week followed took in more of Belgrade, Kotor Bay in Montenegro and Dubrovnik where Olivia and I were lucky in our accommodation choices, rode electric bikes around the water, climbed up to forts, inspected churches, took so many photos, skipped into restaurants when it rained and drank wine on the cliffs. It was a lovely time.

Jan and Jelena are now married. I’d only known Jan in one way before. Wayward and drunken (with me). I thought he’d never change his black threads but he has. He looks good and will stop smoking someday soon (this is true Jan:)). I knew from our travels around the Balkans and Ukraine that beneath the pagan exterior Jan is a hopeful, optimistic person, looking for something but not sure what. It turned out to not be a what but a who.

A wedding is often a predictable and functional stage in people’s lives. More of a confirmation of entanglement than a joyous celebration. Here I think we were privileged witnesses to a heart-warming, positive human endeavour, an engagement of love and synergetic moment we all take pride in. Thanks for the invitation guys.

Qatar Is Paying For FIFA’s Corruption

So you’ll have seen the news over the last few days reporting emails and documents showing payments from Qatar to various FIFA representatives. They later voted for Qatar’s ridiculous bid to host a month-long outdoor event with 32 teams of fit men and thousands of overweight men in the peak of summer. If that FIFA decision wasn’t bad enough, Qatar is now paying for doing what is necessary to get such a tournament: bribery.

Qatar is getting a hammering in the international news right now. It is wholly unprepared for this kind of scrutiny. Public scrutiny of the state and particularly the officials is amost non-existent within the country. Sure there are complaints but they are dealt with by knowing an individual who will fix it. The same nepotism runs through the whole country. Favours are traded, credit is secured and public criticism is rare. The local newspaper is merely a self-congratulatory, promotional tool. The TV states only good news inside the country. Crime is non-existent. The murder of the an English teacher last autumn is unmentioned in the media because it was perpetrated by a Qatar. However the mugging of three Emirati in London is big news.

International media doesn’t kowtow like this and the European media encouraged by UEFA are keen on an FIFA expose. Qatar’s been caught in the middle. It did what wa expected. It undoubtedly paid bribes. Russia did the same. Brazil also. The corruption in the game in Brazil is well-known and led to the downfall of Teixeira and the disgrace of Havelange, the former FIFA president. Blatter is not ready to accept his responsibility for any corruption. He may be innocent himself (in this case) but the whole vote-buying is rampant and shambolic in his organisation. Yet he sees himself as a broom rather than a tool.

Qatar is also taking a beating on his workforce rights. Passports are surrendered. Wages are often unpaid. Workers do sleep 8 to a room on the outside of the city. They are customarily barred from parts of the social scene. The economic system is completely biased to the local Qatari for obvious reasons. But the legal system suffers the same issues. Within a secretive and stubborn state like Saudi Arabia that is understandable, if not forgivable. But Qatar wants to be seen as a model of Islamic values and has put its head above the parapet. It’s getting shot at and doesn’t know how to deflect the bullets.

The FIFA inquiry will be a shambles. Qatar has already spent billions building infrastructure. FIFA and Qatar stand to lose big time. Qatar will be humiliated. Its neighbours will snigger. Qatar won’t sue. It did the deed and won’t want to face up to public scrutiny. The real issue is FIFA. To get such a tournament, vote-buying is the way, whether it be a football pitch, a 7-star hotel, hookers (ask Korean Air how Seoul got the 1988 Olympics) or just wads of cash.

Football is a game I grew up playing. The so-called beautiful game, played on streets, parks and against terrace walls. You really don’t need much. Qatar is paying the financial and public price for FIFA’s practices. FIFA will survive, blame a few bad eggs and then move on to continue furnishing the financial juggernaut that was our beautiful game.