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A few desultory footballs have been added to the window display at the Beate Uhse sex shop along the way from my hotel. And, yes, the streets of this rather charmless Bavarian city are starting to become thronged with rowdy fans. But, in the final hours before the opening match on Friday of the world’s biggest single-sports event, Munich did not yet have the feel of a conurbation about to become consumed by football fever.
World Cup officials are trying hard to “make nice” with us visiting hacks, offering service with a smile and even cracking the occasional (quite funny) joke. But the atmosphere was much flatter than in the English home counties I had recently left, where belligerent nationalism is bubbling ever closer to the surface and every second vehicle flies the flag of St George.
It is a million miles from Seoul four years ago and even Paris in 1998, where the World Cup marked the first time the “enarques” and “polytechniciens” of the French elite had ever really “got” football.
The planet’s fave sport is part of the furniture here. What is more, many Germans are still uneasy, for obvious reasons, about flaunting their nationalism in the brazen English manner. As a colleague observed, German cities simply cannot name their railway stations after famous battles.
Much the most important thing to have happened so far took place neither on the streets nor a football field, but in the swish modern conference hall where Fifa this week held its 56th Congress.
Jacques Rogge, Belgian head of the International Olympic Committee, was on hand to deliver a short speech. This was significant less for its content than the symbolism of his presence: “The battle is over”, this presence stated. “The world’s most powerful sport and the world’s most powerful sporting movement have buried the hatchet.”
The bone of contention was whether or not world football’s doping code was in full compliance with that of the World Anti-Doping Agency. This might sound like an arcane legal argument – as indeed it is. But it could conceivably have led to the unravelling of the world anti-doping code, or the exclusion of football from the Olympics. So the stakes were high.
Happily, as Rogge told me after his speech, “the problem is over”. This leaves the IOC president free, like the rest of us, to enjoy the world’s most genuinely global sporting tournament – although he won’t be able to cheer on his national team, who failed to qualify.
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