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Brits Are Quite Satisfied Being Unhappy, Thank You

LIANE HANSEN, host:

These are, as Charles Dickens put it, hard times in England. Those who traveled there this week endured weather-related cancellations and long delays, and found a nation in an unhappy mood.

NPR's Philip Reeves is based in London. In this postcard, he says England's misery is about a lot more than just the weather.

PHILIP REEVES: The English are feeling very sorry for themselves. The unusually harsh and early winter has buried them in snow. Government austerity plans are kicking in, bringing welfare cuts and unemployment. Yet, all this is dwarfed by the stinging humiliation administered by the wily old men who govern world soccer, or football, as the English call it.

This week, the sport's governing body, FIFA, rejected England's bid to stage the World Cup in 2018, voting instead to give it to Russia. The English had even sent their future king, Prince William, to Zurich, FIFA's Swiss home, to present their case in person.

Their prime minister, David Cameron went along, and so did their football super-star star, David Beckham. They secured just one vote, apart from the vote cast by their own delegate. The English are embarrassed and bewildered.

Mr. HARRY REDKNAPP (Manager, Tottenham Hotspur): They make a footballing decision then there was only one winner for me, and had to be England. I just couldn't believe that - that we could only get one vote. I mean it's beyond belief. Why? Why?

REEVES: That's Harry Redknapp, manager of the famous English team, Tottenham Hotspur.

A few extra grains of salt were rubbed into England's wounds by FIFA's president, Sepp Blatter. The British have never doubted they invented football. Announcing Russia's victory before a worldwide TV audience, Blatter said the great game - England's game - was first played by the Chinese.

(Soundbite of conversation)

Unidentified Man #1: Okay. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Neal -Neal...

President SEPP BLATTER (President, FIFA): I can see an argument for Russia.

REEVES: The media here is sizzling with rage.

Unidentified Man #1: Look, the world - England hasnt just been - England hasn't been denied the World Cup here, right? The world has been denied a great World Cup because...

REEVES: The Daily Mail newspaper says England's defeat has sparked a bitter new cold war with Russia, which it calls a Mafia State.

There are mutterings of foul play. For years, there've been reports of corruption within FIFA. A few days before the vote, Britain's biggest broadcaster, the BBC, put out a program detailing allegations that several FIFA committee members accepted bribes. Some now blame the BBC for England's defeat.

Perhaps the time's come for Prime Minister Cameron to activate his pet project. He's arranging for his government to measure how content people feel, using a national happiness index. My guess is, right now, the results would be surprisingly positive. There's little the English relish more than a large dose of self-pity.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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