What on earth has the football World Cup got to do with metrication? Nothing, you might say…but…on reflection, is there a connection?
The assumption behind the English World Cup bid seems to have been that the judges (i.e. FIFA) would be open to rational argument, would consider all the relevant facts and disregard irrelevant facts, would not be swayed by unworthy or venal motives, and would award the competition to the “best” bid on the basis of the quality of football stadiums, training facilities, transport systems, hotel accommodation, local climate, and forecasts of commercial profitability, etc.
It should have been obvious from the outset that FIFA had a completely different agenda. It was entirely predictable that, being dominated by poorer national football associations that resent the arrogance of the English FA and envy the bloated Premier League, FIFA would favour countries with less developed football infrastructure. After all, if South Africa could put on a decent show, then so could most countries. The claim that England had the best “technical bid” was irrelevant. The final straw was the attempt to influence the judges at the last minute by deploying quintessentially English icons (the “three lions”) to bounce them into the right decision. No wonder the English bid only got two votes!
So what has all this got to do with metrication?
What it illustrates is that such judgements are not made on the basis of a dispassionate analysis of the facts. Rather they are made on the basis of emotion, prejudice and disregard of inconvenient facts. Supporters of completing metrication will recognise many of these factors in the refusal of many British people to accept that it is in our national interest to adopt a single, rational system of measurement and thus to phase out the remaining uses of imperial units. Many of our politicians also share the same emotions and prejudice, and of those who don’t, few have the political courage to challenge the prejudices of the electorate. These prejudices are based on myths and general impressions imbibed in childhood and reinforced by endless repetition in the media.
Thus, in the minds of many, metrication is associated with:
- the European Union
- interfering do-gooders
- powerful interests (industry, supermarkets)
- electoral poison
whereas imperial is associated with:
- “ordinary” people
- honest market traders
- our American allies
The conclusion from all this is not that rational argument is futile – it will always be the basis of the case for completing metrication. Rather, it is that rational argument will make little headway until these associations (most of which are completely erroneous, by the way) have been broken. Breaking these associations is the major task of those who advocate “a single, rational system of measurement.”
So although the World Cup itself has nothing to do with metrication, the processes whereby decisions about them are reached have much in common and are subject to similar irrational influences.