Archie Bland: Big match highlights how goals must be uppermost

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The Independent Online

It's been a pretty big few days for world leaders. First the G8 grappled with the economic crisis, then we had the Nato summit on Afghanistan; these are talks of the utmost importance. Maybe, then, it's a little odd that the most memorable image to be produced from the talks was not of sober politicians in statesmanlike negotiation, but of the great and the good getting overexcited by a game of football.

Now, I am in no position to mock anyone for getting overexcited about a game of football. Nor do I begrudge those charged with such awesome responsibilities a little downtime. All the same, though, there was something incongruous about the image. For one thing, the composition was weirdly reminiscent of those shots of Obama and his team watching the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden and it's obscurely unsettling to think of a football match and an assassination mission being beamed to our prime ministers and presidents in the same way.

For another, this was a conference mostly aimed at alleviating an economic crisis that has already shaded into the catastrophic. A bit like the Tories who were advised to avoid holding glasses of champagne not long after beginning to enact their programme of cuts, you would think those that featured would want to do anything necessary to avoid appearing complacent about the task at hand.

Still, it's a charming picture. And after all, you might add, this is all just window dressing: PR doesn't take precedence over substance when they get down to the real business at hand, and that's surely the main thing. Which would be a fair point – if it weren't for the fact that actually, as ever, the public narrative of these events has done a stout job of undermining the business at hand in ways that might strike the unschooled observer as straightforwardly petty. On Monday, President Obama exerted his authority over his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari by declining to hold a formal meeting – but he finely tuned the snub by agreeing to briefly bump into Zardari on the way to another discussion and being sure to be photographed while doing so.

This is delicious posturing, to be sure, worthy of any sixth form. But it's hard to see exactly how it will help Nato forces in Afghanistan to negotiate the reopening of vital supply lines that run through Pakistan.

Such summits are always brimful of ridiculous collisions of etiquette and underhand insult and none of it does anyone any good. Mr Zardari and his colleagues might well reflect: open government is all very well, but sometimes the sausage-making – and the football-watching – is best done behind closed doors.