So England’s much vaunted effort to be chosen as the host of the 2018 World Cup has ended in humiliating defeat, despite high-profile support from David Cameron, William Hague and even Boris Johnson and the Royal Family. Our star team failed even to get the ball into the opponent’s half of the pitch never mind score any goals, and after gaining only two votes from the 22 strong FIFA panel we were eliminated in the first round.
Chief exec of the bid, Andy Anson, was so incensed by the result that he told a press conference in Zurich that England shouldn't bother trying to host it again until the transparency of the selection process is dramatically improved. ‘Having only 22 guys voting gives them too much influence. Running two bids together was clearly a huge mistake. Everyone who had a vote and a bid clearly wanted to trade that vote for something that helped them get over the line in that campaign’ he said.
Instead, the 2018 tournament will be hosted by that well-known centre of footballing excellence, Russia. It’s a result which FIFA has said is a reflection of its desire to take the game into new territories and markets, but which has also led to jibes that football, far from coming home, is heading to Vladivostock with its tail between its legs and half a million Roubles in its back pocket. The 2022 World Cup will be hosted by another equally virgin football territory, Qatar.
The bid process, mired as it was in controversy and allegations of corruption on the part of several of the FIFA officials involved, was a pretty unedifying spectacle and not much of an advert for the sporting ethos of fair play. It certainly hasn’t done the reputation of the world’s most popular game any favours at all. FIFA must surely now come under pressure to be seen to put its house in order, if only to reassure the huge corporate sponsors that the World Cup will continue to be an event to which they can confidently attach their names and branding.
But what of England’s failure? Notwithstanding the glory and excitement (and the huge payday which comes with it) which the nation has now missed out on, how did we come to do so badly? The English Premiere League is after all the jewel in the crown of global club competition, the biggest, best and brightest of its kind on the face of the planet.
But, as many commentators have pointed out, this hasn’t proved to be the advantage it at first appears. Why bother with the rest of the world when you’ve got the greatest teams and the biggest money right on your doorstep? It is also the FA rather than the PL which officially runs the English game, and the FA is a deeply troubled organisation. Lacking in leadership and increasingly sidelined by the big bucks members of the PL, the FA has become isolated from the global political machinery of international football, and from FIFA in particular.
English teams may play great football, but it seems that our sporting authorities don’t know how to play their part in the bigger game. Or as Andy Anson, chief executive of the bid team told the FT ‘If we want these competitions, we have to integrate ourselves more readily into these organisations. But it’s difficult for us: we’ve got the strongest league in the world, we’re very strong domestically and therefore we’ve not always seen the need to do it.’
There is also the question of the game’s long-term prospects at stake here too. If international football cannot do something to counter its increasingly venal and unscrupulous image, more and more countries and potential sponsors are going to start asking themselves if they really want to continue to be associated with it…