Britain’s David Cameron just spent three days schmoozing the unschmoozable FIFA bigwigs. But did he and Prince William really delude themselves that their assorted PR team, powerpoint presentations and charm could bring the 2018 World Cup to England? Let’s hope not.
My countryfolk are screaming foul. Oh dear, they were always dreaming. They never stood a chance. It is possible that England’s governing Football Association thought that PR could influence the outcome. The Russians showed them what nonsense that was. They lost the technical and commercial bids and the wider PR campaign. Yet they won the vote to host the World Cup because they were offering what FIFA craves. The Russians probably also focused almost exclusively on the private views of the 22 committee members, rather than FIFA’s public rhetoric.
Never mind any possibility of corruption’s persuasive powers, there were sound reasons for Russia’s win. FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter has long been intent on spreading football’s influence across the globe. As the BBC reported:
Russia wrapped things up with their Fifa member Vitaly Mutko pointing out that eastern Europe has never previously hosted the World Cup.
“Twenty one years ago the Berlin Wall was broken,” said Mutko. “Today we can break another symbolic wall and open a new era in football together.
“Russia represents new horizons for Fifa, millions of new hearts and minds and a great legacy after the World Cup, great new stadiums and millions of boys and girls embracing the game.
“Russia’s economy is large and growing, and Russia’s sports market is developing markedly.”
The last World Cups have been in Japan and South Korea (2002) and South Africa (2010). The next ones will be in Brazil (2014), Moscow (2018) and then Middle East (2022). The fact that Russia and Qatar were high-risk choices should provoke a “so what” response. Risk is a challenge to overcome and not a reason for inaction or rejection.
Actually, wouldn’t a good liberal, kindly, globalising, civilised view be that it is exactly right that FIFA’s choices fell as they did? Russia (which has for centuries half-yearned to be Europeanised) and Qatar (which has for several years been an invaluable Western-bridgehead to the Moslem world) are the very places where football may be a benign influence. Indeed, why not argue that football mostly thrives in Westernised countries, but can be a force for culture and good in more backward countries just as it is in Manchester’s Moss Side?
The British footballing establishment’s moan that FIFA is bent, or at least manipulatively dishonest, reeks of sour grapes. It is a statement of the blindingly obvious. But given what goes on from the FA downwards in Britain’s domestic game, claiming moral superiority whiffs of cynical hypocrisy.
Meanwhile, anybody who blames the British media for FIFA’s rejection of England’s bid is looking for scapegoats. The BBC’s Panorama‘s controversial last-minute report on FIFA’s “wrong doings” lacked substance and was far from convincing and very possibly libelous. However,The Sunday Times did cleverly catch two of FIFA’s World Cup selection committee openly selling votes for cash. But so what? England was already defeated. In this battle, winning never depended upon the media’s support.
The question, then, is why did prime minister David Cameron expose himself to inevitable humiliation on the world stage? There are a couple of linked possible explanations. Clearly, he would have quite liked to host the World Cup. Presumably, it would have helped pay for the 2012 Olympic infrastructure losses. He may have lusted after the competition’s ability to bring his people together around a vision of sporting glory at Wembley Stadium: but that would have been a dream, too, surely? We might have proven ourselves good losers and warm hosts: as South Africa did. Indeed, it may well be that we rise to similar opportunities during the Olympics. Let’s hope so.
The only explanation I can propose is that at home David Cameron was in a no-lose situation. Backing the bid, and going down with the ship, gave him a chance to modify his Top Toff Tory, Squire Cameron, image: he was at one with us oiks, at small cost to his pride. (Ditto, the heir to the throne, by the way.)
We have to hope that Britain’s Foreign Office and its spy network had enough inside information to advise David Cameron wisely about the FIFA process (if not he could have asked me). Hence, it is doubtful that defeat came as a complete shock, even if the lack of even minimal support did.
It is time that people got real about football. It is the last bastion of the politically incorrect and skullduggerous old world. It gets away with it because it is a game that provokes passion precisely because it does not obey the real world’s rules. If Cameron and Barack Obama, who wailed that the rejection of the US bid was a mistake, had remained cool and stood aloof, Russia’s and Qatar’s victories would not have been half so consequential politically, indeed they could have been welcomed gracefully.