Categories: Political spin / Zurich

3 December 2010


England never stood a chance with FIFA. Good.

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.

7 responses to “England never stood a chance with FIFA. Good.”

  1. Richard Bailey says:

    It’s helpful to have an international perspective on this.

    I agree that the appearance of ‘noblesse oblige’ was a risk. This went beyond the final appeals to FIFA by the ‘three lions’ and goes back to the assumption that England must be best (we created the game, we have the Premier League etc).

    In the final judgement, familiarity was no asset when set against novelty. World Cups in Russia and Qatar will be, for very different reasons, completely new experiences.

    Looks like I’ll be left with my memories of Euro 96 (‘football’s comin’ ‘ome) when I had tickets through to the final at the old Wembley. I’m older than our Prime Minister so have had a World Cup in this country in my lifetime – though I was too young to know anything about it.

  2. Peter Walker says:

    Isn’t it wonderful to see hubris deflated. What is it that the English FA didn’t understand:;

  3. Peter Walker says:

    What is it the English FA didn’t understand about the selection process and the policies of FIFA:
    1. FIFA under Blatter is committed to taking the game to places it hasn’t been yet.. these are marketers expanding their market

    2. If you are a developed country with a football heritage then join together with others – particularly small countries in a joint bid…. the Welsh Scottish and NI Soccer Federations would have got no benefit from this English adventure BUT it would have been UK taxation that would have paid the not inconsiderable price for staging the tournament.

    3. On what basis is a well written document and a twenty minute presentation emotionally over presented without a single woman in sight ever going to win the day. Contrast the English bid team with that of other countries where were the women soccer players when there are plenty of world famous women’s English women stars.

    4. Here was a bid where no new stadia or infrastructure was needed so where was the English FA prepared to invest in soccer internationally – it took Qatar to have the immagination to say we will build new stadia – we won’t want them afterwards so we will build then so that they can be taken down and rebuilt in poor developing countries to encourage the developent of the sport and I have no dubt that like most developers there will be a dowery given to the local soccer bodies to boost soccer in each country that get’s a knock down re-assembled stadium.

    5 At what point are we going to invest in professional public relations to shape bids of this sort and the way we present ourselves abroad. Sitting in Africa watching the presentations and then the result of the ballot I was able to point out that as a Welshman it had nthing to do with me and that I was more sorry for Holland and Belgium. But aa as public relatons porofessional I could only cringe at the hubris, self delusion and the expendiure of £13m in preparing a bid that had no chance in the way it was framed from day one because it never met any of FIFA’s policy criteria.

    So what is the next piece of English or even British f’olie de grandure’ we are going to be asked to support. At what point do we get the message that if we are not prepared to work with others to assist their development then don’t be surprised that when they are developed – 2020 – we stand at the back of the queue with the other also rans.


  4. Tim Beighton says:

    Agree entirely with the post and above comments…its overtly obvious that FIFA are wanting to spread the business of football to regions not yet reached. Perhaps the English FA should in future get the strategy right and glean the correct insights on their audience before wasting time,money and effort, alternatively they should settle for another attempt at the Euro.

    Interestingly one far fetched conspiracy theory discussed on Nigerian radio today was that the BBC did not want the Conservatives to lay claim to bringing the world cup to England and as pay back for cuts to services allowed Panorama to air before the vote rather than after! Either way the bid was doomed to failure.

  5. Paul Seaman says:

    Tim, I think we can discount any notions of a BBC conspiracy against the coalition government… though it is true that the BBC didn’t go out of its way to support England positively. We can, I’m convinced, be pretty certain that this lack of enthusiasm made no difference to the outcome of the bid. I suspect that the BBC assessed accurately that would be so. This encouraged it to try to seize the moral high ground in pursuit of its own narrow agenda designed to prove its worth to society as speakers of truth to power (which in this case was nonsense).

  6. Craig Pearce says:

    Insightful, scary and correct for it to be pointed out that football is the hidey-hole in contemporary society for the politically incorrect. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. And such a poke in the eye of global football followers, who deserve better from those who supposedly run the game.

    And, aye, I speak as a profoundly embittered Australian. Qatar? Frigging Qatar? 1 and a half million people (half of whom are foreign imported ‘worker bees’). Who the hell is going to use all those stadia?

    For all the logic of comments above about taking the game to new regions, just one small little fact. The World Cup has not gone to Australia or anywhere else in the Pacific. Yes, we’re in the Asian confederation now. But, really, it’s a rort.

    A lively interesting discussion. And very quick off the mark, Paul!

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