The votes are in, and the recriminations start: who was to blame for England not winning the right to host the 2018 World Cup? The Panorama programme, Sunday Times, Lord Triesman, the Mail on Sunday, the hooligans at the Birmingham-Villa game…. the brown smelly stuff is being sprayed around liberally and there seems to be no shortage of targets.
Yet for my money possibly the most sensible take is that taken by Graham Taylor. In an article about the failed bid, near the end, he instead talks about the way the FIFA executive works and how England just haven’t really understood it – effectively, that we shouldn’t be too surprised.
The bad publicity, the investigations by the Sunday Times and Panorama didn’t necessarily help the case; but let’s not kid ourselves here. The allegations made were substantial, and for all that Sepp Blatter seemed to want to ignore them they point to a culture within FIFA that would always show plenty of capriciousness about who to vote for – to say the least.
I personally think the clue to why England didn’t get the verdict is as much as anything the evidence of where recent World Cups have gone, and where in particular 2022 has gone. Football is a global game, but in some places the perception is that it could do with a little help; and Fifa has seen one or two examples of how that can happen. Does anyone really think that the USA would have started a competition of the level of MLS if they hadn’t been awarded the 1994 World Cup? And now the USA team is one worthy of respect, one that you expect to see playing and progressing in the World Cup. Move on to 2002, and it’s hard to see Japan/South Korea as having done anything but good for the cause of Asian Football – the depth isn’t always there, but the two hosts in particular are no laughing stock. Then, 2010 was Africa’s opportunity to show what it could do.
Add in the idea of needing to take turns around the continents then, and recent history sees FIFA looking to send the competition to places it thinks will develop the world game, breaking new ground. Russia fits the profile: the richest and most powerful of the former Communist states of Eastern Europe gets a place, at the expense of the other nations in Western Europe that have previously monopolised Europe’s “turn”. Qatar fits the profile too: there’s a lot of ground to be broken football-wise in the Middle East. Australia might consider themselves unfortunate, but the population base of the surrounding nations are not the same as Qatar.
The problem with this is that the process has not been transparent. If FIFA said up front, “we want to go to new places and so that’s a major factor in any bid” then England would have known that once Russia (and to an extent Netherlands/Belgium) declared an interest that they were an outside chance at best. But instead, the full executive has travelled around the world, hobbed with the nobs, been thoroughly schmoozed, and then ignored any concerns presented in the technical report if it suited their case to do so.
“Corruption!” comes the cry from many quarters. Without wanting to expose myself to legal issues, there’s no doubt that there are questions needing answers about the people involved. More than anything though I feel that the real question is not whether votes were bought, or whether votes were promised and then the promises reneged upon; it’s why there is complete and total lack of anything like a transparent process, and why there is a lack of honesty about the real criteria for a successful bid.