Friday, December 03, 2010

Blattered beyond belief

So now we know who will host the World Cup Finals in 2018. It won't be England. It won't be Spain and Portugal. It won't be the Netherlands and Belgium. It will be Russia.

Sepp Blatter has, like the Vatican chimney, issued forth the puff of white smoke that has identified which country will enjoy the lucrative host nation status, seven years and eight months from now.

The inevitable media inquest is already blaming the media itself. The BBC's decision to screen a Panorama investigation into alleged FIFA corruption, just four days before the vote, is bearing the brunt of this backlash. Even Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has helpfully chimed in that the British media was to blame (a kind of reverse of the famous headline IT'S THE SUN WOT WON IT). But I disagree.

Panorama's somewhat underwhelming exposé and the original Sunday Times scoop may well have coloured opinions within FIFA about England as a nation, but I don't think it made a blind bit of difference to the vote. FIFA had wanted to see a World Cup staged in Eastern Europe, as much as it chose Qatar - a nation smaller than the Falkland Islands - over the United States to host the competition in 2022.

If FIFA had simply come out and said that they wanted Russia to stage it, they could have saved us all the bother - and all the nudge-nudge, wink-winking about what's been going on behind closed and not-so closed doors in the run-up to the Zurich vote. 

Rightly or wrongly, the Sunday Times and the BBC have shone the spotlight on an institution which is, at best, out of touch with modern corporate transparency, and at worst, rotten to its core. Alleged bribery nothwithstanding, the World Cup voting process has been carried out with all the objectivity and probity of the Eurovision Song Contest, determined by hotel corridor politicking and schmoozing amid clouds of cigar smoke and the fumes of a glass of Remy Martin.

To learn, as we have done now, that England failed at the first round of voting makes a mockery of some of the early optimism and even positive indications coming from some of the voting members. England, we're told, had the best presentation, the best bid, and the personal involvement of Prince William, David Beckham and David Cameron (whom, we were told at every opportunity, had shuttled between Zurich and Westminster for PMQs and back again. Bravo, Dave! You're clearly one of the people).

England's 2018 bid ticked - on paper at least - all the right boxes. It would have rewarded the world with the authentic football experience in the very country where it all began. Football would have come home: there's a reason the English Premier League is the most televised football league around the world; there's a reason the FA Cup is one of the most popular annual events around the world. It would have all been good. Even the Dutch and the Spanish - who were also bidding for 2018 - were saying that England should win it.

Sadly, England's fate was sealed long before Wills straightened his comb-over and made any awful jokes about his own "big event". We English pride our sense of fair play. We take pride in queuing and pour scorn on any Johnny Foreigner who disrespects our love of manners, decency and refined order. We dislike cheating and dishonesty. The World Cup is not just a sporting extravaganza, but an enormous enterprise for FIFA and host nation alike. And yet it's location is determined by a process akin to a chief constable "seeing what he can do" about the parking ticket of a fellow mason. 

And what of the winning bid? We should, I suppose, congratulate Russia. No, really. We know that it will be a shambles; the fan experience will be dreadful, the racist culture in Russian football will not be solved, the public transport will be a disaster, the hotels will be inadequate, the stadia will be badly built with Mafia money, the visa process will be inflexible, and the overall infrastructure a mess. But FIFA has got what it wanted - a World Cup in the east.

So why go through a bid process in the first place? Why not accept the bag of roubles and have done with the circus that rolled into Zurich this week? The probity of the FIFA voting process should be called into question. It obviously has nothing to do with integrity, national reputation or even the ability to present a viable proposition, but personal favours, personal interests and...well, who knows what else? It's clear the whole thing is as bent and crooked as a DVD sold at a street market. 

FIFA is not an administrative organisation, but a political gentlemen's club where networking and influence is currency. It is run with stunning arrogance by a leadership that considers proven acts of bribery worthy only of the equivalent of wrapped knuckles. Perhaps, on reflection, England shouldn't want to be awarded a World Cup as a result of the back-handers and two-faced deceit that went on.

This is the second World Cup disaster England has suffered this year; but whereas the England team's ejection from South Africa in June was rightfully blamed on poor performance, few could fault the impressive show put on by the England 2018 bid team to try and swing votes their way.  

The sad part is that England won't get an opportunity to bid again until the process begins for the 2030 World Cup. 66 years since the Jules Rimet trophy was last presented on English soil to the world champion of football. And that's an awful lot of hurt.


  1. Great post.

    MSNBC has a nice piece about Qatar's nomination ... Country the size of Connecticut hosts the World Cup ... sad.

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