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I don’t take being wrong lightly, but unfortunately I must offer something of an apology to regular readers of this column. Four weeks ago, I heavily criticised this country’s media, in particular The Sunday Times and the BBC, for jeopardising England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup. In the light of the results, and the aftermath, I now not only believe that the revelations of corruption didn’t make too much of a difference, but also that it was necessary that the investigations were made. I simply didn’t expect the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to be given to the two worst technical bids on offer.
This is not sour grapes at not winning the bid. Russia do have genuine footballing reasons to host the World Cup, even if the infrastructure is not there. They qualify for tournaments, they have strong clubs that compete at high levels, and they have produced excellent players such as Andrei Arshavin. What has, however, emphasised the corrupt nature of FIFA and entirely justified the investigations made by the media is Qatar winning the right to host the World Cup in 2022.
Qatar have never qualified for the World Cup. The matches will have to be played indoors in air-conditioned stadiums due to the inhospitable weather conditions, with an average daily temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit; as a result, the tournament might have to be played in the winter. Homosexuality is illegal, and can be punished with lashes or jail. A perhaps more trivial criticism is that it is completely illegal to show alcohol or be drunk in public. What Qatar does have, however, is a lot of money.
It is also worth pointing out that Australia also ran to host the 2022 tournament, with the successful 2000 Sydney Olympics still in recent memory. They were the only country to fare worse than England, with just one vote. It goes without saying that it is completely ludicrous that Australia cannot earn more votes than that.
As for our bid, rumours stemming from the announcement in Zurich suggested that FIFA – and in particular Sepp Blatter, its president – reminded those with a vote about “recent media coverage”. He is even alleged to have gone so far as to refer to the “evils” of the English media. While this should verify my original sentiments that the media investigations might have cost us the World Cup, that very suggestion justifies the reports and has convinced me that reform of FIFA is essential for the future of football.
In the 22 strong FIFA executive committee that voted on the host country, there were three people who the BBC’s recent Panorama programme alleged took bribes in the 1990s, and a proven World Cup ticket tout in Trinidad & Tobago’s Jack Warner. He has been fined $1 million by FIFA for this corruption yet is still allowed to vote, and as a result is still pampered and courted by desperate football associations worldwide. Warner is said to have voted for Russia, having allegedly promised Prince William that he would vote for England.
The duplicity runs completely through FIFA and its executive committee. Remembering that we received only two of the 22 possible votes – with one of which being from our own Geoff Thompson – five of the committee contacted the England bid team to say they had voted for us. If it wasn’t such serious deceit, it would be hilarious.
David Cameron hit the nail firmly on the head in the aftermath of the result. “No-one could identify any risks coming to England… It’s hard to see what more you can do,” he said. “It turns out having the best technical bid, the best commercial bid and having a passion for football isn’t enough.”
Cameron is completely right. We have some of the best stadiums in the world, we certainly have the best fans in the world, and the cities chosen to host matches would have been easy to move fans between thanks to our rail network. It turns out we wouldn’t offer the executive committee members any money, and perhaps our hotels weren’t luxurious enough for their liking. For that, we must not be sorry.
But what can actually be done about FIFA? A short term solution for the problem of World Cup voting would be to disband the executive committee and open up voting to all 208 member associations of FIFA. Having just 22 people voting leaves the whole process easily open to corruption; it would be a lot harder to buy the World Cup if there were 208 votes to manipulate.
However, in the long term and for the organisation as a whole, I am of the opinion that we can achieve very little directly. Thompson steps down in May leaving us with no direct representation on world football’s governing body. The FA in particular needs a new leader; a more imposing figure on the world stage to further our interests since we rightly will not engage in the bribery that other countries have. David Beckham, with an experienced FA figure alongside to guide him, would be an excellent choice. Roger Burden, the acting FA chairman who withdrew his application for the permanent role after the events in Zurich, is completely unknown outside of very specific circles.
Once our own house is in order with a strong leader and the Premier League, the Football League and the FA all working together, the issue of FIFA can begin to be tackled – but for now, the media can investigate it as much as it likes.