Thursday, 2 December 2010

England's Failed 2018 World Cup Bid: The true failure will be if England does not now finally pursue the truth and expose FIFA's corruption

So, now we know that England has failed in its bid to host the 2018 World Cup. The tournament was awarded to Russia, a decision that has left English football fans screaming blue murder. England's failure has inevitably been met with contempt amongst cries of FIFA's corruption being the reason for Russia's victory.

It is difficult to make assumptions about any untoward reasons for why Russia and Qatar succeeded in their bids, although evidence would suggest that there are secretive payments behind the majority of FIFA's decisions. Such is the well documented level of corruption within FIFA that is almost impossible not to jump to the most cynical conclusions.

If England had won the bid however, would we have been wondering how much David Cameron or Prince William had slipped into Blatter's pocket? It would be overtly Anglo-centric to assume that England had the best bid by default and thus should have won. Personally, I think that, even though I would have loved a World Cup in my own country, a World Cup in Russia or Qatar will offer something new and interesting. Although their facilities cannot match those in England presently, their proposals, if realised, promise to make for great tournaments.

In the build up to today's decision there was a wide ranging debate over the impact of the attempts of Panorama and the Sunday Times to try and expose some of FIFA's corruption. Many labelled this as 'unpatriotic' and 'detrimental to England's chances'. I don't know if it was. But, more importantly, if that was the case then we should re-evaluate our own priorities in this country.

Some would have preferred the BBC and the Sunday Times to refuse to broadcast the investigations of their journalists, at least until after today's announcement had been made. This would have been merely playing into FIFA's hands. Such is the sway and power of football's governing body, people have always feared tackling its corruption.

Exposing FIFA's corruption was, and indeed is, in the public interest. This is critically different from what the public is interested in. The public may have wanted for the Sunday Times and BBC not to realise the respective works damning FIFA but this would not have been in the public interest. The bidding process touched upon a more fundamental weakness within the British media, namely an unwillingness to stray away from what Cheryl Cole had for lunch to attempt to pry into the expansive corruption and illegal activity of the otherwise unaccountable individuals who serve in the most senior positions of football.

It is a self-governing authority. As such it is not accountable to anyone but itself. Such organisations are always going to be open and prone to dishonest dealings. This problem has grown though. Corruption is a cancer that is eating away at football's governing body. FIFA is now rife with it. So much so that it has become an accepted facet of the organisation itself.

The work of the Sunday Times and Andrew Jennings in his Panorama documentary were at least indications that there are people in England that are willing to take on the 'devils' (to quote Blatter himself) within FIFA. If that means jeopardising England's World Cup bid, so be it. The age old debate concerning journalism is whether it functions as a watchdog for society or a lapdog for bigger corporations. Too often, when it comes to football, it is the latter.

FIFA's corruption is one of sports worst kept secrets and yet attempts to expose it are rare. Perhaps a true blessing in disguise from England losing in their bid will be that the country's media will now be free to pursue the truth and uncover the dirty web of lies constructed by the overlords of football. It is an idealistic view but the primary objective of a journalist should be to tell the truth. Knowing the truth and not telling it is surely as bad as lying. Now there is added motivation and nothing stopping English journalists from digging into the murky darkness of FIFA's corruption.

From a financial viewpoint losing the bid may not have been the worst thing. Could we afford the economic burden of hosting the tournament in our currently fragile state. The bid alone cost the country £15mllion, a sum of money that it is being reported as having only won England one meagre vote in Zurich today. This is money the country could ill-afford to lose and yet, as with the London 2012 Olmpics, no journalists wanted to comment on this. It suited them for England to succeed and so the too 'backed the bid'. What they and the public were interested in once again overruled what was in the public's interest, being honest and pursuing the truth.

No one will deny that it is a genuine shame that England lost the bid. This ought not to diminish from the chances handed to Russia and Qatar to shine under the world's spotlight, though. Moreover, if the English press' attempts to uncover a fraction of FIFA's had a negative impact on the bid, then surely this is something we should be proud of. It shows that some at least have chosen not to play by FIFA's game of secrecy. If losing the bid gives journalists the incentive to try and expose the corruption within FIFA, that fans are assuming accounts for Russia's victory in Zurich, then something has been gained. Only when consisted and thorough investigations take place will there be any chance of change within FIFA.

The self-governing body responsible for running football has been a force for dishonesty for too long. Perhaps when the dust settles from England's disappointment, journalism can once again serve the role of watchdog against the unaccountable and corrupt.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...


  1. Thoroughly agree with the article. Exposing corruption is much more important than hosting the World Cup. In seeking change to the Leadership of Football we have to ensure we do not replace one set of old farts for another set of old farts who operate in the same way but with different set of friends.

    I think it makes sense that International football should be organised in tiers based on ability (with promotion and relegation) as this seems to be the universal way that all football associations are organised, and seems to work. This means that qualification tournaments could be redsuced in size and the Finals tournament back to a sensible 16 teams (with cost and logistic benefits). The teams in lower tiers could also have tournaments and these associations could gain some experience of staging a major tournament before they get to host a world cup final. The current model of regional qualification was valid when global travel was limited, expensive and time-consuming but now global travel is relatively easy. Could even review the qualification process - why have a series of home and away games over 18 months? With samller groups why not have a round robin tournament the summer before eg a 5 team group playing each other once over 2 weeks in neutral territory. This has the benefit of qualifying under Tournament conditions. I could go on but I think every aspect of how inyternational football is organised should be revised.

  2. Needless to say I very much agree with your first point. As for a tier-based system for International football, I am not so sure. I don't know if I fully understand your suggestions but if only the elite league of countries could compete in the major tournaments then this would surely detract from the appeal of things like the World Cup. The participation of the minnows is a big appeal of these things. Moreover, I think this would only serve to exacerbate the gulf in class between the top and bottom teams in International football. Plus, regional qualification does also help to ensure a representation from each continent, it is not purely logistically inspired.

    That being said, your idea of a round robin qualification system does sound interesting. The current way it is done does need revising. Taking countries out for tiny periods within the domestic seasons makes for bad games, angry managers and sub-par performances. Having extended periods for teams to train and play together would help for the actual tournaments. Generally though I agree, International football needs changes and this must start with a full shake down of FIFA.

  3. There's clearly something very wrong with a bidding process in which Jack Warner controls 15% of the votes. England aside, Australia getting just one vote was staggering, given everything Blatter said about taking football to "new lands".

    The whole process reeks.


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