Hosting the World Cup is not a birthright
England should start focusing on winning the World Cup and stop moaning about not getting the chance to host it.
So football’s not coming home. There will be no World Cup in England. Not before 2030 at any rate. By which time I’ll qualify for my OAP bus pass – that’s if it hasn’t been scrapped. How do I feel about that? Frankly, I couldn’t give a monkey’s chuff.
The petulant English whinge fest which has followed the ignominious failure of our World Cup bid has been pretty unbearable. Get some perspective people. It was only a failed World Cup bid. This wasn’t a disaster. Nobody died. We didn’t lose a game of football. Whisper it, but I was not the only person to take perverse pleasure in watching the gutted expressions on the faces of the English bid dream team of Beckham, Cameron and Prince William. I was also cheered by the heatwarming news that Qatari football fan Nayef Al Shimmari has decided to call his newborn daughter Fifa to celebrate his country’s winning bid for the 2022 tournament. I don’t suppose the name Fifa will feature on many English birth certificates. You won’t find too many English football fans calling their sons Sepp either. The German abbreviated form of Joseph is about as popular as the almost extinct name Adolf right now.
Apparently, Andrei Arshavin, the Russian captain, was booed by Fulham fans at the weekend. Now I’m all for booing footballers. But this was just pathetic. Grow up. If you’re going to give the man some stick, then at least do it for the right reasons. He wears gloves. He plays for Arsenal. He’s got a fashion degree. All perfectly good reasons for booing the geezer. But booing Arshavin because Russia won the World Cup bid – that’s just sad Alf Garnett chippiness of the worst kind.
Oddly enough I haven’t met a single soul who feels aggrieved that England lost the World Cup bid. No watercooler debate. The general consensus among football fans I’ve spoken to is a successful bid would have been good but they’re not going to lose any sleep over the result. And yet, browse the message boards or listen to the football phone-ins and and you’ll found plenty of outraged England fans. It’s pretty dispiriting listening to the procession of moaning no-marks trotting out their half-baked conspiracy theories. The ballot was fixed, the Fifa executive committee (ExCo) were bribed, the Russians didn’t play by the rules. ‘But it’s not fair’ – my eight-year-old daughter’s favourite expression – is essentially what they’re saying.
The most annoying and pitiful complaint I’ve heard repeatedly is that we may never live to see a World Cup on English soil. David Cameron is one of the high-profile exponents of this particular lament. ‘There hasn’t been a World Cup in England in my lifetime and I’m very sad that we haven’t changed that’, said Cameron. What’s particularly irritating is the wounded sense of entitlement it reveals; the belief that it’s an Englishman’s birthright to see the World Cup staged in football’s motherland. Personally, there are plenty of things I’d love to see in my lifetime but the World Cup staged in England is not really top of my wish list. Palace winning the league, Madam Butterfly at La Scala, the Aztec pyramids, the cityscape of Manhattan, riding a Japanese bullet train, Leonard Cohen in concert… England actually winning the World Cup would be pretty good, too. But watching a German or Brazilian lift the World Cup at Wembley – well I can live without that.
Was it Russia wot won it or did the British media score an own goal? The accusation that the British media effectively sank the bid by exposing corruption in Fifa continues to run. Andy Anson, England bid team chief, described the Fifa ExCo as a ‘brotherhood’. ‘If you hurt one, the others feel it’, he explained in a mafia-esque analogy. In other words, the ExCo were still sore after The Sunday Times‘ exposé led to the suspension of two committee members. Several Fifa executives, including Jack Warner, have publicly suggested that the British media coverage was a factor. ‘Suffice it to say the Fifa ExCo as a body could not have voted for England having been insulted by their media in the worst possible way at the same time’, said the Fifa vice-president. Warner’s comments will be music to the ears of self-regarding journalists who imagine that digging the dirt on a football organisation is in the public interest. Don’t get me wrong, Blatter and co deserve a kicking but let’s not kid ourselves that we’re striking a blow against tyranny. Football isn’t that important.
The more mundane explanation for the England’s bid team’s failure is that Fifa is a close-knit club and the English are still largely outsiders. ‘What we need to do is integrate ourselves better into the world of Fifa’, acknowledged Andy Anson. ‘If we want these competitions we have to be in there and actively part of the fabric. We are slightly removed and don’t get involved in what Uefa and Fifa want us to.’ Winning influence within Fifa is a long game. It involves putting in the legwork on Fifa committees and years of alliance building and horsetrading. Sure, the English can deliver great pitches fronted by celebs and royals, but we are still relative novices when it comes to navigating the internal politics of the Fifa family.
Should we integrate ourselves into Fifa, as Anson suggests, or form a breakaway governing body as Ken Bates has proposed? In my opinion we should do neither. We should instead keep our eyes on the real prize. Not hosting the World Cup but producing a team capable of winning it.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.
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